Children who live in Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip face obstacles to education on a daily basis. They lack sufficient classrooms and materials, encounter military violence regularly, and don’t have the social services available to them to process the chaos around them.
In April, the global fund Education Cannot Wait (ECW) introduced a new program to protect the most vulnerable at-risk children and youth in Palestine. The fund will prioritize secondary education with an emphasis on reaching marginalized groups including children with disabilities, and girls. ECW announced an early stage $11.7 million in funding to support the multi-year educational response program aiming to reach 320,000 children in the State of Palestine.
“The children that will benefit from this live in communities that have higher levels of poverty, lack of employment opportunities, limited access [to education], and have unique special needs,” Yasmine Sherif, director of Education Cannot Wait, told Global Citizen.
In Palestine, 95% of children are enrolled in basic education, but access to primary and secondary education is falling behind, according to ECW. The net enrollment rate in secondary schools is 60.8%, with 52.4% being boys and 69.5% being girls. Children with disabilities are missing out on education in Palestine the most with 5 out of 10 aged 6 to 17 are enrolled in school.
ECW developed the three-year program with the Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority, UN agencies, and NGOs. It will be part of humanitarian and educational efforts under the Palestinian government’s “Education Sector Strategic Plan 2017-2022.” The new funding will continue the momentum from a $3 million emergency first response ECW allocation in Palestine, that was implemented by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and helped over 250,000 children, including 135,000 girls.
“A big part of the efforts will go toward strengthening the capacity of teachers, counselors, and school infrastructure so that all aspects of education are covered,” Tamara Alrifai, UNRWA spokesperson, told Global Citizen.
Some students in Palestine have to walk over 6 miles to get to and from school, and encounter demolition and unsafe construction zones, according to ECW. Parents who have daughters are especially worried they might be sexually harassed or abused on the way to school, the fund reports. For many children, school is the only place where they feel safe amid the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over territories, which has led to thousands of civilian casualties.
“It’s quite heavy,” Sherif said of the blockade along the Gaza strip. “Education is part of the coping mechanism, the mental health difficulties are very prominent for the children.”
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There were 169 incidents of education-related violations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 2017, according to ECW. It’s estimated that over 60% of children in Gaza suffer from stress disorders. Without education, a child’s future, and the prospect of peace within their community looks bleak, Sherif explained.
The number of children living in conflict-affected areas worldwide is on the rise. Without support, conflict-affected children lose out on the chance to reach their full potential and rebuild their communities. Children in conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school compared to those in countries not affected by conflict, according to UNESCO. When schools are ambushed, children run the risk of death or injury, and education systems are weakened long-term. Girls living in conflict-affected areas end up suffering the most –– they are 90% more likely than boys to miss secondary school.
“Our goal is to improve access to and continuity of inclusive, equitable, and gender-responsive education and learning opportunities, and to ensure that boys and girls receive education in a safe and protective environment,” Alrifai said. “We are also seeking to ensure that even during humanitarian crises, girls and boys can access education in various ways.”
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