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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
30 August 2010




August 2010

In brief

The Ministry of Youth and Sports and UNICEF kicked off the International Year of Youth on 12 August in Ramallah. This year’s theme is ‘dialogue and mutual understanding’, focused on giving young people a platform to promote peace, respect for human rights and solidarity across generations, cultures and civilizations.

As a follow up to the Mid-Year Review, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF held a two-day workshop in August to review the health and nutrition programme and plan for 2011-2013. Over 40 professionals participated at the workshop in Ramallah.


Overview: Focus on education

Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the formal education system has developed substantially. The student population doubled in basic education and tripled in secondary education. This year, more than one million students in Grades one through twelve attending more than 2,600 schools, head back to school in September. Almost 70 per cent of the students attend 1,955 Government schools, 22 per cent attend 325 UNRWA schools and 8 per cent attend 308 private schools.

Major achievements by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) include the development of the 2008-2012 education plan; the finalisation in 2006/2007 of the first Palestinian curriculum; and the development of the Framework for Action for Education for All for 2005-2015.

Despite these achievements, the education system across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) faces many challenges, most notably recent declines in school attendance, and falling learning outcomes.

The primary school net enrolment ratio dropped from 91.7 per cent in 2001 to 83.9 per cent in 2007. While almost all children of primary school age are enrolled in schools, enrolment rates plunge for 16 and 17 year old students, who often drop out after Basic Education (10th grade). Boys most often cite the need to financially support their families and girls most often cite pressure to get married.

Serious questions are also being raised about the quality of education following poor performance in Arabic and mathematics testing. In Gaza, only 59 per cent and 47 per cent of fourth grade students passed their Arabic and mathematics exams respectively, during the second semester of 2010. West Bank data has not been released yet.

Another challenge includes the limited number of children who are enrolled in early childhood development (ECD) programmes, especially in remote areas. Kindergartens are privately run and therefore are not regulated by MOEHE, and tuition is relatively high, ranging from NIS 80 to NIS 500 per month, which excludes most children.

The prevailing unstable political situation has had an adverse effect on the education system. Challenges include:

The impact of operation ‘Cast Lead’: Total damage to education facilities in Gaza was estimated at over USD 32 million. Some 217 schools and 60 kindergartens were damaged, including 18 facilities damaged beyond repair (eight government, two private and eight Kindergartens). Damages to universities accounted for 77 per cent of the total damages to education facilities, followed by damages to governmental schools (11 per cent) and to private schools (9 per cent). One year after ‘Cast Lead’, 82 per cent of the damage had still not been repaired, compounding the already stressed education system, where the majority of schools have been teaching on a double-shift system.

Restrcited mobility: There were 550 obstacles to movement in the West Bank as at end June 2010, making it hard for students and teachers to reach their schools. Between January and June 2010, there were 23 reported incidents where more than 800 students’ access to schools were denied or delayed.

More than 70 per cent of the reported incidents took place in East Jerusalem and its suburbs, resulting in students missing class or not being allowed to reach their schools.

Shortages of classrooms: The limited infrastructure supplies entering Gaza due to the blockade, coupled with a growing student population, has worsened overcrowding in classrooms. In Gaza, up to 82 per cent of government schools and up to 88 per cent of UNRWA schools are run on a double-shift basis. This measure has forced schools to reduce class time by almost one third and to eliminate extracurricular activities. Estimates show that there is a need to build 105 new governmental schools and UNRWA requires 100 additional schools within the next five years to accommodate the increase in student population.

In the West Bank, there are shortages of classrooms especially in East Jerusalem and Area C, due to difficulties in obtaining permission to build new infrastructure in these two areas. In East Jerusalem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel estimates that 46 per cent of 1,398 classrooms are sub-standard, and that there is a shortage of more than 1,000 classrooms. In Area C, students contend with substandard and insufficient infrastructure, including for water and sanitation facilities. Many students in Area C have to walk as much as 10 kilometers to and from school each day.

Damages to schools: Between January and June 2010, there were 14 incidents against schools (4 Gaza and 10 West Bank), affecting more than 5,000 students. Eleven out of the 14 reported cases involved Israeli forces and / or settlers. In Area C, one school serving 40 students in grades 1-4 was demolished on 10 January and another school serving 73 students, received demolition orders against five newly built caravans on 26 January.

Violence in schools: UNICEF conducted a baseline assessment on violence in schools covering 93 schools in the suburbs of East Jerusalem and east Gaza. The data, collected in November 2009, will support a non-violence school policy that is being piloted in 93 schools (73 West Bank, 20 Gaza), which started in 2009/2010 scholastic year, and will end by March 2011.

The assessment showed that almost two-thirds of students said they had witnessed incidents of physical violence against their peers, and more than 37 per cent said they had been subjected to physical violence, in the one year prior to the assessment.

Half of the 100 surveyed teachers admitted that they practiced physical violence against their students. The majority of the respondents said that students were the most frequent perpetrators of violence, followed by teachers. Despite the elevated levels of violence, two-thirds of the 595 surveyed students said they are happy to go to school and 50 per cent said that they feel safe at school.

Evaluation of the child-friendly schools’ initiative: An evaluation of 190 child-friendly schools (CFS), using a rapid participatory approach methodology, was carried out between November 2009 and January 2010. Five key dimensions of the child-friendly environment were assessed, including quality; effectiveness for learning; ability to protect children; gender sensitivity; and participatory approaches involving children, families and communities.

The results showed that the CFS concept is effective in improving the quality of education and is able to mitigate the effects of an emergency situation. There is an overwhelming recognition by MOEHE that CFS is appropriate for the local context. It is in line with Palestinian national plans and is part of the Palestinian Authority’s national education strategy.

While there is no evidence directly linking CFS to improved leaning outcomes, the CFS evaluation confirmed that leaning environment has improved. Other results showed that active methodologies of teaching and learning were used in the classroom with varying degrees of success and sustainability among the 190 schools.

For the past seven years, UNICEF has been supporting the MOEHE in implementing the CFS initiative within 100 schools as pilot project, and during the acute emergency situation within 90 schools. The former used a streamlined approach, including capacity building, infrastructure support, establishing mechanisms to prevent violence and promoting community linkages, which aimed at improving learning environment. The latter, which was part of the emergency programme, included extracurricular and recreation activities to restore a sense of normality to children, while improving quality of education during and post emergency situation.

UNICEF Action

UNICEF works with MOEHE and non-governmental organisations (NGOS) to ensure that every child has access to quality education. UNICEF supports various interventions, which could not have been possible without the financial support of its donors, especially the Government of the Netherlands. These interventions include:

Policy development: In partnership with MoEHE, UNICEF is supporting the development of a national policy framework on early childhood development (ECD). In Gaza, an ECD assessment targeting 350 preschools will be completed in December 2010.

Capacity building: UNICEF supported MoEHE to train more than 1,600 teachers (1,000 West Bank, 600 Gaza) on interactive and child-friendly teaching methodology designed to support low performing schools. In Gaza, 30 MoEHE staff participated in a 12-day training programme to improve their programme management skills. Topics included needs assessments, project design, proposal writing, budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation. Training of 100 teachers and 100 mothers on inclusive teaching methodology for children with special needs, and training of 120 teachers on the child-friendly school framework in 40 West Bank schools.

Learning through enjoyment initiative: To help improve learning outcomes, UNICEF in partnership with MOEHE implemented a remedial learning initiative targeting 300 low performing schools (250 West Bank, 50 Gaza). A total of 1,400 teachers provided up to 78 hours of remedial classes in Arabic and mathematics,along with 48 hours of sports and recreational activities, to 22,500 students.

Child-friendly schools: UNICEF supports MOEHE in its implementing the child-friendly school concept in 40 West Bank schools. The programme has provided training to 120 teachers and life skills based education covering issues such as conflict resolution, team building, and communication and leadership skills to around 2,700 students. A comprehensive manual on child-friendly schools and a strategic plan for child-friendly schools for 2011-2013 will be developed. UNICEF has also supported the construction of water and sanitation facilities at 29 schools (12 Gaza, 17 West Bank), reaching more than 16,000 students, with the aim of reaching an additional 45 schools, covering an additional 22,500 students by end December. In Gaza, UNICEF provided water tankering services to 80 schools, reaching more than 45,000 students. In September, UNICEF-Gaza will distribute 30,000 school bags targeting students in grades one and two. UNICEF will also deliver 3,300 mathematics and science training manuals and 8,100 educational posters, as part of the educational aids, in Arabic, English and mathematics targeting grade one students.

Tales club: In partnership with Tamer Institute for Community Education, UNICEF is implementing the Tales Club, known as ‘Yallah Hakayah’ at 20 libraries across oPt (8 Gaza, 12 West Bank). Two of the Gaza libraries target children with special needs. Through trained story tellers, the Tales Clubs provide 600 children with a venue to express their feelings through writing, story-telling, songs, dance and drama. A collection of stories will be published in a book called ‘My Tales’.

Right to Play: In partnership with the Right to Play organisation, 4,000 female students participated in life skills based education, including communication and leadership skills, conflict resolution and team building through extracurricular activities. This initiative is part of the United Nations Girls’ Education Inititiave (UNGEI).

Connecting classrooms: An innovative teaching and learning methodology was applied to improve learning outcomes through connecting classrooms. In the West Bank, nine schools participated in this initiative, reaching 180 students.

FEATURE: Interactive learning

Nablus and Gaza, occupied Palestinian territory -August 2010. “You are going to love this,” says teacher Suha Ghazaal to an expectant class of elementary school girls at Abdel Rahim Basic School for Girls.

The lesson she is about to teach them is Arabic grammar – difficult and mostly memorization. But the way she captivates the classroom with a game makes the lesson an easy one.

Students pop a balloon to get at the question inside, which they must answer correctly in order to select another game to play. “I hope it’s easy,” jokes the energetic Ghazaal as one student unfolds her piece of paper.

When the students fall into a slump, the teacher grabs a drum and begins to beat out the rhythms of the club anthem: “How beautiful you are,” the song goes. “We learn every day a new idea.”

This school is one of 300 in the oPt that is implementing the UNICEF-supported ‘Learning through Enjoyment’ initiative, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency. In 2010, the programme has reached some 22,500 students with up to 78 hours of Arabic and mathematics classes, and up to 48 hours of sports and arts sessions. It is the programme’s third year.

In Gaza, the World Food Programme joined efforts with UNICEF by providing more than 240,000 date bars as school refreshments. “This initiative aims at providing school children with nutritious food,” says Sharon Mous, UNICEF-Gaza Education Specialist.

The remedial education summer programme targets low-performing students in grades two through six, in the West Bank and grades three through six in Gaza, seeking to increase their basic skills in Arabic and mathematics.

“In the regular schools, these students don’t get a chance to participate,” says Wisama Diab, principal of the Abdel Rahim Basic School for Girls where Ghazaal is teaching. “The smart girls get the attention of the teachers. Here, we see their personalities change.”

At Abdel Rahim Basic School for Girls, the result has been a marked improvement in the students’ knowledge. Starting the programme, the average score on a mathematics test given to students was 32 per cent. After the three-week course, students were given the same test and scored an average of 65 per cent. Similarly, the average student score on an Arabic test was 49 per cent before the programme, rising to 73 per cent at the end of the three-week programme.

In Gaza, the programme relies on the dedication of teachers to overcome the challenges of poverty and the aftermath of war.

Afaf Sahan volunteered to teach fifth and sixth graders in Beit Lahia, even though she lives far away from the area. “I’m here for work, but also because I saw the conditions in Beit Lahia,” she says. “Their situation is really bad. You can’t tell the girls to bring a pencil and paper to school. These girls have nothing.”

Twelve-year-old Islam al-Adham remembers well the days of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in early 2009. Her family sought shelter in a United Nations school after their home caught fire from the bombardment.

“Arabic is hard,” she says. She scored a 52 in her Arabic class last year. But in the ‘Learning for Enjoyment’ classes, al-Adham is engaged in fun ways of studying on learning.

“She’s a smart girl,” says Sahan. “These are girls whose voices we never hear in the classroom, but here they are different. They feel free and they are all on the same level.”

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