Gaza school year hit by resumption in hostilities

UNESCO, August 25, 2014
Nearly half a million children in Gaza will not be able to return to primary and secondary schools on Sunday as the new academic year starts, UNESCO, Save the Children and UNICEF said today. 

More than one million Palestinian students were expected to return to school on 24 August, but classes will remain closed in the conflict-stricken coastal enclave, denying these nearly 500,000 children their right to education.

“Going back to school means bringing back normalcy to children. For this we need a durable ceasefire, and we must meet the most pressing needs for the rapid recovery of the education system,” said Lodovico Folin Calabi, Acting Head of the UNESCO Office in Ramallah.

Since the beginning of the conflict on 8 July, at least 219 schools have been damaged, 22 of which so severely that they can no longer be used.

Among those still standing, 103 have been turned into collective shelters for some 330,000 displaced people, half of whom are children.

“This is the time when children should be in school to study, not to try and survive armed conflict,” said David and Paulette Hassell, Co-Country Directors of Save the Children, who together with UNICEF co-lead the Education Cluster co-ordinating humanitarian action in the sector. 

“This has been a dangerous summer for Palestinian children in Gaza, who could not even go outside to play. School is a vital lifeline to these traumatized children, which plays a key role in their healing,” the Hassells added. 

The education sector was already in a crisis point prior to this escalation, suffering from a shortage of almost 200 schools, with nearly 80 per cent of classes running double shifts to deal with the high number of students. 

The closure of Gaza has prevented desperately-needed new schools from being built, and it will impair reconstruction efforts if urgent action is not taken. 

“Education is the foundation of any society. To invest in education is to invest in peace and stability. For this, the humanitarian community needs the ability to quickly bring in materials and equipment required for the repair, reconstruction and building of schools in Gaza on a large scale,” said June Kunugi, UNICEF Special Representative in the State of Palestine.

According to current estimates, the school term will not resume until at least two or three weeks into a durable ceasefire. Schools currently used as shelters will require varying degrees of rehabilitation in order to be ready for normal schooling. Initial repairs must also be carried out in war-damaged schools, and unexploded ordnance needs to be cleared to restore safety.

A solution also needs to be found for the 330,000 people forced to find refuge in schools – – 70,000 of whom have nowhere to go after their homes were destroyed – – and to support longer-term, extensive rehabilitation and refurbishment of damaged school buildings.

Students must be given a chance to heal from the trauma of having lost loved ones and the pressures of daily attacks and displacement. With nearly half of Gaza’s children suffering mental distress, psychosocial support will have to be included in the school curriculum to support the uphill struggle to heal children’s psychological scars. This will only be possible once students are able to resume classes and their lives.