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Annual UNRWA Education Conference in Syria Reviews Achievements and Challenges in the Provision of Quality and Inclusive Education for Palestine Refugee Children
On 31 July, the education programme of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Syria inaugurated its annual conference in Damascus. The two-day conference brought together school teachers, counsellors and principals, as well as other education support staff, including protection staff, the teachers' union, members of the community and partner agencies such as UNESCO and UNICEF. The yearly conference provides a platform for a holistic review of the previous academic year and discussion on the challenges, achievements and overall direction of the programme.
In his opening remarks, the Director of UNRWA in Syria, Mohamed Abdi Adar, reflected on the stabilizing effect of education for children during the crisis and its importance in preserving the future of the Palestinian community. He thanked the Government of Syria and the Ministry of Education for allowing the Agency to use 55 government schools, as well as the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR) and UNICEF for their continued support.
The Chief of the Field Education Programme, Samir Abdelrahmin, described the initiatives, achievements and challenges of the education programme, despite the conflict.
The Director of Education, Dr. Caroline Pontefract, congratulated the UNRWA education staff in Syria for their impressive results in the Monitoring and Learning Achievements, where they took a lead in many areas. She highlighted the positive results of UNRWA in Syria in the Perceptional Survey, which collected feedback from students, teachers and principals on different elements of the education programme. She stressed the importance of maintaining a strategic direction for the education programme, as well as planning, measuring impact and reporting.
During the session, in spite of outdoor temperatures hovering around 40° C, the participants were actively engaged in discussions related to inclusiveness, equity and quality of education for all children to reach their full potential; the protection of students and staff; and the need for community relations.
The discussion also focused on violence against children in UNRWA installations, an issue that the Agency is actively seeking to address. The Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs (Programmes) in Syria, Michael Ebye-Amanya, illustrated through a story the negative impact that physical punishment can have on children’s attitudes towards education and school.
Throughout the conference, Dr. Pontefract emphasized the importance of maintaining a clear sense of direction and measuring the impact of the activities at all levels, saying: “If you do not know how an activity is contributing to the overall goal of quality, inclusive and equitable education and how you are going to measure its impact then don’t do it!”
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.
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