GAZA, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 25 June 2009 – Brightly coloured cones, triangles and measuring tools were scattered across the school desks in the sparsely furnished fifth-grade classroom of the Mustafa Hafez primary school in Gaza City.
The math teacher, Ruba al-Zebdah, expressed surprise as she watched her students immersed in the process of measuring and calculating the area of a bright yellow circle.
As part of a wider distribution of educational materials in Gaza, UNICEF delivered interactive math and science teaching kits to this conflict-affected school. The teaching kits were locally developed by UNICEF, in 2006, as part of an initiative to improve both the quality and content of education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
“The kits turned the class into an active one in a very untraditional way,” said Ms. al-Zebdah. “I think this kit is a treasure for every math teacher.”
Innovation in a challenging environment
Across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the lack of teaching facilities and overcrowded classrooms have directly and negatively affected learning achievements; in 2008, only 19.7 per cent of 16,000 sixth-graders in Gaza passed standardized tests in Arabic, math, science and English.
In Gaza, the dire situation is further exacerbated by the recent conflict and the two years of virtual blockade of nearly all goods entering the area, including educational materials.
UNICEF designed the math and science kits to meet educational needs during emergencies and regular classroom teaching. A total of 8,592 kits have now been distributed to Palestinian Authority-run schools in OPT.
The kits have clearly energized Ms. Al-Zebdah’s classroom. “The practical part of the math class is much better for me than the theoretical one, because I get the idea more quickly,” said Dalal Sbeeh, 10, momentarily looking up from her calculations.
In 2007, the interactive teaching kits were selected as a UNICEF ‘best practice’ innovation, thereby serving as learning models for other UNICEF country offices.
UNICEF has distributed some 400 math and science kits in Gaza in 2009. One of the schools benefiting from these interactive kits is the Mustafa Hafez primary school in Gaza City.
UNICEF has also included the teaching kits in the standard list of educational supplies that it uses in emergencies and regular programming.
Meanwhile, the education ministries in Lebanon and Syria have now started to use the kits in their schools.
Reaching students and teachers
To maximise the impact of the teaching kits, UNICEF has trained over 6,000 teachers in their use and created a teachers’ guide and a training manual in Arabic.
“Through the training and the use of the kits the project is working to improve the teaching and learning environment,” says UNICEF’s Head of Education in OPT Potung Shao. “We aim to challenge the passive learning environment in the classroom through hands-on activities, while motivating both the teachers and the students.”
Through its education programmes across both the West Bank and Gaza, UNICEF continues to enable children to keep learning despite the conflict, closures and violence. Use of the kits has partially filled a gap in education supplies and stimulated children’s enthusiasm for studying science and mathematics.