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Grade five and six students at the Rosary Sister’s School in Gaza were supposed to sit for a science test on October 9, 2023, two days after Israel launched its devastating military assault on Gaza. But they never got to sit the test.

The school along with its library and theatre was destroyed by the Israeli army on November 4, according to Ruwaida Amer, who taught science at the private school.

Hundreds of schools, including those run by the UN, in the besieged Palestinian enclave have been bombed, and students and teachers killed, in more than 100 days of Israeli bombardment that has ravaged educational infrastructure and caused mental trauma to thousands of beleaguered students.

January 24 marks the sixth International Day of Education as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, but tens of thousands of Gaza students cannot go to schools, which are lying in ruins.

Here’s a look at how the war has taken a toll on Gaza’s education infrastructure:

How many schools and students are in the Gaza Strip?

More than 40 percent of schools (288) in Gaza are run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), while the rest are either directly operated by the Palestinian Authority or privately managed.

All of them are currently shut as more than 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced amid continued Israeli ground and air offensive that has killed more than 25,000 people, including 10,000 children.

According to UNRWA data from 2018, Gaza had 737 schools. At least 9,367 teachers work in the 288 UNRWA schools.

How many children are out of school in Gaza?

No Gaza student has been able to attend school since November 6, 2023, when the Ministry of Education suspended the 2023-2024 school year due to the war that has seen indiscriminate targeting of residential areas, including offices and schools. Israel has defended itself, saying it was battling Hamas fighters but rights groups say Tel Aviv has made little efforts to protect civilians.

OCHA reported on October 27, 2023 that there were more than 625,000 pupils and more than 22,500 teachers in Gaza.

How many schools have been targeted in Gaza?

Up to 280 government schools and 65 UNRWA-run schools have been destroyed or damaged, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

Ninety percent of Palestinian Authority schools have been subject to direct or indirect damage. About 29 percent of school buildings are out of service after being demolished or severely damaged.

Save the Children’s director for Palestine, Jason Lee, said in October: “Attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals where children are seeking refuge, are beyond unconscionable. This war is eroding humanity and is spiralling out of control.”

It’s the same story with private schools. “It was a painful first month because schools were directly targeted,” said Amer.

At least 133 schools are being used as shelter for internally displaced Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. These schools are sheltering far more people than their capacity as more than 1.9 million people have been displaced.

Israel has attacked multiple schools serving as shelters, killing displaced Palestinians. In November 2023, Israeli forces attacked the UNRWA-run Al Fakhoura school, killing at least 15 people. A week after that, at least 25 people were killed in Al-Buraq school. In December 2023, several were killed in attacks on Shadia Abu Ghazala School.

Why every university in Gaza destroyed

It is not just schools that have borne the brunt of the Israeli onslaught. Centres of higher education, including universities, have been completely paralysed. Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that 12 higher education institutions in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, completely disrupting university education.

Geneva-based independent Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that Israel systemically destroyed every university in Gaza in stages. The first stage included the bombing of the Islamic and Al-Azhar universities, the monitor said in a statement issued on Saturday.

Israa University, located in the south of Gaza city, was demolished by Israeli forces, as evident from a video released by Israeli media on January 17. The university authorities said Israel occupied and used the campus as a military base and detention facility for months before destroying it.

Additionally, the Israeli army has killed 94 university professors, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said. The monitor deemed the Israeli destruction of schools an “intentional destruction of Palestinian cultural and historical properties”.

“The targeted academics studied and taught across a variety of academic disciplines, and many of their ideas served as cornerstones of academic research in the Gaza Strip’s universities,” the monitor said in a statement.

Euro-Med said that it would be very difficult to return to academics post-war in the wake of the shear scale of the destruction of life and properties.

Palestinians have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2018. Palestinian graduates have ended up performing high in fields such as mathematics, engineering and business.

How many students and teachers have been killed and injured in Gaza?

Up to 4,327 students have been killed and 7,819 others have been injured as of January 16, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, which added that 231 teachers and administrators were also killed.

When would students be back in school?

It is uncertain when students in Gaza would be back in school as Israel’s war continues. It will likely take months, even years, to repair all damaged school buildings.

There are plans to launch e-learning for Gaza school students. Teaching, however, would be delivered from the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

The e-learning model would be difficult to apply to Gaza, where telecommunications blackouts are common and students and teachers do not have access to stable electricity and internet. Moreover, most people have been forced to flee their homes and shelter at refugee camps.

“It is impossible for there to be e-learning. There is no shelter, no internet and no suitable conditions,” Amer, the science teacher from Gaza, said.

Meanwhile, schools and universities in the occupied West Bank are already shifting to an e-learning model with online classes as raids and settler violence have dramatically risen since October 7. This includes 55 schools located in the West Bank’s “seam zone” – an area separated from the rest of the occupied West Bank by Israel’s separation wall.

The occupied West Bank has been reeling from rising settler and Israeli forces attacks, with at least 371 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and settlers since October 7.

Since her school was forced to shut down, Amer has met some of her students in public or spoken to them online. Three of her students have been killed in the war and some of them have lost their homes. The students in Gaza, she said, need psychological support for the trauma they suffer due to the war.

“I want to support them psychologically, but the circumstances they are living in are difficult,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and News Agencies

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