UNESCO report shows serious psychosocial problems in Gaza schools
Nervousness, sadness, stress, fear of attack, inability to concentrate and poor academic results are just some of the issues facing learners and teachers in the Gaza Strip (occupied Palestinian territory). A recent UNESCO assessment shows that the education system is under immense strain as a result of recent military operations and the ongoing blockade.
Almost 83% of learners reported feeling nervous; 57% of them did not feel safe at school, 67% felt unsafe traveling to and from school and over 70% had nightmares and feared another war. Learning outcomes also suffered: almost 77 % of teachers at primary, preparatory and secondary levels reported lower performance levels in their students “most of the time” or “always”. One-quarter of university students surveyed reported feeling little hope in the future. “Before the war, only one or two students out of 100 in my classes would fail,” said one university professor. “Now more than 12 out of 100 students fail.”
The bombarding of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army between December 2008 and January 2009 caused the death of 250 students and 15 teachers, some in schools of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Eighteen schools were destroyed and 262 were damaged. One year after the attacks, damaged schools had not been repaired, as the blockade hampered reconstruction efforts.
The UNESCO assessment covered 90 schools, four universities and over 6,000 learners and teachers at all levels of education in Gaza. ‘Learners’ covered students of all ages.
Two-thirds of teachers interviewed reported experiencing stress and difficulty maintaining class discipline. Most had no psychosocial support. “If you don’t feel safe, you can’t help students feel safe”, remarked one teacher.
Chief among the recommendations was that holistic psychosocial support should be integrated into the education system, guided by inter-agency guidelines such as the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings and the INEE Minimum Standards.
This assessment was commissioned by UNESCO’s Ramallah Office and conducted from December 2009 to March 2010 by Kathleen Kostelny, PhD and Michael Wessells, PhD of the Columbia Group for Children in Adversity, with funding from the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.
The 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR), to be launched on 1 March, is on the theme of Education and Violent Conflict. It covers much of the same ground but on a global scale. It examines the damaging consequences of conflict for the Education for All goals and outlines an agenda for protecting the right to education during conflict. The GMR also strongly recommends psychosocial support for vulnerable and conflict-affected young people.
For more information on the assessment report and how UNESCO is responding to the situation in the oPt, please contact Dean Brooks, Education Specialist: d.brooks(at)unesco.org.