Students face challenges as new school year begins in Gaza and the West Bank

Palestinians examine their damaged house after Israel forces withdrew from the area, in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, 8 July 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

NEW YORK –- Ongoing violence in the West Bank and Gaza is threatening to disrupt the new school term as more than 1.6 million children prepare to return to classes. The situation is compounded by poverty; teachers haven’t been paid for six months and are threatening to strike while many families can’t afford the cost of fees or uniforms.

UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and other partners are launching a Back to School campaign with aid for those most vulnerable. UNICEF’s Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Dan Rohrmann, says school is a vital lifeline to these children who are living in daily fear and danger – 39 were killed in July alone.

“They live in an environment of extraordinary fear, violence and insecurity, and on top of that they’ve had a very, very difficult summer with a lot of incursions, a lot of shelling,” he says.

“Children really feared to play outside. They didn’t go to the beach. They didn’t go to the parks. They were playing inside. So going back to school means bringing back normalcy and bringing back the daily life that children like.”

Galvanizing community support for education

To confront the challenges ahead, UNICEF and its partners have organised a number of focus groups with students, parents and teachers. The sessions are aimed at galvanizing community support for education.

Some children have organised their own advocacy groups to tackle the impact of violence in schools. Almost half of all students have been exposed to violence in the last year and many say it’s the reason they drop out.

“When talking about the main challenges for school, it is security we are really lacking. Financial support can be somehow secured, but the stress among children cannot be easily solved,” says Sahar Jared, a teacher in Gaza.

“In addition to financial constraints, teachers face security threats and constraints such as road blocks and barriers which affects both teachers and students,” says another teacher, Jamal Abdel Halim in the West Bank. “Financial and psychological challenges should be solved.”

Children themselves say education is vital for their future but violence and poverty are undermining that basic right.

“I will face a problem when studying because of the electricity and water cuts, but I have to study to continue my education,” says 12-year old Omar Al Sayyed.

As part of the Back to School campaign, UNICEF is helping to make schools more child-friendly by providing teaching and learning materials, as well as helping struggling parents pay for uniforms and school supplies.

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