“While the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, I looked at the lessons learnt in neighbouring countries at the start of the pandemic and developed my own alternative teaching strategy in cooperation with my students. There was a lot of uncertainty regarding closing of the schools to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in Syria. We didn’t know whether schools would remain open or not,” Hazar al-Madi recalls. A teacher of Arabic language for 9th grade at the UNRWA Haifa School in Damascus, Hazar continued, “While I was prepared for the possibility of having to teach remotely, I wasn’t sure how that would impact my students. It made me work harder for my students. Together we succeeded to complete the syllabus for Arabic grammar ahead of school closures.”
It was sad that learning was disrupted by the pandemic. At the height of the outbreak, thousands of children were affected by school closures across Syria. “It was a challenging time, but we decided to take it positively, recognizing that it is in the best interest of the children - to keep them safe - and we easily adapted to the new circumstances. Closures did not mean that learning is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through remote learning,” Hazar explained.
The UNRWA Education Programme were deft in rapidly setting up remote learning plan for Palestine refugee students in the Agency’s 103 schools across Syria to ensure the continuation of students’ access to quality, inclusive, and equitable education. The Agency reconceptualized its longstanding Education in Emergency (EiE) programme to better respond to the challenging COVID-19 context. Joined by their teaching staff, school principals prepared printed materials for students who faced challenges with access to devices and internet connectivity and delivered them to the students’ parents or asked the parents to collect the copies from schools.
Describing her experience when the classes were suspended in mid-March as a precautionary measure against the pandemic, Hazar noted, “Things worked well despite the odds. Each week we saw a greater engagement from students online. We were available during timetabled lesson slots almost the whole day on WhatApp to give lessons, support students, respond to questions and also answer messages on Messenger. It was really hard, but I forgot my tiresome when my students scored excellent grades in the exam.”
Like other UNRWA teachers, Hazar remained in contact with her students. “Beyond the electronic connection, we need to connect with students emotionally, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty.” Hazar noted. She provided her students with remote individual follow-up support to facilitate access to distance learning opportunities.
Hazar participated in the support classes held by UNRWA for 9th grade students two weeks before the national 9th grade exam in July. The classes were devoted to review all subjects and answer students’ questions and allowed teachers to address students’ concerns. Various preventative measures were in place, including physical distancing in class, reduction in the numbers of students per class, the disinfection of classrooms and distribution of hand sanitizers. “We were very happy to see our students back. We greatly missed them and want to be with them. We also discovered a renewed passion to teach,” Hazar said.
“Apart from supporting students’ learning, a teacher can also be a great moral and psychological supporter to students and parents.” Hazar said. She believes that teaching is a rewarding career. “Teaching is all about building a relationship with your students. It is both a profession and a calling,” Hazar added. She focuses on developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students. “I have a close connection with my students and they respect and like me,” Hazar said excitedly.
Many teachers including Hazar received their basic education at UNRWA schools. Hazar is passionate about the success of her students. "I have experienced first-hand the positive difference I am bringing to not only my students, but to the entire refugee community. Seeing my students grow in knowledge, skills and confidence is my greatest joy in teaching. I have found that spending time to learn about students creates an environment where they are motivated to be successful.
Through its education programme, UNRWA provides the most transformational change to students, families, and communities. It also gives refugee children the opportunity to probe, question, think independently and shine. This World Teacher’s Day, UNRWA is proud to honour teachers like Hazar would make education possible day in and day out for Palestine refugees across the Middle East.