What We Do
WHAT IS INCLUSIVE EDUCATION?
Inclusive education at UNRWA is about ensuring that all Palestine refugee children, regardless of their gender, abilities, disabilities, social-economic status, health, and psychosocial needs have equal opportunity to learn in UNRWA schools and are supported to reach their full potential. Inclusive education is about changing the way teachers teach, and how school principals, support staff and administrators operate. At its core, inclusive education is about shifting attitude and perceptions and ensuring that all students are given the chance to excel.
INCLUSIVE EDUCATION POLICY
UNRWA developed this education policy and strategy to embed an inclusive approach in teaching and learning and reflect the Agency-wide commitment to inclusive education. The policy defines inclusive education as:
- A belief in each child’s potential.
- a right-based approach.
- a process of improving the education system, school and classroom practices.
- meeting the needs of all children with emphasis on those vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion.
- reflecting the diverse needs of persons with disabilities.
- recognizing individual needs and providing support.
- developing inclusive communities.
INCLUSIVE EDUCATION AS A STRATEGIC APPROACH
UNRWA Inclusive Education Policy and the Inclusive Education Strategy provide an Agency-wide, unified framework and strategic approach which supports UNRWA schools in all its five Fields in moving towards inclusive education. The Inclusive Education Strategy seeks to mainstream inclusive education into the existing structures and systems of the Education programme through three strategic dimensions:
- An inclusive approach for all children.
- providing additional support.
- developing support systems for extensive needs.
A strategic approach means recognizing and removing any barriers that can hinder students’ access, learning, development, and participation. It is about asking questions such as: Is our school a safe and violence-free environment? Are all students feeling welcome in my classroom? Can I do something to improve my teaching methods to make learning easier?
The approach will further promote inclusive, child friendly, healthy, safe, and stimulating school environments where practices in classrooms are more responsive to students’ diverse needs. Teachers are expected to carry out ongoing informal assessments, observations, and information gathering to identify the learning, psychosocial, and health needs of a student. It also means utilizing data which is generated during the daily activities for responsive plans that are applicable to different technical and administrative levels in the Education Programme.
THE UNRWA SCHOOL HEALTH STRATEGY (SHS)
Developed in close collaboration with the Health Department and all Fields, the School Health Strategy (SHS) addresses four core areas to promote the healthy development of a student: comprehensive health services; a child-friendly, safe and healthy environment; health education; and healthy nutrition and canteens. The strategy offers guidance as to how to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to reduce health risks associated with poverty, high population density, and poor living conditions and malnutrition.
THE TEACHER’S TOOLKIT FOR IDENTIFYING AND RESPONDING TO STUDENTS’ DIVERSE NEEDS
The toolkit is a comprehensive and accessible resource for unrwa teachers, school principals, education specialists, school counsellors, and other education cadre. the toolkit consists of a teacher’s guide and 19 practical tools for identifying and responding to the learning, health and psychosocial needs of all students including those with disabilities. the toolkit is a resource to be used for information, as a reference for planning and for identifying a more practical way to apply the inclusive approach in education. the data from the practical tools are captured in the education management and information system (emis) and education staff use the information for strategic evidence-based decision making and to develop plans that are suited to the diverse needs of students.
PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT FRAMEWORK
A conceptual framework for psychosocial support for UNRWA schools was developed to further establish a shared understanding of how the education system can foster wellbeing of students through providing child-friendly environments that meet the psychosocial needs of Palestine refugee children.
The framework aims to guide counsellors and educators to apply the inclusive approach to holistic, comprehensive, rights-based, child-centred, and enabling psychosocial support within UNRWA’s education system, which is aligned with the Agency’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Framework. It is intended to help counsellors and educators foster inclusive learning environments by enabling them to better understand the psychosocial needs and the wellbeing of the children.
TOWARDS GENDER-SENSITIVE CLASSROOMS: GUIDE FOR TEACHERS
The Teacher Guide for Gender Sensitive Classroom aims to improve teachers’ understanding of gender issues and provide them with activities to address practices and attitudes that may lead to gender bias and discrimination. Enhancing gender equality is one of the key areas of the Inclusive Education approach, which aspires to ensure equal opportunities for learning for all students. The Guide seeks to strengthen the awareness most specifically of UNRWA teachers on gender issues and to highlight how classroom practices can help address gender biases towards gender-equitable teaching.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS DURING COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions in the day-to-day lives of Palestine refugee children, their friends, families, and wider communities across the UNRWA Fields of operations. These changes in the wider context resulted in the adaptation of the delivery of teaching and learning to ensure the continuation of students’ access to quality inclusive and equitable education.
An inclusive approach to education entails adopting inclusive practices for the benefit of all children, strengthening support for those children who need additional support, and developing support systems for children with extensive needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this meant adopting a self-learning model to reach children, with greater emphasis on psychosocial wellbeing and health and safety which are central to children’s ability to learn and develop. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic meant that the Education Programme worked on raising student awareness on the prevention of the transmission of COVID-19 and actively engaging them in developing and sharing their own messages.
The unique nature of the pandemic and the restrictions on movements required rethinking of how psychosocial support (PSS) could be delivered. HQ Education and the Fields swiftly established a group to facilitate learning and knowledge sharing; to collaborate in the review of available materials and determine how these materials could be adapted for this crisis; and in areas where resources / materials were lacking, to research and learn from what had been developed by other organisations.
Communications from the Fields with children, parents, and the wider community on the importance of continuing their education was vital. School counsellors provided awareness sessions, individual and group counselling sessions, and recreational activities through different platforms. Care calls were conducted on an ongoing basis to check on children’s wellbeing, with priority given to students who were previously identified as needing additional psychosocial support.
There was also emphasis on the integration of psychosocial support into self-study materials to support children who could not meet with their friends, particularly during the early stages of the pandemic, which are linked below.
HEALTH AND HYGIENE SAFETY
The UNRWA approach to the health and safety of its students and staff during COVID-19 is based on information from the WHO, the World Food Programme, other UN agencies, and the World Bank, and aligned with Host government guidance. An education health protocol ‘COVID -19 Protocol for the safe and healthy re-opening of UNRWA educational institutions’ was developed and the capacity of education staff and students was strengthened to help them better adhere to health protective measures. Checklists for continuous assessment and monitoring of adherence to the health protective measures were developed and used at schools. Essentially, the key health and hygiene measures to be adhered to through different learning modalities are:
- Applying social distancing measures and organising children into ‘bubbles.
- Implementing health and hygiene practices; hand washing / sanitation, respiratory hygiene practices, mask wearing and ventilation.
- Limiting sharing of learning resources and sports equipment.
- Cleaning and disinfecting of the schools with continuous monitoring.
- Conducting awareness-raising activities on COVID-19, via different communication routes and distributing posters and leaflets to reinforce the important messages about the virus and its prevention.
- Introducing new instructions for canteen contractors to comply with health and hygiene standards and conditions related to the prevention of COVID -19.
To help strengthen children’s understanding regarding health behaviours and practices, UNRWA Education conducted an online ‘Drawing and Writing Event’ for all its students during July-October 2020. This event highlighted to UNRWA students the important role they have in reducing the spread of the disease while given them the opportunity to be creative during times of confinement.
RESOURCES DEVELOPED BY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RELATED TO PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT AND HEALTH
Different resources were developed and shared with the Fields as a response to the COVID-19 situation and school closures. Firstly, the Department of Education developed a ‘Guide to learning, health, safety and psychosocial resources,’ as a quick reference guide to the most useful resources produced globally, for education staff in the Fields to support students. The guide covered English and Arabic materials in three key themes: protection of children; mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS); and staying healthy. For more information, please refer to the Factsheet on ‘Psychosocial support, health, hygiene, and safety in COVID19’.
Secondly, the Department of Education developed the education health protocol ‘COVID -19: Protocol for the safe and healthy re-opening of UNRWA educational institutions’ to help managers and administrators of UNRWA educational institutions engage staff, students and families in promoting COVID-19 prevention practices. The Protocol provides guidance with regards to five key areas: social distancing and school practices; hand and respiratory hygiene; school environment and cleanliness; management of vulnerable staff and students; and dealing with suspected COVID-19 cases.
Thirdly, the Department developed a booklet on ‘Activities and games for children’s wellbeing in times of lockdown and school closure’ to support children’s overall psychosocial wellbeing and raise awareness of key health behaviour with regards to the prevention of COVID-19. The games and activities were adapted to accommodate the needs of children with additional needs and impairments.
SOCIO-EMOTIONAL WELLBEING OF PALESTINE REFUGEE STUDENTS IN UNRWA SCHOOLS IN GAZA AND SYRIA FIELDS
The UNRWA Education programme is designed to provide quality, equitable and inclusive education to Palestine refugee children in order to help them realize their full potential within a safe and secure environment. To this end, UNRWA measures progress on key indicators on an ongoing basis, which focus on the success of the system with regards to issues such as students’ retention, attainment and learning experiences, but not specifically on children’s socio-emotional wellbeing. Given the importance within UNRWA and beyond of children’s social and emotional learning, and with the support of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a study to explore children’s wellbeing was undertaken in 2017/18. The study was carried out with 1,437 Grade 4 and 9 students in Syria and Gaza, given the challenges faced by children living there.
The study sought to explore the perceptions of students with regards to three focus areas:
1) Child-friendly, safe and healthy learning environment: many aspects of this focus area are at the programmatic ‘output’ level and are largely under the management of UNRWA (e.g. provision of health and environmental education, safety at school, cleanliness, opportunities to play and the school canteen).
2) School relationships (school staff and peers): these are partly under the Agency’s management but are much more dependent on individual behaviours and other factors (e.g. friendships, teacher behaviour, emotional support, corporal punishment, verbal and physical abuse, and bullying).
3) Personal motivation and outlook on life: the programmatic ‘impact’ level—where UNRWA and its Education Programme are not the only influencing factors. Aspects examined in this focus area included emotions such as hope, happiness, loneliness, anger, and worry. This focus area gave this study its uniqueness and value.
All participating students completed a questionnaire of ten questions with 60-61 items pertinent to these focus areas; a five-point scale measured the level of respondents’ agreement.
Overall, the responses of the 1,437 students indicated that UNRWA students have a positive sense of wellbeing, although there were notable differences by grade, gender and location, with more positive perceptions conveyed by Grade 4 students, female students, and students in Gaza. With respect to their school environment, most students report feeling safe and comfortable in school, with the exception of some safety and hygiene concerns related to WASH facilities. Students generally get along with classmates but also reported a degree of bullying, especially among Grade 9 students, male students, and students in Syria. Students generally say they feel respected by their teachers, although many reported feeling ignored by teachers or being afraid to ask questions in class. Some students also reported verbal abuse by education staff, but most said they had not experienced corporal punishment. Despite reporting anxiety and worrying about the ongoing situation in their respective countries, UNRWA students in Syria and Gaza are largely positive about their future and those of their communities.
Looking ahead, UNRWA will strive to address specific concerns raised by students through the questionnaires, as well as consider how to best continue to monitor students’ socioemotional wellbeing and the many school-level factors that contribute to this vitally important issue.
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