Over 119,000 girls and boys went back to learning in the classes of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Jordan yesterday for the second semester. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, UNRWA schools are opening their doors to students in line with the health and safety regulations of the Government of Jordan. In Jordan, this is achieved through a blended approach, where classes are split, with half the children learning at home and the other half in school, in rotation. As per the regulations issued by the Ministry of Education, school attendance is also optional pending the parents’ approval, meaning that parents can choose to keep their children at home while ensuring the continuation of distance learning.
Due to the rise in cases of COVID-19, the Government of Jordan ordered all schools closed in September 2020 in order to contain the spread of the virus. At that time, UNRWA – in line with host government regulations – moved to distance learning, with students accessing education in different ways, including via the UNRWA TV YouTube channel, and online learning platforms launched by the Jordanian Ministry of Education. During closure, school counsellors provided psychosocial support for all Palestine refugee students, including for Palestine refugees from Syria to mitigate any stress they are experiencing.
Against the background of the raging pandemic and the worst financial crisis in the Agency’s history, UNRWA educational staff spared no effort to ensure uninterrupted access to education for Palestine refugee students, especially vulnerable students who do not have reliable access to internet, tablets or smart phones.
“I’m very happy to join our students on their first day back to school,” said the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Jordan, Ms. Marta Lorenzo. “Today, we are celebrating them and our educational staff who have spared no effort to ensure the continuity of learning for all children, in-person or remotely. COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation, affecting the whole world. However, with the energy we received from our children and teachers, we are able continue to confront the challenges and deliver quality education throughout the crisis.”
During the Back-to-Learning ceremony held at the UNRWA Russeifeh Preparatory Girls School in Zarqa, Ms. Lorenzo, the UNRWA Deputy Director of Education, Mr. Moritz Bilagher, and the Head of the Education Department in Jordan, Dr. Oroba Labadi, met with young students and had a discussion about their main responsibilities and plans for the new semester, particularly in light of COVID-19. Students presented their strategies for raising awareness around the coronavirus and how to stay safe and healthy in school.
“I’m thrilled that we are finally back to school and get to see our friends and teachers,” said Ibtisam Rafaat, a third-grade student at the Russeifeh School. “I will make sure to keep my facemask on and encourage my colleagues to do the same, so we can all continue our face-to-face learning without going back to closures while preserving our health and safety,” she continued.
“It was not an easy journey,” said the teacher Shadyah Abu Alya, “but we spared no effort to make sure that our students are following their lessons properly, especially the first graders who are still building their basic skills and knowledge, as they need special care and education,” she explained.
UNRWA operates a total of 711 schools in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with over 534,000 Palestine refugee students in attendance.