'Regaining normalcy': Gaza’s first field school includes 1,200 displaced students

Ro'ya_School
5 min read
14 June, 2024

It felt like she had never heard the Palestinian national anthem before.

On May 1, as Amal Al-Desouki, 34, watched her son stand in line with other children of Gaza in the city’s first makeshift school since the war broke out, the national anthem blasting from the recorder in the nylon-enclosed space of Al-Mawasi’s farmland, her eyes teared up. It felt normal.

Since first learning about Ro’ya Field School as a plan, she had knocked on all doors to ensure that her seven-year-old son Ismail would be among the children enrolled.

"The plan is to achieve a flexible and somewhat smooth transition for students from the war environment to the school atmosphere"

Following October 7, all public and private schools and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools, have halted their operations.

“It is not only about education. I want Ismail to regain some normalcy. I want him to go to school and back to the tent and do his homework instead of feeling the sense of loss that children suffer from amid war,” Amal told The New Arab.

According to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Gaza, all 219 schools in the besieged city have been closed, leaving some 625,000 students without access to education.

Ro'ya_School
Palestinian children at Ro'ya school, Gaza City’s first makeshift school 

The Global Education Cluster, a formal forum for coordination and collaboration on education in humanitarian crises co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, estimated in March that 87.7% of all educational facilities and buildings in the Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed.

In the latest tally offered by the UN, some 14,500 children have been killed by Israel since the beginning of the war.

Amal was displaced from Khan Yunis to Rafah last December, and then, as Israel’s threats of sweeping Rafah continued, she finally settled in Al-Mawasi.

“Ismail spent only a month in school, and then the war broke out,” Amal said, accompanying her son to his first day at school, atop a sandy hill.

Society
Live Story

Having missed the routine of school days and school life, this child enthusiastically rushed to join the morning assembly, a tradition common in Palestinian schools where students queue up and sing the Palestinian national anthem before starting their classes.

That’s when many parents’ eyes teared up, and as students prepared to begin their day at Ro’ya, parents left the courtyard, which is covered with fabric that barely protects them from the sun.

‘Scholasticide’

According to the school’s educational supervisor, Abdullah Al-Astal, the school accommodates roughly 1,200 students from grades one through four, between ages 6 and 10, because children at this age are the most affected by the conditions of war on psychological and behavioural levels.

“The plan is to achieve a flexible and somewhat smooth transition for students from the war environment to the school atmosphere, despite the ongoing state of displacement and bombings, through an educational environment that completely simulates the pre-war atmosphere,” Abdullah added.

Deputy principal of Ro’ya, Abdullah Abdul Ghafour, who worked as deputy principal of a government school before the war, explained to TNA that students attend school three days a week.

“That is enough, given that students do not study all the courses, but only take mathematics, Arabic, and English,” he explained.

“The school follows the curriculum of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, and the students receive intensive educational courses that were first introduced during COVID-19,” the deputy principal added. 

Society
Live Story

On April 18, the UN expressed its concerns over what it described as “scholasticide” happening in Gaza, a term that refers to “systemic obliteration of education through the arrest, detention, or killing of teachers, students, and staff, and the destruction of educational infrastructure.”

The Ro’ya school includes 80 teachers, supervisors, and administrators who facilitate the educational process voluntarily.

They were recruited by a specialised committee of qualified individuals working in public, private, and UNRWA schools, and they demonstrated a willingness to teach without compensation, according to Abdullah Abdul Ghafour.

Psychological support

Inside one classroom, which is a makeshift tent covered with fabric and includes some chairs and a small blackboard, Al-Shaima Al-Akkad is busy teaching fourth-grade students some simple vocabulary in English.

Al-Shaima strives to combine traditional educational methods with attempts to prepare her students psychologically to integrate again into an academic context.

“Students interact with the educational style that is based on entertainment, participation, and interaction, especially since the students are in a state of distress because of the war,” Al-Shaima explained to The New Arab.

“In addition to teaching students intensive academic courses, teachers focus on three other supportive tracks: behavioural, educational, and recreational.” 

Despite the raging war, teachers across Gaza did not entirely abandon their students.

"Smiles have returned to the children's faces"

According to Education International, a global union federation of teachers' trade unions, the General Union of Palestinian Teachers and the Education Ministry of the Palestinian National Authority organised training sessions for Palestinian teachers, with 70 teachers from Gaza joining.

They were equipped with the skills to provide psychological and emotional support to students traumatised by the ongoing war and mass displacement.

The school day passes quickly, and the students seem to enjoy the entertainment activities in which they have become widely involved, from jumping, spinning, and clapping, to participating in acrobatic games and acting out funny scenes.

Smiles have returned to their faces. 

Art
Society
Live Story

The Ro’ya school was an idea successfully brought to life by a team of volunteers composed of 11 Palestinian members who work in many relief and entertainment fields and receive donations from multiple countries, including Egypt, according to the initiative’s coordinator, Yahya Al-Qassas.

"There is a deliberate policy of inflicting ignorance followed by the [Israeli] occupation by targeting all components of education, including schools, universities, and qualified human competencies. We must confront this policy as best we can,” he told The New Arab.

“The Ro’ya School is an idea that we hope will spread throughout all areas of displacement to provide a suitable educational environment for students, because no one knows when the war will end and therefore we cannot just surrender to reality,” Yahya concluded.

Mohamed Solaimane is a Gaza-based journalist with bylines in regional and international outlets, focusing on humanitarian and environmental issues

This piece was published in collaboration with Egab