UNRWA SUPPORTS STUDENTS’ RIGHT TO AN EDUCATION IN GAZA, DESPITE ONGOING CONFLICT
23 August 2014
UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees) will commence a three-phase back-to-school plan in war torn Gaza this week, to help students and teachers start to transition into a new school year. This three phase plan is being coordinated with the UNRWA HQ, the Ministry of Education and in close collaboration with other partners who are working to support the children of Gaza. Itincludes psychosocial interventions, the use of new technology, UNRWA’s satellite TV education programs and self-learning material for all children.
Ceremonies to mark what should have been the first day of school today will also be held in every UNRWA emergency shelter. The symbolic assemblies will include ringing the school bell at 07:00, singing the national anthem, reading of standard messages by staff and students and recreational activities. The ceremonies are being led by UNRWA’s education department as a reminder to everyone that, despite the current challenges, every child in Gaza has the right to an education.
“The ringing of the school bell across Gaza is an expression of our determination that children will not be deprived of all that education can bring,” said Caroline Pontefract, UNRWA’s Director of Education.
“Whilst we cannot commence school in a traditional sense today, we want all people in Gaza, especially the refugees we serve, to know that we will not allow any child to miss out on school, no matter how dire the circumstances might become,” said Mr. Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of Operations for UNRWA in Gaza. “We also know that students and educators need time to adjust, to reflect and to be ready to learn again, even as the war continues. Our revised approach allows for all of that.”
The education sector in Gaza was at a crisis point even prior to the current emergency. According to UN information, Gaza was suffering from a shortage of almost 200 schools, with many running in double shifts. Thepressure on Gaza’s education system has only been intensified by the loss of additional educational infrastructure during the war, and the continued presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons seeking refuge in school buildings.
“The ongoing conflict has seen 79 UNRWA schools damaged, and 85 functioning as shelters, where we are now hosting over 292,000 people, including about 75,000 school-aged children,” said Mr. Anderson. “These factors combined mean that delivering standard curriculum in traditional formats is not possible for refugee or non-refugee children in Gaza at this time. However, we must not let that stop us from providing learning opportunities for the next generation.”
As the first component of its education plan, UNRWA is working with the Ministry of Education and other partners, to expand psychosocial interventions over the next few weeks, which are already part of the Agency’s emergency response activities. It will also teach children about maintaining their health and personal safety, including how to avoid landmines and unexploded ordnances.
These activities will be followed by a second phase which focuses on active learning, and the key skills and concepts of core school subjects, which can be implemented even if with the continued hosting of displaced persons in the UNRWA schools. The third transition will be a return to quality education in school buildings, where UNRWA expects to educate more than 230,000 students.
UNRWA’s support to providing access to education for children in conflict zones is an established practice. The Agency has its own satellite television channel, UNRWA TV, specifically designed to run education programs for children who are unable to attend traditional schools. This has been used in Syria and Gaza over the past two years.
Whilst a transition into the school year will help students to continue their education, longer term interventions in Gaza are also essential. The seven-year Israel blockade of Gaza has prevented much needed new schools from being built and if it is not lifted at the conclusion of the war, there is a risk that it will impair reconstruction efforts.
UNRWA appeals to the international community to make education in Gaza an urgent priority so that students can continue their studies and lives beyond the current conflict.
“These are incredibly challenging days, but in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must do all that we can to ensure all children in Gaza have access to education now and in the future,” Mr. Anderson added.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 70.5 million.
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