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Notebooks and pens are in, construction materials are out
Despite Israel’s promise to ease the closure of the Gaza Strip, the Gaza school year opened this week with a severe shortage of classrooms. While for the first time in three years Israel has allowed the import of school supplies for government schools in Gaza, the almost absolute ban on the import of construction materials has left students with lots of pens and notebooks but without classrooms.
Human rights studies – not for all
UNWRA needs 100 new schools to meet the enrollment demands of the children of Gaza. But despite the “easing” of the closure, building materials for the construction of schools have not been approved to enter Gaza since 2007. Therefore, UNRWA has had to turn away 40,000 children eligible to enroll in its schools for the academic year that began yesterday. Students at UNRWA schools study a specialized curriculum in human rights and critical thinking, not available in government schools. Furthermore, according to UNWRA records, students in its schools score 20% higher than government school students on international aptitude tests.
Students being turned away from UNRWA schools is only one consequence of the classroom shortage in the Gaza Strip. To deal with the shortage of classroom space, students in most of Gaza’s schools study in two shifts, in classrooms with up to 50 students, and sometimes oversized metal containers are used as classrooms, with three children seated at desks designed for two.
Onerous bureaucracy, limited capacity of crossings
Construction of a standard school requires an estimated 220 truckloads of building materials, or 22,000 truckloads for 100 schools. The only crossing Israel allows to open, Kerem Shalom, can accommodate just 250 truckloads per day, mostly for food and basic humanitarian supplies. Despite promises, Israel has yet to approve a single truckload of construction materials for UNRWA’s schools and has agreed to “negotiate” coordinating materials for just 8 out of the 100 needed schools. Since the “easing” of the closure, Israel has allowed just 240 truckloads of construction materials monthly for all uses, compared with more than 5,000 trucks monthly before the closure (4% of pre-closure levels).
According to UNRWA’s Gaza Director John Ging: “The right to education is a basic right of children everywhere. For the children of Gaza, realization of that right depends on the continued construction of schools, because all of the temporary measures and substitutes have already been exhausted”.