With a handful of books and living in tents, Gaza's students decry lost education

The UN says at least 650,000 people affected by 'scholasticide' crisis

Children attend a lesson at a makeshift classroom in a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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Schoolchildren and students in Gaza are losing hope that they will be able to continue their education amid the devastation of Israeli bombardment and ground operations.

Those who have survived 200 days of war face losing a year of schooling, as 80 per cent of education facilities are destroyed or damaged, they tell The National.

Last week, a group of UN experts called the crisis “scholasticide”, referring to the systematic destruction of education in the strip, meaning “at least 625,000 students have no access to education.”

For many, the problem is compounded by being constantly on the move, as massive Israeli ground operations have shifted devastation from town to town.

Siham Aouda, an 18-year-old in Rafah, had previously fled from Gaza city in the north to Khan Younis. With an Israeli assault there looming, she will probably have to flee again.

"I brought my books with me from Gaza, thinking that we could salvage the year and all I needed to do was study," Siham told The National.

More than 34,000 Gazans have been killed in Israel's bombardment and invasion of Gaza since October 7, mostly women and children. The war began after Hamas launched a surprise attack into southern Israel, killing around 1,200, mostly civilians.

Now living in a tent with her family, Siham said that even if there were opportunities to continue the school year, it would be impossible for students due to the war.

"No one is concerned about our future. This year is crucial for high school students, but all we are focused on now is survival," she added.

Siham hopes to study media to help convey the suffering of her people.

"I long to return to Gaza [city], to resume our normal lives, and to complete my final year of high school," Siham said.

According to Ismail Al Thawabteh, Director General of the Government Media Office in Gaza, the Israeli army has destroyed 103 schools and universities, and partially destroyed 309 others.

More than 10,000 male and female students from schools and universities “have been cold-heartedly murdered, solely due to the brutality and injustice of the occupation,” he said.

“The greatest damage has been done to students taking the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination, Tawjihi, which is considered a crucial stage that transitions students from basic education to university education and onwards to their future. As a result, around 40,000 students have been affected by this brutal war waged by the occupation,” Mr Thawabteh said.

No one is concerned about our future. This year is crucial for high school students, but all we are focused on now is survival
Siham Aouda, an 18-year-old in Rafah

“Since the very beginning, we have been demanding the world to stop this war in order to restore life in the Gaza Strip, reinstate education, and bring back all sectors to life. However, the Israeli occupation persists with brutality, killings and bombardments in this aggressive war.”

Khader Munzer, an 18-year-old who was supposed to complete his general secondary education this year and prepare to study medicine, had his plans disrupted by the war.

"I was supposed to be studying now and preparing for the final exams, but unfortunately, we as Palestinians have the fate of not being able to fulfil our plans," Khader told The National.

A crisis of displacement

Currently in Gaza city, Khader's father refused to flee to the south, believing he would not have the opportunity to return.

"The absence of the internet makes it difficult for us to engage in any online classes, which is truly disappointing as we see a whole year of our lives slipping away," Khader said.

He began private lessons in maths and physics in September 2023, and has held on to his books in the hope of salvaging the educational year in any way possible.

"At first, it was challenging for me to focus on studying with the sounds of shelling and bombing. We initially thought it would last for one month and then end, but over time we began to realise that we were losing the opportunity to complete the year," Khader said.

Palestinian Minister of Education Amjad Barham said on Monday that 1,000 students from Gaza who left the strip will sit for general secondary education exams this year in countries where they are currently residing.

He said the registration process for Gaza students in Egypt is continuing through a specialised team from the ministry and the Palestinian embassy in Cairo.

Randa Fadel, 42, lives in Rafah after she fled Gaza city at the beginning of the war. She made special arrangements for her son to travel to Egypt in order to continue his education.

"I attempted to enrol my son in online classes, but it appears that online education is only accessible to students who managed to leave Gaza. Therefore, I did my best to gather the necessary funds for my three children to leave Gaza and relocate to Egypt," Ms Fadel told The National

Her son is in his final year of high school, while one of her daughters is in her third year of university and the other is in ninth grade.

Updated: April 24, 2024, 1:43 PM