great look at the effects of the Gaza blockade on education in the region

26 06 2010

Check out the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies site for this and other great blog posts.  Reposted here for a quick read:

The Gaza blockade and the education system

Jo Kelcey is a Monitoring and Reporting Officer and Dean Brooks is an Education Specialist in UNESCO’s Ramallah Office, in the occupied Palestinian territory. Here they provide insight into the impact of the Gaza blockade on the education system.

Extreme access and movement restrictions have come to characterize life for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory.  These are especially severe in the case of Gaza which has been under an almost hermetic blockade since 2007. Its cumulative effects were especially pronounced in the lead up to the 2008-2009 war.  While some immediate supplies were allowed in following the war they remain inadequate and are far below that which is necessary to reconstruct and rehabilitate the system.

Indeed, the blockade applies to both people and goods, moving in as well as out of Gaza. Its effects have been felt in all sub sectors and it has severe implications for access to education as well as the quality of teaching and learning.  The status quo also presents specific needs and challenges to the work of education actors in the territory.

What does this mean for education?
The inability to import construction and educational materials has exacerbated an already worrying lack of facilities in Gaza.  As a result, thousands of students are being forced to learn in overcrowded and often unsafe and unsanitary conditions in schools operating on double shifts. The current shortage of educational facilities and supplies affects some 640 schools catering for 240,000 students in the public and private sphere and 207,250 students at UNRWA schools. Fourteen public and private higher education institutions are also affected. The impact of the blockade has been particularly pronounced following Israeli military operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009). During Cast Lead 18 schools were completely destroyed and another 260 schools were damaged. A little over a year later, reconstruction and the provision of much needed educational supplies remains impossible to provide. At the level of higher education, seven universities and colleges were severely damaged and the closure policy has obstructed virtually all education staff from any meaningful participation in international academia, such as conferences and professional exchanges.

The impact is felt by students and teachers alike. In July and August 2009, when schools were preparing for the new academic year, two truckloads of school stationary were allowed to cross into Gaza, as compared to 157 truckloads and 30 truckloads during the same period in 2007 and 2008 respectively (figures from UN reports cited in the Submission by the Israel/oPt working group on grave violations against children).  Consequently, the Ministry of Education in Gaza reported severe shortages of stationery, ink, and paper at the start of the current academic year, prompting a rationing of supplies.

Access has also been compromised by the socio economic crisis engendered by the blockade. Even before the destruction and economic losses resulting from the 2008-2009 war, families were under increased economic strain to meet their children’s educational needs.  For example in the Humanitarian Action Update from October 2008, UNICEF reported that the price of school uniforms and supplies increased by 50 – 100 per cent due to the blockade, while preliminary findings from a forthcoming UNESCO study regarding the psychosocial impact of the blockade on the education system show that in some affected communities there are substantial pressures for children to work.  This in turn is compromising education and contributing to higher numbers of children and youth leaving school. Effects are also pronounced at the level of higher education.  The 2009-2010 academic year at Al Aqsa University started five weeks late owing to a strike by students over their inability to pay school fees.  Moreover, thousands of young Gazans have been prevented from pursuing their studies outside of Gaza, including the West Bank.  In 2000 for example, there were 350 Gazans studying at Birzeit University in the West Bank: today there are none.

What about the longer term impacts?
The deteriorating access situation has undoubtedly impacted the quality of education offered in Gaza. Access to information is hampered by the restrictions on importing text books and magazines and by the lack of movement of students and teachers. Over the last several years, teachers and academics have had very few, if any, possibilities to travel out of Gaza to participate in conferences or to undertake additional specialized training. The professional and intellectual isolation has impacted their competencies and morale.  Moreover, the absence in Gaza of expertise in specialized fields has made the inability to travel abroad for education and training an insurmountable obstacle for the development of capacity in certain fields such as health, sciences and technology. Tertiary education institutions in the oPt no longer have access to a continuous influx of information, research, discussion, or exchange of ideas in international forums.

Secondly, conditions imposed by the blockade, combined with the trauma of the last war make it very hard for students to concentrate and study.  Preliminary findings of a UNESCO survey suggest that the blockade exacerbates feelings of isolation, marginalization and desperation among learners and teachers.  These findings certainly correlate with declining exam pass rates. For example, during the 2008–2009 academic year, 14,000 students, out of a total of 207,000 students (7 per cent of the total) in 228 UNRWA schools in Gaza, failed all subjects in standardized tests; the overall grade averages at Al Azhar University also fell from 75.5 per cent in 2007-2008 to 67.5 per cent in 2008-2009 – a drop of 8 per cent; and 2009 Tawjihee results in science dropped by 9.6 per cent compared with 2008 (MEHE).  Finally, the lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip means students are intermittently forced to learn in classrooms or study at home with no electricity, while science and computer classes that relied on electrical equipment have been cancelled (OCHA: Humanitarian Monitor, February 2008).

So what is UNESCO doing about this?
Despite the clear need to support the Education sector in Gaza, attempts to restore and improve access-to-and-quality-of education in Gaza face many challenges.  The blockade has greatly impeded the ability to physically reconstruct and rehabilitate the education sector which in turn poses an overarching challenge of how to ensure relevant programming. Yet while the movement of goods is very limited, movement of international staff and experts remains possible. UN international humanitarian staff generally get access into Gaza unless they are of Arab origin in which case they can face difficulties obtaining the clearance from Israel.  Very few Palestinian ID holders – for both Jerusalem and the West Bank are allowed in, most are rejected outright.  The same situation applies to INGO staff although they have to reapply for clearance every few months.  In general staff of local NGOs are not allowed in, although there have been some cases of internationals working for Palestinian NGOs getting in (but having problems re-entering Israel again afterwards).

Virtual movement of ideas also remains possible, as approximately 32% of people in Gaza have internet access (more information here). UNESCO has integrated these realities into its response by developing projects that offer alternative learning opportunities through the provision of technical and human resources support.

Its emergency education activities in Gaza began immediately following Israeli military operation Cast Lead.  Through support from the First Lady of Qatar (Her Highness’s Office), it has transformed into a comprehensive programme that seeks to address immediate needs in the education sector all the while preparing for the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza.  Interventions include catch up and remedial support classes for older children preparing for their end of high school matriculation exams (the Tawjihee) psychosocial support activities; support to higher education institutions through fee waivers and e-learning; support for crisis planning and management; training on the INEE minimum standards; and improved monitoring and documentation of violations of the Right to Education in the oPt.  Relevance is ensured through adherence to the key needs as identified by the education community in the Consolidated Appeals Process, and by focusing on addressing the humanitarian impact in those gap areas not covered by other agencies: notably the upper secondary and higher education sub sectors. Among the more hopeful signs is the current UNESCO support project which sees approximately 300 INEE training workshops taking place across Gaza. This builds on a previous project in 2009 during which 19 Master Trainers were trained during 2009.  Through the Qatari funded project, these participants have since received a refresher course and are now raising awareness of the minimum standards in schools, universities and community based organizations across Gaza. The trainings are being further anchored through UNESCO’s support to the Master trainers to develop emergency education plans with their participants.  Especially prominent among the target audience are University Staff (and some students).  It is hoped that this widespread increased awareness that this will engender will both allow local education actors to better advocate for the Right to education in Gaza, and will facilitate their emergency preparedness and the early recovery of the sector more broadly.

For more information on UNESCO’s emergency education activities in the oPt please contact Dean Brooks – // ‘;l[1]=’a’;l[2]=’/’;l[3]=”;l[24]=’\”‘;l[25]=’ 103′;l[26]=’ 114′;l[27]=’ 111′;l[28]=’ 46′;l[29]=’ 111′;l[30]=’ 99′;l[31]=’ 115′;l[32]=’ 101′;l[33]=’ 110′;l[34]=’ 117′;l[35]=’ 64′;l[36]=’ 115′;l[37]=’ 107′;l[38]=’ 111′;l[39]=’ 111′;l[40]=’ 114′;l[41]=’ 98′;l[42]=’ 46′;l[43]=’ 100′;l[44]=’:’;l[45]=’o’;l[46]=’t’;l[47]=’l’;l[48]=’i’;l[49]=’a’;l[50]=’m’;l[51]=’\”‘;l[52]=’=’;l[53]=’f’;l[54]=’e’;l[55]=’r’;l[56]=’h’;l[57]=’a ‘;l[58]=’= 0; i=i-1){
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