By Frosse Dabit, Education Programme Specialist, UNRWA and Bieke Vandekerckhove, EiE Programme Manager, UNRWA
For nearly seven decades, UNRWA’s education programme for Palestine refugees has provided education for millions of refugees in the Middle East. Today, UNRWA provides free basic education to over 526,000 Palestine refugee children in 711 schools across Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The Agency also operates eight vocational training centers for 7000 Palestine refugee youth and two science faculties. You can read about UNRWA’s education in emergencies programme in this case study as part of the Promising Practice in Refugee Education initiative.
Our work is underpinned by a strong commitment to quality education. In 2011, UNRWA embarked on a systemic agency wide reform which sought to further strengthen support for each child towards realising their full potential. The Reform has shown impact at all levels, with improvements in the quality of teaching and learning, children achieving more academically and dropout rates decreasing.
UNRWA achieved this despite a very challenging operational context: nearly eleven years of blockade on Gaza, occupation related issues in the West Bank, a devastating war in Syria, high poverty rates and limited employment opportunities in Lebanon, and high poverty levels in Jordan. UNRWA has continued to deliver education in times of emergencies through the introduction of innovations such as student self-learning through UNRWA’s own dedicated TV network, which reaches our students who do not have access to schools.
For the past ten years the funding of UNRWA, primarily supported by voluntary contributions from Member States, has not kept pace with the increasingly volatile situation in which Palestine Refugees live, population growth, weakened public services in Host States, increased operational costs in all five Fields, and unprecedented humanitarian demands on the donor community which all contribute to reduced contributions to UNRWA, causing the Agency to operate with substantial funding shortfalls when responding to both the educational and psychosocial needs of Palestine Refugee children.
Today, UNRWA is confronting the most severe economic crisis in its history, putting the education of over half a million children and youth in the region at risk. In the third week of January, the US government has announced a contribution of $60million, in support of our efforts to keep our schools open, health clinics running, and emergency food and cash distribution systems functioning for some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. While important, this funding is dramatically below past levels. The total US contribution in 2017 was above $350million.
The funding challenge which the agency now faces will impact on the education system, with an increased reliance on daily paid teachers and a lack of school/PSS counselors, and other education support staff putting the quality of the education delivered in jeopardy.
For UNRWA to be able to sustain the delivery of education and consolidate existing efforts, predictable, multi-year financial support is crucial – a key recommendation of the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative. Commitment from donors to provide adequate, predictable and sustainable funding is key to maintaining quality education for some half a million Palestine refugees. The strengths of the UNRWA education system, and its contribution to the resilience of the Palestine refugee community, are acknowledged in the World Bank study, Learning in the Face of Adversity.[i]
In this regard, UNRWA calls on UN member states, host countries, donors, including those in the region, and people of goodwill across the globe to rally in support and join UNRWA in creating new funding alliances and initiatives to ensure Palestine refugee students continue receive a quality education in UNRWA schools. To this end the Agency launched a global fundraising #DignityIsPriceless at www.unrwa.org/donate to help UNRWA continue to keep the 526,000 children and 7,000 youth in its schools. The Agency’s education programme is also unique insofar as it is also a livelihood programme for more than 22,000 Palestine refugees who work as teachers and education staff.