Palestinian students in UN relief agency schools meet with success in face of adversity

13 November 2014

Palestinian students attending United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools for refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan are achieving higher-than-average results in international assessments despite their challenging circumstances, a new World Bank report said today.

The report, Learning in the Face of Adversity: The UNRWA Education Program for Palestine Refugees, highlights how a resilience approach that includes effective classroom practices of teachers, strong school leadership, assessments and shared accountability for learning can support adaptability and performance in high-risk contexts.

“UNRWA schools have created a distinguished learning community centred on the student,” said Harry Patrinos, World Bank Group Education Practice Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, in a press release today.

“UNRWA students perform better than their peers in public schools despite their socio-economic disadvantages and parents’ education, which seems to be compensated by students’ self-confidence, parental support and involvement in school activities,” he added.

The report, which focuses on the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan, cites high job satisfaction among teachers as a strong factor associated with student performance.

At UNRWA schools, 75 per cent of teachers are either satisfied or highly satisfied with their jobs, according to surveys organized by the research team led by Husein Abdul-Hamid, World Bank Group Senior Education Specialist and one of the co-authors of the study.

Specifically, the report found that UNRWA selects, prepares and supports its education staff to pursue high learning outcomes, and that the proportion of time spent on learning activities in UNRWA schools compares favourably with successful systems in developed countries. In addition, UNRWA evaluation systems include classroom observations and other rigorous and frequent criteria.

Moreover, the report concluded that the sense of community in UNRWA schools appears to be strengthened by the fact that UNRWA teachers originate from the same at-risk population. Teachers are therefore accessible role models for their students, providing them with socio-emotional support in addition to academic guidance.

The World Bank noted that the conclusions of the report are aligned its understanding of resilience not as an outcome in itself but as a process in contexts of adversity. The report suggests that the UNRWA system is gauging and promoting a set of opportunities that support its students in dealing with the adversities they face.

“UNRWA welcomes the findings of the World Bank study and its acknowledgement of the strengths of the UNESCO [UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] supported UNRWA education system,” said Caroline Pontefract, UNRWA Director of Education. “It is the Palestinian refugees themselves, from the student to the Chief of Education in each Field, who are the UNRWA strengths and resilience factors and our ongoing reform is working to realize their potential.”

UNRWA manages nearly 700 schools and educates more than 500,000 refugee students each year. The agency operates in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

 

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