An inclusive, pupil-centred response to educational needs is our priority, and involves engaging communities and increasing participation in learning. This approach focuses on identifying and supporting children with diverse needs, differential abilities and varied socioeconomic background.
Children have a right to education, and one of UNRWA’s key priorities is to ensure universal access to basic education. All Palestine refugee children registered with the Agency are eligible for nine to ten years of free basic education.
We teach nearly half a million Palestine refugee children, using the host authorities’ curriculums supplemented by enrichment materials.
In the 1960s, the UNRWA school system became the first in the Middle East to achieve equal enrolment of boys and girls.
Wherever possible, UNRWA students take national exams conducted by the host governments. Pupils at UNRWA schools often out-perform government school pupils in these state exams.
In Lebanon, most Palestine refugees lack access to public secondary schools and cannot afford the high cost of private tuition. Because of these special circumstances, UNRWA operates nine secondary schools in Lebanon. Although we are unable to meet demand, the nine schools help make up for the absence of available educational opportunities.
One of our key programmes promotes human rights and non-violent communication skills, conflict resolution and tolerance.
In the West Bank and Gaza, the Agency runs a remedial programme providing extra support to students with learning disabilities.
In response to a high failure rate in mathematics and Arabic in Gaza, UNRWA introduced a Schools of Excellence programme in January 2008. To improve students’ performance, the Agency has reduced class sizes, hired extra teachers and run remedial summer courses. Similar measures were introduced in the West Bank in 2009.
Half the Palestine refugee population is under 25, which puts huge pressure on UNRWA schools. Almost three quarters run on a double-shift system, which reduces teaching time as two consecutive school streams run in one school building on the same day.
We have an ongoing building programme to upgrade and expand infrastructure. Donor contributions have allowed UNRWA to build some new classrooms and schools, but the Agency has not been able to meet demand.
In the Gaza Strip alone, more than 100 new schools are needed, with nine out of ten schools running on a double-shift basis. Many schools throughout the Agency’s five areas of operations urgently need upgrading and replacing.
The occupation, frequent incidents of armed conflict and movement restrictions often pose serious obstacles to regular school attendance for children in Gaza and the West Bank.
In Gaza, ongoing conflict damaged some school property and interrupted schooling. Students lost many school days during the during the conflict of 2008-2009, and many of them also experienced post-traumatic stress.
The blockade of Gaza has also affected children’s education. Millions of dollars of UNRWA construction projects, including schools, remain suspended. Paper for textbooks, notebooks and chalk are often delayed for months at a time. There is a huge shortage of uniforms, school bags and school supplies.
Most significantly, the blockade has left many parents unemployed, leading to further poverty and consequently hungry students in the classroom.
The situation in the West Bank is similar, though with some difference in scale and intensity. Checkpoints, obstacles and the Barrier hinder access to education and affect the quality of children’s schooling.
In response, the Agency has prolonged the school year when permitted, or provided extra classes to compensate for lost time. UNRWA has also hired teams of trauma counsellors to work with children who have been emotionally scarred by their experiences.
Even with these efforts, such lengthy disruptions have badly affected the quality of education the Agency can provide.