UNRWA improves safeguards on ensuring adherence of educational materials with UN principles; prepares to launch secure agencywide self-learning platform

14 January 2021

In its more than 700 schools educating more than 500,000 Palestine refugee children across the Middle East, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) curriculum emphasizes the UN values of neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination with regard to race, gender, language and religion. As a matter of course, UNRWA consistently reviews all educational materials and textbooks against these values, and in the rare cases where discrepancies are found, provides enrichment materials to teachers to enable them to enter into critical thinking discussions with their students to address any issues identified.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA’s dedicated teachers, principals and administrators – the vast majority of whom are refugees themselves – nimbly transitioned the educational system to remote learning within days. To help with the sudden and major changes thrust upon students, and because internet access and electricity are unreliable in many students’ homes, teachers in the West Bank and Gaza quickly distributed printed educational materials.

In the rush to continue students’ education uninterrupted, a very small amount of host-country provided material that the Agency had previously identified as not in line with UN values was mistakenly included. UNRWA deeply regrets that such material was disseminated and acted quickly to remedy the situation. As soon as the issue was identified, the Agency conducted a thorough review of the entirety of the self-learning material that UNRWA developed and took steps to ensure that only approved material was used going forward.

With the continuation of the pandemic requiring educational flexibility and the use of a hybrid in-person/remote learning model, the Agency has since developed an innovative, online agencywide self-learning platform which will contain all of the learning materials for all UNRWA students. The centralized, secure nature of the platform will ensure that all educational materials provided to students have been approved by the Agency as in line with UN principles and values. Currently in its final review process, the platform will be launched in coming weeks.

Consistent with UN practice in all refugee situations, UNRWA uses curricula in its schools provided by host countries, to enable its students to transition to host country educational systems at any level and to participate in the social and economic life of the host country more broadly. UNRWA teachers are trained in teaching concepts of tolerance, human rights, and conflict resolution to students.

UNRWA has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or for incitement to hatred and violence in its schools, educational materials, or in any of its operations. Any breach reported is dealt with firmly. The Agency adheres, in its education programme, to the highest standards of neutrality, humanity and tolerance. UNRWA invests heavily in teacher training and uses modern teaching pedagogies to facilitate student learning and outcomes. Quality basic education helps young Palestine refugees develop the skills to thrive as adults in an evolving challenging landscape. UNRWA schools have built a reputation for high academic achievement, and UNRWA is inordinately proud of its students, who consistently outperform their national counterparts in public schools by a year’s worth of learning.