School of thought
In Gaza, a school that is engineered for learning
The Jamal Abdel Nasser school is setting a new standard, with a child-centred learning environment, eco-sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy. The school’s transformation was made possible through a partnership between UNDP and the Qatar Fund for Development, through the Education Above All Foundation’s Al Fakhoora programme,and the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
When the final bell rings at the Jamal Abdel Nasser secondary school in Gaza, you won’t see kids dashing for the exits. Students here are more likely to linger, to check out a book at the library, join an extracurricular activity or just relax on the rooftop. In an area affected by a protracted crisis, the school is a haven, an oasis of colour and of clever, people-centred design.
“The school has provided a safe environment for the students,” principal Jamil Harazin says. “In the past, some students used to escape from school, but now we see how students are strongly attached to it.”
During periods of military incursions, damages were inflicted on existing infrastructure including hundreds of educational facilities that were damaged or destroyed.
Making the grade
Even before the most recent conflict, Gaza schools were severely overcrowded. Without enough schools to accommodate increasing numbers of students, teachers must take double and sometimes triple shifts. When classes have more than 38 students, it’s difficult for teachers to show adequate attention to each child and for students to remain engaged. With school conditions not making the grade, it’s no wonder students’ performance in Gaza is behind the results of their peers in the West Bank.
In contrast, the newly built Jamal Abdel Nasser school is setting a new standard, with a child-centred learning environment, eco-sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy. It started with a unique approach from the very beginning. The school wasn’t designed by specialists behind closed doors. The entire community got involved in the discussions and shared their ideas for what the school should be. Rebuilding the school also created 268 job opportunities for local people, generating 16,905 workdays.
With five well-equipped labs, the school encourages students to experiment, create and learn about science and technology. The school’s library is housed in its own two-storey building, providing a quiet and comfortable reading environment. Kids can use this space to read and study on their own time. More importantly, they can feel that they are part of a community.
There’s also a multi-purpose hall, where children can play sports and engage in other recreational activities. In times of emergency, the hall can serve as a shelter for displaced persons, accommodating up to 130 people in need.
Thanks to a well, the school has continuous access to safe drinking water, a luxury in the territory. And while many Gazan schools have outdoor toilets, at Jamal Abdel Nasser, every floor has modern facilities, including ones for people with disabilities. In fact, the entire school was designed with accessibility and mobility in mind. Bridges connect all the buildings, making it easy for kids to move around.
In Gaza, there is an average of 16 to 20 hours of electricity cuts per day. The outages affect achievement levels because some students can’t see what’s written on the board or use computers and other electronic devices. To make sure kids always have adequate light in their classrooms and power supply for computers, the school has installed 141 solar panels. Gaza’s 300 sunny days a year guarantee continuous power supply.
The double-wall construction, with the void filled partly by air and partly by polystyrene boards, provides powerful insulation to keep rooms warm in winters and cool in summers. Every classroom was designed with large windows, strategically placed to ensure that rooms are bright and properly ventilated.
The school’s design also takes into account the special circumstances in Gaza, where many kids are traumatized by the conflict. Their fragile state often makes it difficult for them to focus on studies. A safe and quiet place for children to receive help from psychologists was an essential part of the plan.
“The school has become a national treasure that does not belong to the current students, but rather to the generations to come,” principal Jamil Harazin says. “Both students and the local community feel they own it and are willing to work together to sustain it.”
The Jamal Abdel Nasser school welcomed 752 students from grades 10 to 12 when it opened its doors in February 2018. Next semester, it expects to enrol 900 students.
Photos: Shareef Sarhan for UNDP/PAPP
About the UNDP Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People
The UNDP Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP) derives its mandate from United Nations General Assembly Resolution 33/147 of 20 December 1978. Called upon by United Nations Member States in that year, UNDP was requested “to improve the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian people by identifying their social and economic needs and by establishing concrete projects to that end”.
In partnership with Palestinian institutions, civil society, and donors, UNDP/PAPP’s goal is to support the Palestinian People to establish a viable State that is able to realize the right to development for its people and support their socio-economic resilience. Since its establishment, UNDP/PAPP has delivered over US$1.7 billion in development assistance to the Palestinian People, and generated over 4 million workdays.