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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Meant to Post This a While Ago…

30 04 2010

An encouraging step toward education for all in India – taken from the World Education Blog.

India’s ground-breaking Right to Education Act

Posted on 2 April 2010 by Kevin Watkins

Numerous voices have risen this week to praise India’s historic Right to Education Act, which came into force on 1 April. The new law establishes the right to education of every child aged 6 to 14, and addresses India’s need to provide more schools and teachers, and further develop training and curriculums.

Katha public school, south Delhi. India’s challenge now is to translate the Right to Education Act into into real changes. (Photo: Brendan O’Malley © UNESCO)

The impact of the new law is staggering – it carries the hope of bringing an estimated eight million extra children into school. The act also develops a plan to train one million new teachers in the next five years.With this law, India joins over 130 countries that have legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to children.In his speech to the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered powerful personal testimony of the value of education: “I was born to a family of modest means. In my childhood I had to walk a long distance to go to school. I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am today because of education.”The prime minister equally drew attention to the vital importance of reaching marginalized people, including caste and tribal groups: “The needs of every disadvantaged section of our society, particularly girls, dalits, adivasis and minorities, must be of particular focus as we implement this act.”In the 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we highlighted the need not only to pass laws guaranteeing education for marginalized groups, but also to combat the stigmatization and discrimination these groups face on a daily basis. The challenge for India’s authorities now will be to translate this ground-breaking law into real changes.

The Story of Stuff

21 03 2010

This woman is my hero.  I think I’m becoming granola.  Please take 20 minutes and check out this informative video.

For My Friend

14 03 2010

I have a friend who’s in a pretty intense period of being stripped of everything normal in her life.  It’s like an earthquake of sorts, where suddenly everything’s shaken up, the ground’s dropped out from underneath her, the structures in her life have crumbled to the ground, she’s lost her own two feet to stand on, she doesn’t have resources to even begin to rebuild, most days she battles being too tired to even climb out of the rubble and the aftershocks come in waves just at the moments when she starts to have hope again.  I have watched her amazingly try to put the pieces back together, to “make it work,” to find a way out from here when there really is no visible way…all with a joyful, hopeful, tenacious spirit.  And yet, at the end of the day, and amidst the rumble of still more aftershocks, we are recognizing that the only thing God is really letting her do is, well, receive.

Receiving is almost a four-letter word in our can-do culture.  I remember my own earthquake season – quite different from my friend’s, but legitimate nonetheless – where my world was completely shaken and I found my giving self with nothing left to give.  I suddenly depended deeply on people’s money, plane tickets, ideas, prayers, anger, advice, time spent listening to me say the same struggles over and over again, and the truth they faithfully spoke into those struggles over and over again.  It took my understanding of humility from a concept I chose to act when it was convenient, to something I couldn’t escape feeling – like when you haven’t eaten in a while and you feel a little trembling in your knees.  It forced me to walk in weakness.

This position of true humility, when you know you’re weak, deeply violates our culture’s unspoken law of “success” or what it even means to be “normal.”  And if we are Christian, we say we’re different and that we put our trust in God, but we really keep the culture’s law as much as anyone.  We wrestle with God to give us strength and to “open doors” so we can walk into the next room of life confidently on our own two feet.  The idea of only being able to sit in the room waiting for others to come and drop things off or carry us forward – because that’s sometimes all we can do – spits in the face of Calvin’s capitalistic work ethic, makes us seem lazy, and stirs a deep and persistent fear down low in our gut that our survival, let alone that abundant life Jesus promised us, is quite absurdly dependent on the willingness of others to come and journey with us.

I was thinking of my friend this week and the painful process she’s been on having to accept both her inability to give and receive at the same time, and I was thinking of how we as Christians respond to these seasons of dependence in our lives.  We accuse God of not loving us because He won’t give us all the things we want/need in order to be independent (anyone looking for a job?  Having a life-direction crisis?  Wanting a better education so you can get a little more respect?  Struggling to pay the bills or secretly bitter at your budget?  Lonely?  Wanting to see the fruit of your ministry?)  All of the antidotes to these desires, even when desired with good intentions – money, jobs, direction, spouses, community, etc. – they all dance before us like prizes on the Price is Right promising to pave the way to that life we’ve always wanted, or legitimately even hoped to have in order to honor God.  We accuse God of not loving us when he doesn’t give us these things.  Perhaps the accusation is not explicit, but we ask him to show his love to us by giving us these things – am I right?

But we miss his love when he withholds…in the way he starves our independence but satisfies our dependence.  That we must depend on the providence of God and others does not mean he does not love us, but rather that he loves us so deeply that he wants to meet our needs and be involved in our lives.  The story of the people of God as they wandered through the wilderness was not that they survived by their own strength, but rather that they were dependent upon the strange and unanticipated gifts of God: water from rocks, victory in battle through worship not warfare, guidance from clouds and fire, manna that fed them enough for each day instead of meals they could prepare themselves.  This is the miracle of the manna – that the God who could have given them more than enough for their entire journey all at once, instead chose to show up every morning and rain down just enough for the day…and then he showed up again and again and again.  Sure, he was leading them to a land flowing with milk and honey, where they would never be in want, and we need to remember this and pray that God would lead us to our own land of plenty, but if you’re like me or my friend and you’re not yet there, let us rejoice in the love of the manna and continue to pray as Jesus advised us, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?  How far from saving me, the words I groan!  I call all day, my God, but you never answer, all night long I call and cannot rest.  Yet, Holy One, you who make your home in the praises of Israel, in you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted you and you rescued them; they called to you for help and they were saved; they never trusted you in vain.” – Psalm 22:1-5

Six World Vision Pakistan Employees Killed in Attack

11 03 2010

Please join me in prayer for my colleagues in Pakistan.  I am reminded during this Lenten season to prepare the way for our Lord’s coming again with prayers for peace, and to weep over the violence in our cities as Jesus wept over Jerusalem before his final entry.

New York Times article here.

I Want to Hug This Man!

27 02 2010

Doesn’t this make you HAPPY?  We promote these community learning options in World Vision – mobile libraries for rural kids.  I’ve seen them on camels…though for some reason “Biblioburro” REALLY makes me smile!

Check it out:

A Lent God Will Notice

20 02 2010

A couple years ago my spirituality professor shared the idea of taking retreats of engagement and not just withdrawal.  This was a new concept to me – the idea of resisting the urge to not only withdraw to quiet and comfortable, but to retreat into something new, to choose an action or environment that would invite God’s presence into my life in a new way.

The idea was new to me then, but it was not new to God.  In fact it fits closely with the biblical understanding of repentance, which not only means to stop doing something but, more fully, to change your heart and change your way.  As we enter the season of Lent, the annual period in the liturgical church calendar where believers prepare themselves for the impending cross and resurrection of Christ through repentance and fasting, I think it also offers us a pathway to the heart of God.

Do you delight to know God’s ways?  Do you delight in his nearness?  Even if we have the best of intentions this Lenten season, we still might miss the point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given up significant habits during Lent over the years.  And even as I do it again this year, I remember the call to not just withdraw or withhold, but to engage.  Repentance is both ceasing and striving at the same time (it can sometimes take a lot of courage and a lot of strength to move in a new direction!).

Wishing you hadn’t chosen to give up sugar, caffeine, or Facebook this go around?  Consider some of these other options, taken from Isaiah 58, the quintessential biblical instruction on fasting.  Some involve abstaining, others radical engagement.  In the 43 days we have left, whichever you choose, move in a new direction:

– free those who are wrongly imprisoned

– lighten the burden of those who work for you

– let the oppressed go free

– remove the chains that bind people

– share your food with the hungry

– give shelter to the homeless

– give clothes to those who need them

– do not hide from relatives who need your help

– remove the heavy yoke of oppression

– stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors

– feed the hungry

– help those in trouble

– keep the sabbath day holy; don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day; honor the sabbath in everything you do on that day; desist from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word.

Wonder what’s in store for those who fast this way?  Isaiah puts it this way:

“Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’…Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.  And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.  Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell…Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 58: 8-14)

I invite you to read the entire passage here.