Abed Al-Kareem, 11 years old, was in 5th grade when he started at al Khalil school in Hebron H2. His teacher told us that he is an intelligent student and was doing great when he started. But his performance started to decline, and eventually, he did not even show up for the final exams. Why would this happen for a child who was really studious? The answer is not simple.
In February 2021, the Ministry of Education announced that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the second school semester for elementary students would be a mixed learning system. This meant that there would be three days of face-to-face learning and three days of online learning. Student classes would also be divided into two to limit the number of students in a classroom. All other students would be undertaking lessons online only.
Online learning was challenging for many countries around the world. In Palestine, particularly in the vulnerable areas such as al Khalil/Hebron H2, the implementation of online learning wasn’t easy for teachers, students, and their families. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Al Khalil/Hebron governorate had the lowest participation of children in online education at 38.9%. One of the reasons is that Al Khalil/Hebron governorate is the largest governorate in the West Bank. Also, many of the towns are in area C, where most families live in very low-income places whose situation has been made worse by the pandemic and subsequent job loss.
According to PCBS, the internet was not available in 48.5% of houses. Of those who had the internet, 21.6% of teachers and 13.3% of children did not attend any online classes. Hasan, the principal of al Ibrahimyeh boys’ school, stated, “Some parents made their children leave the school due to feeling that education is useless at this time.”
Some students couldn’t attend either because of no internet access or lack of devices. In families with three children or more and only one phone or laptop, only one child can use it. Most families can’t afford to buy more devices.
CPT has noted that fewer and fewer students are passing during the monitoring of checkpoints at school time. The reason being that student numbers were already lower than last semester when numbers were already reduced by half, resulting in fewer incidents of harassment by the Israeli military.
At Ibrahimiyah school, only six new students were registered, as families hoped that the following school year, children would attend school fully in person. According to the Ibrahimiyeh school principal, other factors influencing falling numbers include no newly married couples moving to the H2 area as Israel makes it very difficult to build homes. Parents are also seeking more secure locations for their children away from the daily harassment by Israeli soldiers and settlers. And parents don’t want to send their little children through checkpoints unaccompanied by older siblings.
Teachers from Al-Khalil school told CPT that a discouragement for students both in attending school and learning is the continual presence of Israeli soldiers in the streets near the schools or on the roofs of surrounding buildings. The soldiers cause high levels of anxiety or provocation of the students resulting in an unhealthy and unstable education.
Schools in H2 are important but vulnerable places for Palestinian memory and history as they face daily attempts of erasure by Israel. Covid-19 was a real challenge for their existence. However, next semester school will be fully face-to-face and as CPT we hope that we will see more children going safely to their schools.