STORIES FROM THE FIELD
PROVIDING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN IN GAZA HELPS THEM ACHIEVE THEIR POTENTIAL – AND HOPE
Special Contribution By Mona Abu-Sharekh, UNWRA Visibility Officer
Samah Sawaf is a 42-year-old teacher for second grade students at Mamounia Elementary Co-ed School “B,” in Gaza City. Her ten years of experience working at schools supported through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided her with a good understanding of the specific educational and psychosocial needs of students living in challenging contexts such as Gaza.
“Before settling in Gaza, I worked as an education facilitator in Canada and as a teacher in Kuwait. I often compare these different learning environments and I wonder how these young students manage to study and focus in such an unstable setting where they constantly hear about tragic human stories? This strongly affects their confidence in the future and, thus, their capacity to learn and study,” Samah says.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Gaza is a 40-kilometer-long coastal enclave and home to approximately 1.4 million Palestine refugees, or two-thirds of the overall population. Due to years of a long-standing blockade and political unrest, most of the people are struggling to survive. To make things worse, Gaza is seeing increased poverty levels, high unemployment, a deteriorating economy, and scarcity of energy and drinkable water.
Amid these difficult living conditions, education plays a crucial role in supporting children’s development and self-esteem and gives them hope for the future.
Having contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, UNRWA looks to education as a key element to protect the children of Gaza. The Agency provides basic education to more than 279,000 students in 274 schools in Gaza. UNRWA is the main provider of primary education to Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip.
At the heart of the UNRWA education programme is a strong commitment to provide quality, inclusive and equitable education for Palestine refugees, despite the difficult contexts in which they live. This strategic outcome seeks to build on the achievements to date of the UNRWA education reform with a focus on embedding, enriching and sustaining the achievements.
In 2011, UNRWA embarked on a systemic Agency-wide education reform process which sought to strengthen the UNRWA education system in order to support each and every child towards realising their full potential.
Supported by its education in emergencies response, UNRWA has continued to deliver education in times of crisis through the introduction of innovations such as student self-learning through the dedicated UNRWA YouTube channel and an interactive learning website to develop numeracy and literacy skills.
As children in Gaza grow up in challenging conditions, frequently surrounded by poverty and violence, UNRWA-supported schools provide them with a safe place to learn and play.
PUTTING STUDENTS FIRST
“As the classrooms are overcrowded, the main difficulty is to offer space for every student to express himself or herself. I have a class of 42 students and the lesson lasts for 45 minutes which allows less than one minute for every child to share his or her ideas. This makes it difficult for teachers to be inclusive and to ensure that no student feels neglected,” Samah said.
Despite these difficult working conditions, Samah does her best to provide her students with an enabling learning environment.
“When my students enter the classroom, I want them to know that they are in a safe place. If the child feels comfortable in the classroom, he or she will be more confident to participate and thus will be better integrated. I also think teaching students in a participative and interactive manner is more interesting and enhances students’ motivation and achievements. This is why I acknowledge the usefulness and importance of the education tools that we received last year from Education Cannot Wait,” Samah said.
Over the past few years and through the UNRWA education reform, Samah and all the UNRWA teachers have been supported in implementing student-centred, active teaching and learning strategies.
ENHANCING THE LEARNING PROCESS
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) contributed to safeguarding the right of UNRWA school-aged children to complete quality, equitable and inclusive basic education through different interventions including support to teachers, provision of literacy and numeracy support kits, fans and school furniture, school maintenance and training on non-violence for education of staff and members of school parliaments.
The learning support materials purchased through the ECW investment have helped to enhance the learning process and provided a means for interaction and diverse teaching methodologies, strengthening students’ engagement and motivation. In times of crisis, it is even more key to develop the skills and competencies of children and help them achieve their full potential.
“The education tools we received as part of this investment, notably the Arabic alphabet printed cards, the portable theatres, the abacuses, the numeracy games and conversation plates, had a great impact on students’ motivation and involvement in the lessons. I noticed that these tools facilitate the learning process as students can visualize the abstract ideas and thus better memorize the information. Lessons are definitely more attractive when we use interactive tools and games as a way of learning,” Samah said.
Not only the teachers but also the students did notice the positive effect of these new tools. As in any education in emergencies response, student participation was an important part of the Education Cannot Wait-based investment. Empowering students is key to enhancing students’ own well-being and that of their peers and to creating an environment that is conducive to learning. Student engagement also helps to place students in a better position to deal with negative emotions and cope with the difficult living circumstances in Gaza.
“My class is much more colourful than before; we also do many more works in groups with these new tools, thanks to which I made new friends. For a long time I thought that studying was hard and boring but now, I discovered that it can be fun too, especially when we use the theatre item!” said one of the school’s students, Mohammed Buhaisi.
Mayar Mahfouz, a second-grade student says the new furniture has improved her learning environment. “I like when visitors come to the classroom and get impressed by how nice it is. It makes me feel proud and happy. Our classroom is so nice and so well equipped now that I want to preserve it and to spend more time in it.”
Areej Shaafout, another teacher from Al Mamounia Elementary Co-ed School “B,” explains how the literacy learning support kits offer a solution to deal with the issue of overcrowded classrooms while enhancing literacy teaching: “I teach students in grade 1 and 2 to read and write and this requires patience and focus. The support kits catch students’ attention and help them to concentrate for a longer time as it gives them an opportunity to play instead of merely listening. I am happy to say that now, all of my 42 students can write and read!”
The Education Cannot Wait investment was key in providing targeted support to the overall UNRWA education programme and its education-in-emergencies approach. By building on the UNRWA education programme, the investment’s activities were embedded in the existing system, ensuring a maximized and long-term impact beyond 2018. However, for UNRWA to be able to sustain the delivery of education and consolidate existing efforts, commitment from donors to provide adequate and predictable funding is key.
STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Education Cannot Wait’s ‘Stories from the Field’ series features the voices of our implementing partners, children, youth and the communities we support. These stories have only been lightly edited to reflect the authentic voice of these frontlines partners on the ground. The views expressed in the Stories from the Field series do not necessarily reflect those of Education Cannot Wait, our Secretariat, donors or UN Member States.