School year starts in Gaza with half the schools on strike

UNRWA schools have much larger class sizes. Schools in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

UNRWA schools have much larger class sizes. Schools in Gaza. Photo: Eman Mohammed

August 25, 2015. Yesterday was the first day of the school year in Gaza, but only about half of Gaza’s students were in class. While 240,000 returning students and 16,000 new students began the year at government schools, a strike at UNRWA schools left about 250,800 students at home.

Teachers and administrators in Gaza’s 257 UNRWA schools are on strike, fearing the agency is planning cuts to school budgets. Jihan Ashour, a principal at an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun told Gisha:  “The school year opened with great difficulty. The threat of cuts is still in the air, schools were damaged during the hostilities and we are still lacking many structures”.

There are currently 270 government schools in Gaza, serving about 256,000 students, with an average class size of 36.5 students. Class sizes are much larger in UNRWA schools. In addition to government and UNRWA schools, Gaza also has 52 private schools, serving about 17,000 students, who are expected to start the school year next week.

Gaza is short on schools and classrooms, a situation that was exacerbated during Operation Protective Edge. Before the operation began, Gaza was short 200 schools, 150 of them government schools. During the fighting, 187 government schools were damaged, 27 of them sustaining massive damage, and five were completely destroyed. Though 182 of the government schools that were damaged have been repaired over the past year, the five that were destroyed have not been rebuilt and no new schools have been built.

As a result of the shortage, about 60% of government schools and 94% of UNRWA schools operate in two shifts, a morning shift from 7:15 AM to 11:30 AM and an afternoon shift from 12:30 PM to 17:00 PM. There are two semesters in the school year and students alternate between the morning and afternoon shifts. Because of the split into two shifts, classroom time is limited.