In order to ensure that UNRWA continues to provide quality education, a comprehensive evaluation of the education programme was undertaken in 2009 as part of the Organizational Development process. This evaluation identified strengths and weaknesses in the education system, highlighted the lack of policies and frameworks, and emphasized the role of the Department of Education with regard to the provision of evidence-based strategic policies and direction for the UNRWA education programme. It also cited the fragmented and an ad-hoc provision of teacher professional development programmes and stressed the importance of inclusive education approaches which would identify and address the needs of all children.
To address the evaluation findings and meet the new demands of the 21st century, Department of Education has undertaken a major reform (2011-2015), the goal of which is to deliver the best quality education for Palestine refugees, helping them to develop their full potential. The Reform was designed to establish a strong enabling environment, whereby schools and teachers receive appropriate, timely professional and administrative support; decisions are evidence-based, in place and embedded within a comprehensive set of education policies and frameworks. To this effect, the reform addressed three key levels: legislative or policy level, organisational or framework and capacity development, in eight interrelated programme areas, four substantive areas addressing teachers and school empowerment; curriculum and student assessment; inclusive education; Technical Vocational Education Training and Youth and four support areas: research and education management information system (EMIS); ICTs in education; education governance; and strategic planning and reporting.
The reform achievements
There have been a number of achievements of the reform, from the clearly articulated strategic direction, through the Agency-wide policies – Teacher; Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT); and Inclusive Education (IE); to the strategies which guide the policy implementation – HRCRT, IE, the Common Monitoring Framework, Research Strategy, the Curriculum Framework, and the TVET Strategy. Within this clearly-articulated direction, much has been achieved with regards to the strengthening of capacity of teachers, school principals and other education cadre to better enable them to deliver quality education; this has been through key professional development programmes, e.g. School-Based Teacher Development (SBTD) programmes I and II, Leading for the Future and Core Knowledge, Skills and Competences for Strategic Support Staff.
The ultimate test of the effectiveness of the reform design and implementation is the education system level change where students drop out less frequently, do not repeat grades and their learning outcomes improve. This leads to a more efficient and effective system. The key indicators of an efficient and effective system are: student drop-out; student survival; co-efficient of internal efficiency; and student achievement. The reform shows that across all fields there have been gains in these areas: student survival rates are at the highest rates in the last five years, cumulative drop-out rates are at the lowest rates in the last five years, and the coefficient of internal efficiency is at its highest since the reform began. This means that the UNRWA education system has become more efficient with more students graduating on time.