Educating Amid a Pandemic

We all watched with amazement as NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made history with humanity’s first flight on another planet. But lesser known is that this flight was made possible, in part, by a United Nations education. Loay Elbasyouni, the electronics lead for the Ingenuity project, is a Palestine refugee from Gaza and a former United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) student.

In April, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the restoration of U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, including the resumption of funding to UNRWA. The Agency provides critical humanitarian and human development services to 5.7 million Palestine refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.

UNRWA is proud of its high quality, cost effective program that has graduated more than two million students, landing thousands in prestigious universities and successful careers such as Loay’s. A recent World Bank-UNHCR study noted that UNRWA students in Gaza, West Bank, and Jordan “scored an average of a quarter of a standard deviation higher in international assessments than public school children, implying an advantage of almost a year of learning.”

In late 2020, YouTube awarded UNRWA TV the Golden Play Button Trophy for reaching one million subscribers with its lessons, highlighting how UNRWA is producing a global public good in high demand among families trying to educate their children. This year, the British Council lauded praise onto UNRWA schools and student educational outcomes in the West Bank and Gaza. 14 UNRWA schools were honored with the British Council International School Award, which celebrates schools that are successfully preparing students to be responsible global citizens by embedding international education into their curriculums.

UNRWA student receives distance class after the closure of her school due to the local outbreak of Covid-19. © 2020 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

Educating in a pandemic

Despite the repeated lockdowns and school closures necessitated by a global pandemic, some 18,000 UNRWA staff have continued to educate more than half a million children at our over 700 schools. Pandemic education included rapidly moving instruction online, an experience the Agency was familiar with thanks to existing educational infrastructure such as UNRWA TV, mobile phone lessons, and computer-based interactive learning.

Even in a pandemic UNRWA continues to implement its Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) Education program. Wherever possible, UNRWA schools continued to provide extracurricular activities to students, including holding student parliament elections, commemorating Human Rights Day, and participating in ‘Standing Together to Stop Bullying’ Day. Student parliamentarians, in an effort to promote good citizenship and provide support to their communities, also participated in an awareness-raising animated video on protecting students from COVID-19. A group of international musicians worked with UNRWA young and talented students to produce a music video promoting hope and unity.

UNRWA at the forefront

UNRWA is continuing to modernize its education system to ensure its students have access to a quality education that will enable them to become globally minded citizens. In April, UNRWA launched a centralized, online learning platform where teaching materials will be posted. A first of its kind for the Agency brought on by the educational changes necessitated by the pandemic, the platform provides a safe, accessible, and centrally monitored system for teachers, administrators, parents and children to access instructional materials customized across grade, subject, and host country. Digital transformation also has the potential to strengthen the delivery and cost-efficiency of UNRWA services.

UNRWA’s students are even receiving international recognition for their successes. Nagham Al-Yazji, one of our students from Gaza, was chosen from more than 2,000 international contestants as one of the three winners in the 2020 Inspirational Messages of Peace Contest by the United States National Park Service and International World Peace Rose Garden.

A Letter to Mother Coretta Scott King

Good morning,
While I was trembling in fear last night,
You put your hand on my heart to make it all go away,
I woke up to find you, a tear in a refugee’s eye and a smile on a child’s face.
Thank you for your enlightenment.
For the misery of the world is gone.

If you are interested in learning more about UNRWA’s work, and how you can support the Agency, please visit UNRWA’s website.


Thumbnail image: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA decided to close its school as its main concern is to maintain the safety of its students. Enas Al-Malahi, eight-year-old Palestine refugee is student at UNRWA Shouka Elementary Co-ed School. However, Enas is following up her classes through an online educational website fostered by UNRWA education programme. “I am afraid of the pandemic, but also I was sad for closing my school. Though I miss my teachers and friends, I still continue my classes from home with the help of my mother and my teachers’ support. The online learning website includes tutorial videos for lessons and a quiz at the end of each lesson. I watched the videos, read from the book and solve the quiz then send it to my teacher through the website. My teacher follow up with me on my performance. It is good to be able to continue my classes, even if virtually.” © 2020 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan