Back to school for young Palestine refugees

3 September 2012
East Jerusalem

This week, half a million Palestine refugee children will prepare to enter the doors of UNRWA’s 700 schools for the start of the new school year. Below are some key facts giving a sense of the challenges faced by young Palestine refugees in our fields of operation.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) delivers human development and humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. This includes primary education, vocational training, and secondary education in Lebanon.

Education is UNRWA’s largest programme, accounting for more than half of the Agency’s budget. In 2010, UNRWA began an education reform strategy, with a view to improving educational services for Palestine refugee school children. The strategy touches on staff professional development, curriculum enrichment and development, and better provision of services for students with special needs. These improvements will better place the Agency to meet the evolving demands of education in the 21st century.

More about UNRWA’s education work with Palestine refugees.

See photos of Palestine refugees during back-to-school week on our Facebook page.

Gaza Strip

  • Currently, UNRWA runs 247 schools for a pupil intake of 226,500. Ninety-three per cent of schools work on double shifts, placing extreme limitations on education time and eliminating the possibility of extra-curricular activities.
  • To get to single-shifting schools, UNRWA requires an estimated 117 additional school buildings immediately, and an additional 53 by 2020. UNRWA’s recovery and reconstruction plan for Gaza includes plans for 100 new schools.
  • In 2011, UNRWA undertook its second annual mapping of abject poverty across its schools in Gaza; it found that in 167 out of 243 schools, more than 30 per cent of the student population is abject poor (that is, unable to meet even their basic food needs each day).
  • Thirty-four per cent of UNRWA’s Gaza students overall are living in abject poverty, unable to meet even their most basic food needs. This result presents a devastating picture, given the effects that poverty can have on a child’s ability to achieve in school.
  • UNRWA’s nutritional supplementary school feeding programme, funded through the Agency’s oPt Emergency Appeal, acts as a safety net for poor families and gives children in school a healthy snack.
  • The ongoing blockade and conflict in the coastal enclave has also taken its toll on children in the last few years. Last year, the UN cultural body UNESCO reported that 80 per cent of children in Gaza feel nervous some or most of the time, and 80 per cent feel sad some or most of the time.
  • Frequent electricity cuts in Gaza make it difficult for children to prepare to go to school in the morning and to study in the afternoons; particularly in winter, when there is less natural light and heating needs are higher.
  • In 2007, UNRWA introduced a “schools of excellence” project to reverse a decline in standards in Gaza; the project includes remedial education, a focus on core subjects, extra-curricular activities, improved student-teacher contact time and attention to children with special needs.
  • Since 2008, all students in UNRWA schools in Gaza have participated in the Agency’s human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance programme.

More about UNRWA in Gaza.

West Bank

  • UNRWA operates 99 schools in the West Bank, with over 50,000 students.
  • School graduates in both the West Bank and Gaza suffer disproportionately from a steady economic decline and a decimated local job market. Youth unemployment in the oPt last year topped 50 per cent.
  • In 2009, UNRWA introduced an educational recovery programme for its West Bank schools; the reforms target curriculum, teaching methods and remedial classes, and encourage better community participation. Through the recovery plan, the success rate for mathematics and Arabic increased by 20 to 25 per cent.
  • Because of the West Bank Barrier, young people living in areas such as the “Seam Zone”  – the ten per cent of the West Bank that sits between the Barrier and 1949 Armistice Line (the “Green Line”) – often have difficulty accessing schools and other basic services.
  • The Israeli practice of demolishing homes and other infrastructure in East Jerusalem and Area C has a particularly devastating impact on children. Many children affected by demolitions show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Their academic achievement often suffers.
  • Families and communities who have experienced demolition face increased poverty and long-term instability, as well as limited access to basic services such as education.
  • Since 2000, Israel has prevented young people from travelling from Gaza to study at universities in the West Bank, citing security concerns.

More about UNRWA in the West Bank.


  • Thousands of internally-displaced Palestine refugees and Syrians have taken refuge in UNRWA schools across the country. As of 28 August, that number was nearly 10,000 people. With the school year beginning on 16 September, the feasibility of providing education services for children attending these schools is a major concern.
  • UNRWA operates 118 schools in Syria, with an intake of just over 65,000 pupils. The majority of schools are double-shifted and offer basic elementary and preparatory education.
  • Development indicators reveal that Palestine refugees lag behind the host population in key areas, including lower school enrolment figures.
  • Nearly 200 Palestine refugees from Syria, including children, are currently being sheltered in the refugee camp at Cyber City in Northern Jordan.
  • Palestine refugees in Syria, like all Palestine refugees, remain a vulnerable population and live in uncertainty with regard to their long-term future.

More about UNRWA in Syria.

More about the current situation in Syria.


  • UNRWA runs 69 schools in Lebanon, with a pupil intake of nearly 32,000 (more than 50 per cent are female).
  • In Lebanon, Palestine refugee children and young people have restricted access to the public school system, and the cost of private education in Lebanon is amongst the highest in the region. Most refugee families in Lebanon do not have the financial resources to enrol their children in these institutions.
  • For this reason, UNRWA provides not only primary education but also secondary education, in contrast to its other areas of operation. To a lesser extent, UNRWA supports access to university education for Palestine refugees in Lebanon through specific donor funding.
  • Despite high enrolment rates at the primary level, two-thirds of Palestinians above the age of 15 do not have the Brevet, the state certificate that grants access to secondary school (households whose head does not have the Brevet are more likely to experience poverty).
  • Eight per cent of the Palestine refugee population in Lebanon of school age (7 to 15) are not enrolled in school. Ten per cent of the Palestine refugee population Lebanon over age 15 have never attended school.
  • Dropout rates among Palestine refugee children aged 6 to 18 are high, at approximately 18 per cent.
  • Only half of young Palestine refugees in Lebanon of secondary school age (16 to 18 years) are enrolled in schools or vocational training centres.
  • Only five per cent of Palestinians in Lebanon hold a university degree.

More about UNRWA in Lebanon.


  • UNRWA runs 172 schools in Jordan, providing basic education from first to tenth grade with an intake of nearly 117,000 students. The school results of UNRWA’s Jordan students are well above the average at both school and college level.
  • UNRWA’s Amman and Wadi Seer training centres provide vocational training to more than 1,300 students. Most students at the training centre and at UNRWA’s educational science faculty are female.
  • UNRWA schools in Jordan face a serious challenge in terms of resources and infrastructure. Currently, 23 of UNRWA's schools, which offer classes from first to tenth grade, are rented.
  • Situated in crowded and busy neighbourhoods, these rented buildings are not a suitable substitute for long-term school facilities. Classrooms are small, there is no available space for outdoor play, and children find it hard to cross the road to get into school.
  • Ninety per cent of UNRWA’s schools in Jordan work on the double-shift system. As in Gaza, the double-shift system does not enable time for extra-curricular activities. Students have only one day off from school each week, on Fridays, in order to make up for the short school day.
  • New UNRWA schools will open in Jordan next semester and next year, while several schools have recently been renovated.

More about UNRWA in Jordan.

Figures as of 31 August 2012, with the exception of some Lebanon figures from 2011.