Since 1948, successive conflicts have resulted in mass Palestinian refugee creation as well as subsequent IDP movement and displacement. The entire population of the occupied territory of Palestine can be considered either refugees, displaced or conflict affected. The prolonged Israeli military occupation continues to intensify the fragmentation of Palestine: the blockaded Gaza Strip remains cut off from the West Bank; annexed East Jerusalem is increasingly isolated from the rest of Palestine; and tens of thousands of Palestinians in West Bank communities are split, isolated and impoverished by the Wall, settlements, and access restrictions. There are extremely high levels of poverty as the result of the blockade on Gaza and the restrictions of movement of people and goods in the West Bank. The long-term refugee camps are extremely crowded and there are many issues with domestic violence and lack of services. The population is overwhelming youthful and population growth remains high. The devastating impact of Palestine’s deepening fragmentation is most vivid in the Palestinian education system. The accelerating de-development and compartmentalization from the fragmentation has led to multiple, dislocated education systems failing to meet the growing needs of a population of children and youth and unable to absorb the frequent violent, localized shocks of conflict and occupation. The inability of the Palestinian state to provide basic, quality education to its population undercuts any future hope of unified Palestinian statehood and lays the population open to cycles of poverty, exclusion and social unrest.
Education services struggle to deliver meaningful, protective and enabling education in such an environment. Despite historically high levels of literacy and cultural commitment to education the sector in Palestine is essentially de-developing. Whilst the situations in the West Bank and Gaza may be different they have produced similar effects for education. In addition particular communities face conflict related ‘shocks’ and attacks against education1 such as the November 2012 escalation in hostilities in Gaza, (which caused physical damage to over 100 schools) and ongoing settler violence and house demolitions (which impact the ability of children and youth to access protective education.) Whilst historically Palestinian communities have generally placed great emphasis on the importance of education as an enabling right this has been eroded by economic shocks such as the blockade of Gaza and closures of the West Bank to labour markets. This has denigrated the value of education as it has become less linked to the ability to earn and support a family.
In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli blockade and internal political divisions mean that two separate Ministries of Education operate, coordinating at a technical level but without a common strategy or policy for the development of the education sector. This is, to a lesser extent, mirrored in the UNRWA system where two separate field offices administer the education systems in West Bank in Gaza although they do share a common regional strategy and policy. In the Gaza Strip, the Ministry of Education and UNRWA are both dramatically affected by the Blockade. Israel’s prohibition on the entrance of most construction materials prevents the construction of hundreds of needed schools resulting in severe overcrowding in classrooms and more than ¾ of a million children attending schools running on double shifts. And yet, the most extreme example of the devastating impact of Palestine’s fragmented education system remains in East Jerusalem where Palestinian schools are managed by five separate and uncoordinated service providers. Push out (or drop-out) rates there have reached almost 50% - meaning that almost half of the Palestinian students in the city will not complete a high school education
Gaza: There are two education service providers in Gaza; UNRWA2 and the Ministry of Education (MoE). UNRWA caters to approximately 300,000 students of school age and the MoE approximately 500,000. Whilst UNRWA’s mandate is to serve the refugee population (from the 1948 and 1967 conflicts) there is considerable cross-over in service provision. UNRWA faces specific challenges in terms of school infrastructure and is unable to meet the demand due to limited space and restrictions placed on building. As a result, most schools operate in double shifts, reducing class hours and placing additional pressure on the education system. This is equally true for the MoE system with the added disadvantage that since the Hamas- Fatah political split in 2006/7 most trained teachers were replaced by untrained graduates by the Hamas government after there had been wide-scale strikes. The result of these factors (as well as other systemic, sectorial factors) is great strain on the system meaning that the most vulnerable children and youth do not receive adequate protective education.
East Jerusalem and Area C (West Bank): East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank are the areas formally occupied by the Israeli state and military. In East Jerusalem a fractured and uncoordinated group of five service providers address the educational needs of Palestinians. This lack of coordination leads to massive shortfalls in the most basic of service provision3. In addition, restrictions on the movement of teaching staff make it difficult for service providers to recruit qualified teachers from the West Bank. Teaching is under-remunerated in East Jerusalem and, as such, motivation and quality are low. For around 20% of children daily crossings of check points and exposure to settler violence exacerbate the situation. There is considerable push out from education with the likelihood that 50% of children do not finish their education4 and endemic violence is evident in many schools and classrooms. There is also negligible provision of skills training for youth out of education. Whilst NRC has less first-hand experience of implementation in Area C many of the issues affecting East Jerusalem schools extend to the West Bank. In addition, restrictions on movement and the isolation of more rural communities further exacerbate lack of access to education services.
NRC in Palestine
As a humanitarian and emergency relief organization, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been operational in Palestine since 2009 providing assistance to IDPs, refugees, those at risk of displacement and host communities. In 2009 the Country Office was established in Jerusalem, followed by offices in Gaza and Ramallah and a sub office in Hebron. In 2012 NRC closed its office in Ramallah and moved its main West Bank operations to Jerusalem.
Programmatically, NRC currently operates a programme focused on three of NRC’s five core competencies: Education, Shelter, and Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA).
NRC Palestine Education Programme:
Since the inception of the programme the programmatic strategy and response has evolved and deepened. For the year 2014 Education strategic objectives are stated as;
Overall Programme Objectives:
Palestinian children benefit from programmes that prevent push out, respond to push out and provide Education in Emergencies interventions.
Prevent Push Out: Education service providers change policy and practice based on the experience of parents, teachers and schools demonstrating protective, inclusive and enabling education
Respond to Push Out: Out of school youth gain skills (foundational, transferable and vocational) by participating in non-formal education services
Education in Emergencies: Children affected by conflict receive education in emergencies support.
However, it should be noted that, at the time of writing, NRC has so far failed to secure funding to respond to the needs of children and youth out of school or training.
History of Education Interventions in Palestine:
Our Communities Our Schools:
NRC Palestine introduced Education activities in 2010 in Gaza due to the identified need of the UNRWA education system and through a local MoU (funded through NRC Telethon.) Initially NRC and UNRWA agreed to pilot an intervention in 3 schools in the Middle Area and undertook an extensive needs assessment process, including input from UNRWA management, school principals, teachers, parents and children. On the basis of this assessment NRC created the ‘Our Communities, Our Schools’ intervention for Palestine based on five threads of intervention:
Whole school needs assessment to tailor interventions to specific localised need and engage the wider school community.
Capacitation grants (small grants to schools, with procurement by NRC, to allow schools to plug gaps in provision of materials, especially teaching and learning aids. The capacitation grants also allow school management an opportunity to work with NRC staff to identify and address needs and gaps in provision.)
Long-term coached teacher training.
Parental Skills clubs to support parents to support their children’s education. (In Gaza this is in partnership with the Al Qattan Centre for the Child and in the West Bank through the Tamer Institute.)
Communication planning activities to support the school to engage parents and the community with the life of the school.
The intervention was designed to run over two years with NRC providing most explicit support in the first year and, in the second, stepping back to support the school to take activities forwards. For example, in year one of the intervention, NRC staff engage in extensive external training of teachers, whilst in the second year NRC staff support teachers to conduct their own training in house.
In 2011, UNRWA Gaza requested the scaling up of NRC’s education work within the education system and included another three schools within the programme. Since 2011 Gaza has included 6 schools cycling within the ‘Our Communities, Our Schools’ programme at any one time.
In 2012, the ‘Our Communities, Our Schools’ programme was expanded to the West Bank, specifically East Jerusalem. Based on initial research work with UNICEF/ UNESCO, and the mission of NRC, it was decided to concentrate the programmes efforts on UNRWA and the Awqaf education systems. In both systems there was an identified need and a structured system within which to work on systemic issues. The intervention schools were chosen in negotiation with the UNRWA and Awqaf education systems to reach schools and communities that were Wall-Affected5 and were not currently being reached by other organisations or service providers. In addition another partner was selected for work in schools; The Tamer institute. The intervention in West Bank generally mirrors that of Gaza although local differences are accounted for.
The intervention has also included the production of TV programming for UNRWA’s satellite channel designed for parents to help them support their children’s education.
The intervention tries to maintain a 50-50 division of female and male beneficiaries within the programme whilst acknowledging that there are slightly different modalities of intervention necessary for boys and girls and male and female parents and staff. Emphasis has been placed on trying to bring male parents into schools and the education system in a more engaged and dynamic way.
Our Communities Our Schools implementation areas/ schools:
West Bank- UNRWA
West Bank- Awqaf
Qalandia/ Shufat/ Shiekh Sa’ad
Abu Deis Girls and Boys
Qalandia/ Shufat/ Shiekh Sa’ad
Research and Policy Work:
In the summer of 2011 NRC worked with UNRWA Gaza, at their request, to examine the issue of drop out from UNRWA schools. NRC and UNRWA staff worked in partnership to track and interview over 130 children and their families who had dropped out from education, from the schools with the highest rates of drop out, in the previous school year. The results were presented by UNRWA and NRC to school principals and management staff at a workshop in late 2011 and picked up by UNRWA HQ Amman to kick start a process of looking at the issue of drop out across UNRWA’s five field offices. This work was completed by UNRWA in 2013 and published. The overall study concurred with NRC-UNRWA’s original findings, that under-achievement at school was the primary cause of push out for the majority of children and youth out of school in the five UNRWA fields.
In 2012, NRC worked with UNRWA Gaza to track the efficiency and effect of the Summer Learning programme for children who had failed the previous school year. This was based on the previous work, which tracked children out of education. The results showing that this was ineffective in responding to the needs of under-achieving students and was presented to UNRWA Gaza management to inform their strategy and planning for under-achieving children.
In 2012, NRC was selected by UNICEF and UNESCO to run a substantial research project which looked into ‘Quality and Equity in Education in East Jerusalem’. One of the main initial intentions of the research was to feed into the MoEHE’s five-year strategy planning process. An additional research team was selected and a partner organisation (Al-Nayzak) for the data collection. This was an extensive school-based survey across 36 schools with the data collected between April 2012 and May 2012. The final product was delivered to UNICEF and UNESCO in October 2012. The results were presented to the MoEHE in Ramallah in late 2012. The MoEHE with UNICEF, UNESCO and NRC officially launched the research in September 2013. Unfortunately this research has not been made totally public due to constraints within UNICEF on publications on East Jerusalem during the current round of peace talks.
Better Learning and Psychosocial Interventions:
In 2012 NRC Palestine piloted the ‘Better Learning Intervention’. This is a school-based psycho-educational intervention for children who experience ‘severe distress6’, as a result of conflict, which impedes their ability to access education. The intervention was developed through NRC Oslo in partnership with the University of Tromso, specifically with experts in Education psychology.
During research into the causes of push out from education, conducted with UNRWA, Beit Hanoon in the North of Gaza has reported extremely high levels of sleeping problems amongst children who had been pushed out of education. As the intervention takes the prevalence of chronic repetitive nightmares as the intervention point Bait Hanoon was selected for the pilot. By working with both teachers and counsellors with children who experienced these nightmares and, in parallel, with teachers on behaviours and strategies for creating a supportive classroom, NRC sought to reach the most vulnerable, conflict-affected children within the UNRWA education system. On the basis of this work NRC considerably scaled up the intervention in the wake of the November 2012 escalation in hostilities. After November 2012, NRC expanded the project to 20 UNRWA and MoEHE schools in Gaza. There are plans for further expansion of the intervention for conflict-affected schools in the West Bank, beginning in March 2014.
In October 2013 NRC began work on a national Inclusive education programme in partnership with the MoEHE and UNRWA in both Gaza and the West Bank. The intervention is funded by OFID through and with support from UNESCO. The programme has been rolled out in 70 schools across Palestine, working with Inclusive Education counsellors, subject supervisors, school principals and teachers. The project has three main components; school level training and briefing for all school staff; community advocacy activities; action research to support classroom inclusion and child-activities for inclusive teaching practice. This project is initially funded for one year with the possibility to extend for the school year 2014-15.
Protecting Education from Attack:
At the time of writing NRC is in the process of signing an MoU with the MoEHE in Ramallah to address the needs of schools that are subject to violence and attack. This is a joint intervention with the ICLA programme to work on; legal representation for schools and communities, rights training and psycho-social response for conflict –affected children and schools.
From the inception of the programme the following projects have been implemented:
Aug 2010- July 2012
UNRWA- Provision of long-term teacher training, capacitation grants to schools, communication plan activities with parents and parental skills clubs. Additional research with UNRWA into push out from education.
Piloting of better learning programme for children with severe distress.
August 2012-July 2014
Gaza and East Jerusalem
UNRWA- Provision of long-term teacher training, capacitation grants to schools, communication plan activities with parents and parental skills clubs. (Includes emergency response to Dec 2013 flooding in Gaza and scale up of Better Learning Programme and UNRWA TV production.)
January 2012- December 2012
Set up of ‘Our Communities Our Schools programme with Awqaf schools in East Jerusalem and continuation of East Jerusalem research projects.
January 2013- June 2013
Scale up of Better Learning programme in the aftermath of the Nov 12 escalation in hostilities.
March 2013-May 2013
Psychosocial needs of children in MoEHE schools, with universities.
January 2013- December 2015
Awqaf/ - Provision of long-term teacher training, capacitation grants to schools, communication plan activities with parents and parental skills clubs
Inclusive Education- teacher training and community advocacy activities with UNRWA and MoEHE
1 NRC is a member of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (http://www.protectingeducation.org). NRC also is a member of the UNICEF-led working groups in several countries that report into the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) on grave violations against children and armed conflict under Security Council Resolutions 1612 (2005), 1882 (2009) and 1998 (2011).
3 See ‘Education Quality and Equity in East Jerusalem’ an NRC report for UNICEF/ UNESCO, pub; 2013.
5 The separation wall built between Palestinian and Israeli communities across the West Bank including East Jerusalem creates substantial movement and access restrictions for people and goods, contributes to economic hardship and is a barrier to service provision.
6 The term ‘severe distress’ is used here in place of the term ‘trauma’ as trauma is deemed to be a clinical diagnosis. The intervention does not clinically diagnose children within the intervention and as such the children are deemed to be ‘suffering from distress’. This is in line with the Mental Health and Psycho-Social working group’s best practice and ways of working.