Although much has been made of the physical damage that remains unaddressed, equally important are the less tangible impacts of the prevailing humanitarian situation. In the aftermath of the war, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 25,000 to 50,000 people — including some 14,000 to 28,000 children — were in need of some form of psychological intervention to address the longer-term psychological effects that had resulted from the hostilities. WHO noted that:
The loss of care and protection of parents or primary caregivers, disruptions to daily life including school and play activities, and loss of adequate nutrition [meant] that children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to psychosocial distress.1
A key sector to consider in this regard is education. Education is not only a basic human right, one that cannot be postponed or neglected during conflict or emergency, but also has a key role to play in protecting and sustaining the lives of children and young people. This is particularly true in the occupied Palestinian territory where generations have grown up living under military occupation, conflict and political instability. In the context of their ongoing statelessness, historic displacement and continued threat of forced displacement, education has a key role to play in equipping children and youth with the tools to succeed and to make positive contributions to a future Palestinian state. While data on the physical impacts of the military operations on the education system exist, less is known about the psychosocial impacts, and in particular how the psychosocial situation has affected access to and quality of the education sector, a sector vital to the recovery and rehabilitation of Gaza.
One year after the war, UNESCO sought to understand how the education system has been affected by the current situation in Gaza from a psychosocial perspective. In particular, how are learners, teachers, students and professors across the system coping? To answer this question, a large scale assessment that covered all levels of education and all the governorates in Gaza was conducted in the period December, 2009 to March, 2010. To provide a broad and deep picture of the strengths and challenges in the current education system, the assessment used a combination of qualitative methods and a quantitative survey that was administered by Palestinian researchers to a large, representative, multilevel sample of schools throughout Gaza. In all, 90 schools and four universities participated, with over 6,000 learners included in the sample. The survey does not seek to assess the situation relative to a previous baseline, but itself provides an inter-agency baseline that may be used to gauge the effects of future psychosocial interventions. The qualitative methods brought forward the voices and perspectives of those who make up the education system, asking how the situation has impacted them in their work and their learning, and probing what this means for the agencies that seek to support the education sector.
Overall, the assessment reveals worrying trends. While education remains highly valued among students, their families and teaching staff– indicative of the positive role it can play in helping children and youth heal and grow even in highly adverse conditions — the education system is clearly suffering under the current blockade and military campaigns.
The findings show that learners, as well as teaching staff, are functioning under immense strains and this strongly affects their abilities to learn and to teach. The key research findings can be summarized as follows:
1 UNICEF (2009). Page 2.