13 August 2020

London - With the rise in infection rates of Covid-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, most Palestinians are wondering whether the return of their children to school will be a safe return, while the ministry announced that it will use the integrated education system that combines distance learning and classroom education with the beginning of the new school year. However, the answer to this question is not easy, especially since most researchs and examinations of the Covid-19 epidemic indicate that children under the age of 18 are not immune to Corona virus infection, and are vulnerable to infection with the epidemic, but the symptoms of the disease in healthy children who do not suffer from other diseases do not appear as in adults in the majority of cases. Here comes the question of what precautions and strategies the government, in collaboration with civil society, should take to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus in schools, considering that every child has the best interest sought at the core of these decisions.

On March 5, 2020, the Palestinian government issued a decision to close Palestinian schools, universities and educational institutions with the aim of reducing the chances of spreading the virus, and the Ministry of Education issued a set of decisions and directives to the directorates of education and universities to manage the education system remotely as an alternative to the new school year. However, as the new school year approaches, the ministry announced that it will use the integrated education system that combines distance learning and classroom education. The ministry has explained that students from the first to the fourth grade will be on two consecutive shifts between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., while grades from the fifth to the eleventh will be taught in a rotational manner, two or three days per week, while high school classes can resume on the 5th  of the next month.

In this regard, the international platform "iPalestine" believes that the decision of the Ministry of Education to return students to their schools in the light of the Corona crisis presents a set of health and educational challenges that must be taken into account, which puts a huge responsibility on the Ministry of Education for developing the infrastructure of schools to ensure the protection of students and teachers. Additionally, they are responsible to oblige all public and private schools to apply all preventive measures adopted to confront the Corona virus, provide health education to teachers and students for their safety as well as providing health and sanitation materials within schools, and to ensure the use of classes with wide spaces which allows the required distance to be applied to the extent where no more than 15 students in one room.  In addition to the need to provide an appropriate and healthy ventilation system in these classes, along with the need to develop a strategy to integrate and employ technology into the new educational system, such as: providing electronic learning platforms and available internet networks, and training the teachers to use the e-learning methods, so that distance learning can be a supporting tool for classroom education and not a substitute for it.

The most important challenge that faces the decision to return to schools in the light of the Corona crisis is the lack of readiness of schools in Palestine to receive large numbers of students, especially since the rate of schooling in Palestine is very high. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of students in schools is about 1 million and 282 thousand students, and the number of teachers is about 57,458 teachers. While the number of students is high; Palestinian schools do not have sufficient space to meet the requirement of social distancing, and do not have all the necessary specifications to prevent the transmission of Corona Virus infection, which may lead to the neglect of the prevention measures urged by World Health Organizations “WHO” such as: social spacing measures, prevention of mixing and contact, cough prevention, etc.

In response to the challenges and concerns about the decision to re-open schools and the return of classroom educations within the Palestinian territories, it is important that the Ministry of Education involves civil society organizations to face the expected challenges, as these organizations play an important role in supporting the educational process, protecting students and teachers from the Corona virus, developing alternatives and finding appropriate solutions. Therefore, the role of civil society organizations in ensuring the success of integrated education and the reopening of schools should include the following actions:

  • Providing urgent funding to respond quickly to the educational needs of integrated education during the Corona crisis, which will ensure a safe education environment that enables the Ministry of Education to set up sterilization and screening gates at school entrances. Providing special rooms of temporary quarantine within schools.
  • Providing and delivering personal protective supplies to students and teachers such as: hand paws, appropriate masks, Sterilization and disinfection materials and all health tools needed to prevent the coronavirus.
  • Establishing specialized committees to monitor the extent to which schools comply with safety measures and monitoring any abuses that may lead to the spread of the virus in a school.
  • Conducting awareness activities within schools to inform students of how to wash hands, raising awareness of the importance of spacing and sterilizing hands after using any school tools, educating students about health practices when sneezing or coughing, and raising awareness about not sharing anything such as using the same seat, papers, books, pens, etc.
  • Developing teachers' abilities in the mechanisms and means of distance learning by holding training courses for teachers and students on the mechanisms of using technology to serve the educational process.
  • Working with the Ministry of Education to study the pros and cons of distance learning during the previous phase, and to benefit from this experience in the case of any future emergency.
  • Contributing to the provision of technical equipment for poor and marginalized families, so that the children of these families can continue their lessons completely.

There is no doubt that the next phase will require, perhaps more than ever, the activation of the developmental, social and cultural roles of civil society organizations. Therefore, the international platform iPalestine urges all organizations to develop their capabilities to respond to the new education policy of integrated education, which requires the creation of a secure educational environment and an electronic structure in support of the educational process.