New online platform will support student education during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has launched a new centralized digital education platform designed to improve education access for more than 540,000 refugee students in 711 schools across the Middle East. In emergency situations -- such as the COVID-19 pandemic or periods of armed conflict -- Palestine refugee children are often unable to physically access their regular schools, risking interruption of their education. In order to ensure learning continuity, the Digital Learning Platform (DLP) was developed to provide UNRWA students (and their parents) with access to age-appropriate, relevant, and safe self-learning material that is in line with UN values and humanitarian principles.
UNRWA is committed to providing quality, inclusive and equitable education to all its students, both in times of relative stability and in emergencies. The DLP is the newest component of the routine systems UNRWA has in place to quickly operationalize programs and resources during crises.
A first of its kind for the Agency, the platform provides a safe, accessible, and centrally monitored system for teachers and administrators to upload and host instructional materials customized across grade, subject and host country. Moreover, it will ensure Agency-wide coherence and alignment with education objectives and UN values of neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination with regard to race, gender, language and religion.
Acting UNRWA Director of Education, Moritz Bilagher, said, “The new UNRWA digital platform for distance learning is crucial for the continuation of learning in times of crisis, including the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and associated school closures. This system prioritizes giving students a comprehensive, consistent educational experience during this turbulent period – and given the realities of providing education in one of the most volatile regions of the world – it will become a regularly maintained and monitored part of our educational program going forward. While the DLP is a big step forward toward streamlining educational accessibility for students, it is only the first step. Thousands of UNRWA students still face unequal access to the tools and infrastructure, particularly reliable internet, which is essential to succeeding in the 21st century.”
For the past 70 years, UNRWA has been the main UN body responsible for delivering assistance, education and protection to Palestine refugees across the Middle East. Over 20,000 staff – the majority of whom are refugees themselves – teach students. In addition, technical vocational training and higher education are provided at eight vocational training centres for approximately 7,700 Palestine refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and Gaza, and for about 1,600 students in two educational science faculties.
The new mobile-friendly UNRWA education platform hosts a wide range of materials, including PDFs, quizzes and educational games, providing students with a comprehensive, consistent educational experience. In addition, parents are given access to resources that can help them support their children’s learning. The content management system includes a process for rigorous neutrality review of all content prior to release. To this end, the platform helps the Agency ensure that the UNRWA educational program is of the highest caliber and that all UNRWA learning materials align with and advance UN principles and values. The material on the platform will be constantly monitored and updated as needed.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget.
UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.
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