UNRWA launches new education action plan for Gaza – UN news item

With education standards in Gaza plummeting, UN launches new action plan 

5 September 2007 With insecurity having a devastating effect on school education in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations agency entrusted with aiding Palestinian refugees today unveiled a new action plan aimed at reversing failure rates of up to nearly 80 per cent in mathematics and over 40 per cent in Arabic.

“Educating the next generation is key to the future of Gaza, its prosperity and its stability,” UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director in Gaza John Ging said. “What we are seeing is the collapse of education standards due to the cumulative effects of the occupation, closures, poverty, and violence.”

At the same time, appealing for funds at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd, warned that if the present situation continues, poverty among Palestinian refugees in Gaza will soon reach “unconscionable levels.”

The education plan has four basic elements: remedial teaching in Arabic and mathematics for which UNRWA has hired over 1,500 teachers for grades one to three, and is hiring 1,500 more; a reduction of class size to no more than 30 in Prep boys’ schools, where the results were the worst; two additional classes per week in both subjects; and building a teaching training “college of excellence” to improve the quality of instruction.

“I hope that these measures will go a considerable way to reversing the collapse of Gaza’s education system,” Mr. Ging said. “As ever in conflict situations it is the most vulnerable who pay the highest price, in this case the children. But we must recognize that children are the future and their education is crucial.

“It offers an exit from poverty through self-sufficiency. It creates opportunity and prosperity. These are some of the basic building blocks from which a more stable and peaceful future can be built.”

In her address to the Arab League in Cairo, Ms. AbuZayd appealed to the meeting to honour previous commitments to provide 7.73 per cent of UNRWA’s budget.

Palestine refugees are “the poorest and most vulnerable of the Palestinians,” she said. “In Gaza, Lebanon and elsewhere they cry out for your support. Might this not be an opportunity to show solidarity, through UNRWA? It would alleviate suffering. It would send a strong signal of support in hard times.

“And it would demonstrate the compassion and generosity of their fellow Arabs towards those who, although they find themselves in dire need, are in the front line of the Arab world’s struggle for recognition of its rights and concerns,” she added.

UNRWA’s emergency programmes, which consist of job creation projects, food and cash support for the most needy are likely to be under-funded by about $120 million this year, and regular programmes are likely to be under funded by $107 million. Because of the chronic funding shortfall, UNRWA was struggling to maintain standards of the services it delivers, Ms. AbuZayd said, citing Gaza’s education crisis as an example.

Established in 1949 following the establishment of Israel, UNRWA provides education, healthcare, social services, and emergency aid to 4.3 million Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan in the largest UN operation in the Middle East.

“After 59 years of humanitarian support to Palestine refugees, the need to address Palestinian political aspirations grows more urgent by the day,” Ms. AbuZayd said. “The fact that statehood remains elusive is a source of immense frustration. It also fuels a sense of dispossession and injustice that echoes throughout the region and is cited as a pretext for extremist militancy.”

UN officials say crossing closure and roadblocks which Israel says it has set up for security purposes are having a grave impact on the lives of residents in the occupied Palestinian Territory.

“Gazan civilians continue to suffer the effects of an armed conflict in which the injunctions of restraint and proportionality stipulated under international law are ignored,” Ms. AbuZayd said today. “On the present trajectory of isolation and de facto sanctions, poverty, unemployment and socio-economic impoverishment will soon reach unconscionable levels.”

The UN and its diplomatic Quartet partners of the European Union, Russia and the United States are sponsoring the so-called Road Map plan aimed at securing a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, originally slated for completion by the end of 2005.


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