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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Future for children in Gaza is very bleak as education crisis unfolds

Future for children in Gaza is very bleak as education crisis unfolds
Damaged Islamic University buildings in Gaza City on 19 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

It’s not only buildings being destroyed in Gaza, it’s also the education prospects of hundreds of thousands of students.

Images of small children collecting firewood, water and flour off the sand to survive in Gaza are heart-rending. Hourly news footage shows that entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble, along with hospitals, mosques, schools and universities, and nearly the entire population has been displaced on this small strip of land.

Children are not responsible for war, but they suffer its deepest wounds, and more often they pay the highest price. Counsel and advocate for the Republic of South Africa to the International Court of Justice, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, told the court in January:

“Almost 90,000 Palestinian university students cannot attend university in Gaza. Over 60% of schools, almost all universities and countless bookshops and libraries have been damaged and destroyed. Hundreds of teachers and academics have been killed, including deans of universities and leading Palestinian scholars. Obliterating the very future prospects of the future education of Gaza’s children and young people.”

Israel’s unrelenting war on Gaza has destroyed an entire education system, leaving a gaping wound that will take generations to heal.

The Palestine Academy for Science and Technology’s statement in the prestigious journal Science notes that: “The long-term ramifications of this war on Gaza’s higher education system are incalculable. The extensive destruction of educational infrastructure – libraries, laboratories, classrooms – and the tragic loss of life among faculty, technicians, staff and students will exacerbate an already beleaguered educational system, crippled by 17 years of blockade.

“The psychological, intellectual and cultural fabric necessary for a thriving academic community has been torn asunder, and it will take years, if not generations, to mend.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reports that three university presidents have been killed, along with more than 95 university deans and professors; 68 of them held professor’s degrees. Meanwhile, 88,000 students have had their university education disrupted.

During this war, education has been completely disrupted, as many schools are used as shelters for hundreds and thousands of Gaza’s displaced people. Even though universities and schools are protected under international humanitarian law and cannot be military targets, they have been hit by bombardments. The UN estimates that 392 schools have been damaged and 117 destroyed completely, and more than 230 teachers have been killed.

Ninety percent of school buildings in Gaza are reported to be used as emergency shelters by 1.4 million internally displaced people. The education system was already in crisis before this war, with more than 100 schools operating on a double-shift basis, where a set of buildings hosts one school in the mornings and another cohort of students in the afternoon. This means that damage to a single building impacts two schools.

Now, the education of 400,700 students has been put on hold.

In terms of equipment and teaching materials, the Guardian reports that desperate refugees have used wooden chairs and benches to make fires for cooking because there is no gas.

Chandni Desai, in The Conversation, notes that the destruction of education systems and buildings is known as “scholasticide”, a term first used by Oxford professor Karma Nabulsi during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza. Scholasticide is the systematic destruction of education during the occupation.

children in Gaza

One of the damaged Islamic University buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on 19 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

Desai observes that more recently scholars have broadened the definition to include a more comprehensive picture of what is happening during the current war. They say scholasticide includes the intentional de­struction of cultural heritage archives, li­­braries and museums, and includes killing, causing bodily or mental harm to, or systematically harassing teachers, students and administrators.

Return to school

Many other countries have been severely affected by armed conflicts in recent years. Wars leave countries with destruction which includes human beings, social institutions like schools, and economic enterprises. Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable people affected by armed conflicts.

At this stage of the war it is uncertain when children will be back in school. It will take years to repair the damaged and destroyed school buildings. The Guardian notes that aid groups can send in tents and equipment, but teaching staff will be much harder to replace.

Even if classrooms are rebuilt, textbooks brought in and new teachers trained, ­“children are likely to see their schools differently after so many have spent time crammed into them, enduring cold, hunger, filth and terror”.

“The students’ image of their schools, how they value them, changed after they became shelters,” said one expert. “Their mental health will certainly be affected by the difficult conditions they are enduring. They will need a long time to prepare themselves to study again.”

Al Jazeera recently reported that there are plans to launch e-learning for Gaza school students. Teaching would be delivered from the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

But the e-learning model would be difficult to implement in Gaza, where telecommunications blackouts are common, and students and teachers do not have access to stable electricity and the internet. The reality is that most people have been forced to flee their homes and shelter in refugee camps where there can’t be e-learning.

In the occupied West Bank, some schools and universities are already shifting to an e-learning model with online classes as raids and settler violence are on the increase.

Education on hold

Arundhati Roy recently reiterated that: “The Palestinians, facing down the most powerful countries in the world, left virtually alone even by their allies, have suffered immeasurably. But they have won this war. They, their journalists, their doctors, their rescue teams, their poets, academics, spokespeople and even their children have conducted themselves with a courage and dignity that has inspired the rest of the world.”

The future for children in Gaza is very bleak following almost five months of constant bombardment. Now, facing famine and a total collapse of the health system, the only hope is the cessation of war and the free flow of humanitarian aid at scale. Children will need urgent health intervention and psychosocial support.

Only once the weapons are put down can the long process of recovery and reconstruction begin, but returning to anything normal will take a very long time. The world will need to be ready to help reconstruct education in Gaza. DM

Dr Mark Potterton writes in his personal capacity.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    Forget about the popular crises – Gaza. There is a much much more serious one closer to home, but it seems that Cyril is far to friendly with the butcher – Sudan and the RSF.

    Because the ANC has some kind of loyalty towards Sudan, the much more serious numbers in Sudan is mostly ignored. The last was about 150,000 killed since Aoril 2023, 12 million fled from their homes and something like 200,000 children are in danger of dying of hunger.

    But no, the popular subject to DIRCO is Gaza. Forget about what is happening on our own continent. And this is basically Arab against the African population.

    But Sudan does not get Pandor in the media and in fancy halls of power.

    Shame on you Pandor – you are indeed anto Jewish and definitely anti-human rights.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    Forget about the popular crises – Gaza. There is a much much more serious one closer to home, but it seems that Cyril is far to friendly with the butcher – Sudan and the RSF.

    Because the ANC has some kind of loyalty towards Sudan, the much more serious numbers in Sudan is mostly ignored. The last was about 150,000 killed since Aoril 2023, 12 million fled from their homes and something like 200,000 children are in danger of dying of hunger.

    But no, the popular subject to DIRCO is Gaza. Forget about what is happening on our own continent. And this is basically Arab against the African population.

    But Sudan does not get Pandor in the media and in fancy halls of power.

    Shame on you Pandor – you are indeed anto Jewish and definitely anti-human rights.

    • EK SÊ says:

      The number of Christians killed in Sudan outnumbers Christians killed elsewhere.
      We celebrate ramadan, not Easter. Like the weak English.

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