Students in many countries are preparing to start the new academic year as I write this (August 2014). However, in Gaza the latest war means the start date for the new year remains uncertain for some learners. The Israeli assault (which lasted nearly 2 months) means children in Gaza are being denied their basic right to education.
My little brother, Anas, is a ninth grader. He has already lived through two previous Israeli assaults (2009 and 2012), and says he is currently looking forward to surviving the third. Anas is a smart student with big dreams for the future. He was selected to participate in an education tour of the USA in 2012, organised by the United Nations. This year, Anas was excited to start the new school year and particularly keen to develop his English language skills. However, the current assault on Gaza has had a negative psychological effect. “I have no idea why our basic rights and especially my right to education are being denied. There is no excuse for the warplanes to bomb our schools. I did not enjoy my summer holiday and I am no longer excited about starting my new school year” Anas told me.
According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 26 schools were totally destroyed and another 221 schools damaged since 8 July. At least 11 higher education institutions were also affected. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education reported more than 30 education personnel killed and many employees, teachers and students injured. More than 30 education personnel were killed and many employees, teachers and students injured. One-quarter of the population is internally displaced, sheltering in UN or government schools.
The education system was already devastated by the 7-year Israeli blockade, which prevents basic supplies necessary for the development of the education sector from entering the Gaza Strip. Despite this, efforts had been made to introduce inclusive education, including improving school accessibility and welcoming children with disabilities into schools. Now, after weeks of Israeli bombardment and military activities, education agencies must divert their stretched resources into conducting damage assessments. They need to appraise surviving education infrastructure and gauge what support and education can be offered this year. Providing any sort of education will be a logistical challenge. Thousands of children are displaced and no longer able to attend their usual schools – assuming those schools even survived the bombings and are safe enough to use. There will be even greater classroom overcrowding, in schools that were already running double shifts before the war.
Even where school facilities can be found, or created temporarily, there won’t be a simple return to teaching and learning. UNRWA reports the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Gazan children having doubled since the 2012 assault. More than 350,000 children need mental health and psychosocial support services. They suffer from anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Longer-term, psychological and trauma healing interventions will be an essential part of education. UN and government schools will reportedly dedicate the first semester of the new year to providing mental health and psychological support. Safe, secure, inclusive and productive education for all children in Gaza remains a distant vision.
The Gaza Strip, part of Palestine, is 365km2. It is home to 1.8 million people. According to UNRWA, the majority (1.23 million) are registered as refugees, residing in 9 refugee camps. Around 65% of Gazans are under 25 and in constant need of education, health and other social services.
Ayman Qwaider is an education and human rights consultant and Arabic translator from Gaza, currently based in Australia. He is also working with EENET as an intern to help build networking on inclusive education in the Arabic region.