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Children too traumatised to learn in Gaza’s crippled schools

Children going back to school after Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip are too traumatised by the bombings to learn. Nearly half a million children went back to cramped and partly destroyed schools on 1 February, many attending in a shift system, in dilapidated buildings without electricity, toilets, books or uniforms. Thousands of them lost family members and or their homes, and are still suffering so badly from trauma and anxiety, they cannot concentrate. It is a struggle to teach children, said Khalid Salim, 43, a science teacher at Abu Ja'far al-Mansour preparatory school in north Gaza. “Most of them don’t understand the lessons; they don't concentrate at all... They forget everything explained in the class, he told the United Nations news service, IRIN. “When I give them exams, 80 per cent fail. Before the war, just three per cent failed,” he said. “When they hear Israeli jet planes, the children scream and cry loudly out of fear.”

Israel's 23-day military offensive on Gaza which ended on 18 January 2009 had "devastating consequences for the education system", according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The education ministry said 164 students and 12 teachers in its schools were killed in the conflict. Israeli forces systematically targeted the Palestinian society’s treasured education system. The ministry of education was bombed, the infrastructure of teaching destroyed, and schools across the Gaza strip targeted for attack by the air, sea and ground offensives. At least 280 schools were damaged in the conflict, including 18 that were completely destroyed, the OCHA report said.

None of them have been rebuilt or repaired because of the Israeli ban on letting in to Gaza building materials, which Israel says could be used for military purposes. The education ministry reckons it needs 25,000 tons of iron bars and 40,000 tons of cement to build 105 new schools to cater for the annual rise in the number of schoolchildren. “The war had and continues to have a severely negative impact on the entire education system,” Yourself Ibrahim, deputy education minister in Gaza, told IRIN, adding that about 15,000 children from damaged schools had been transferred to other schools for second shifts, thus “significantly shortening class time.”

Many of the schools being used lacked working toilets, water and electricity; Ibrahim said. He added that classrooms were overcrowded and there were shortages of basic items such as desks, doors, chairs and ink. He said half all students in government schools lacked at least one textbook for coursework this term. “I don't have a school uniform because my Dad doesn’t have a job and said he doesn’t have enough money to buy me one,” said Mohammed al-Khouli, a nine-year-old at the government-run al-Mu’tasem primary school in Gaza City. “I have to borrow pens and pencils because I don’t have any.”

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children