Since August 24, when the first cases of community transmission of the coronavirus were discovered in the Strip, its schools and daycare centers have been closed. About 575,000 children and teenagers in Gaza had returned to school just two weeks prior, after an initial five-month lockdown imposed in March, only to have schools close down once again.
Gaza’s education system, like those across the globe, has had to contend with the challenges of remote learning, but living conditions in the Strip are far from conducive: Most students do not have access to computers, steady supply of electricity or stable internet connection.
Osama Younes, who is in charge of remote learning in the Palestinian Ministry of Education in Gaza, described the challenge students face in participating in online lessons: “Thousands of Gaza students are left without educational, pedagogic solutions. This is going to create huge gaps in knowledge that will be very difficult to bridge.”
Gaza still has no access to 3G data services, which have been available around the world for at least 15 years, let alone the 4G or 5G networks available in Israel. These advanced networks allow for faster upload and download of information and enable streaming of complex content on cell phones. They can also supply internet to laptop and desktop computers. “Israel refuses to allow equipment required for advanced data networks to enter the Strip,” explains Mohammed Abu Nahleh, director of Paltel Telecommunications in Gaza. “Right now, the internet is the main tool relied on by the education system. It’s also Gaza’s only window to the outside world.”
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (Arabic), only 30 percent of households in Gaza have a computer, while 73 percent have a basic internet connection, used for computers or smart phones. According to a June 2020 report by the Palestinian NGO Network, Gaza’s internet network crashes more than ten times per hour on average.
Abeer Mohammed, an Arabic language teacher at a junior high school in the Shujaiya District, says only 50 of her 200 students attend her virtual classes. “Families in Gaza have many children,” she explains, “it’s impossible to make sure all the students have access to computers and an internet connection.” Islam Atamnah, an eleventh-grader, says he doesn’t have a computer or internet at home. “I don’t know what they’re learning at school, which makes me sad and worried about my future.”
This week, the local authorities allowed high school students due to take their matriculation exams to return to school for some days of the week while other students continue classes remotely, if they can. The Ministry of Education expressed hope that all students will be able to return to school in the coming months.
The challenges of remote learning in Gaza, where access to electricity, internet and computer technology are by no means a given, are another result of restrictions imposed by Israel. Among other factors, the closure on Gaza has eroded the economy to the point that most residents can’t afford a single computer, let alone multiple devices. A chronic shortage of electricity affects power supply and internet connection. Combined with the reality of the pandemic and the need for social distancing, Gaza’s young residents again find themselves paying a price for a reality over which they have no control. Israel must stop blocking the upgrade of Palestinian infrastructure and allow communications equipment to enter the Strip, including in order to support remote learning at this time.