Voices of Children

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Teachers rule a line

© UNICEF-oPt/2006/Steve Sabella
Nafe Husni, a 17 year old student in his second last year of high school, is annoyed with his teachers and will go to school next week to pressure them into aborting their campaign to strike.

By Toni O’Loughlin

JERUSALEM, 1 September 2006 - Unpaid Palestinian teachers, many of whom cannot afford to educate their own children, are prepared to strike indefinitely starting on the first day of the new school term.

Many of the government’s 35,000 teachers are expected to stay on strike, along with health workers, until the cash starved Palestinian Authority starts paying their salaries. The strike could leave up to 750,000 government school students stranded without classes for weeks, maybe months.

Many parents and students empathise with the teachers’ desperate financial state but many are angry and believe the strike will only punish their children.

Nafe Husni, a 17 year old student in his second last year of high school, is annoyed with his teachers and will go to school next week to pressure them into aborting their campaign. “I want to study, it’s my right to study. My future will be blocked by this,” Nafe says.

In the last six months his father, a businessman who is also suffering financially because of the ongoing financial crisis, has sold his mother’s gold, the car and some land to pay the daily bills.

While Nafe’s father can afford to send his younger sister and brother to school, his two older brothers may have to stop going to university.

Nafe, who also wants to go to university, will try to continue his studies at home if the strike is prolonged. His family’s dwindling finances means he will need to win a scholarship if he is to go on to higher education.

Although studious, Nafe expects to face much fiercer competition for such scholarships as growing numbers of families are sliding into poverty and moving their children out of private schools and into the public education system.

© UNICEF-oPt/2006/Steve Sabella
Khaled Bzur, school principle, can not afford the 12 shekel (US$2.75) daily taxi fare to send his sons to and from school. Instead they will have to walk the three kilometres there and back each day.

Many in the community believe the strike will hurt students. There is ALSO concern the strike will accelerate the escalating drop out rate among boys from poverty stricken homes. And without the daily discipline of going to school, many boys may vent their stresses by brawling in the streets.

But the teachers insist that they are not to blame.

While teachers worked three months unpaid at the end of the previous school year, they say they can’t afford to teach for nothing anymore. Many can barely scrape together the money to put fuel in their cars or to pay the bus and taxi fares to travel to work.

Hassan Zyoud, secretary of a school in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, couldn’t send his sons to university this summer because he, like many other civil servants, has been plundering family savings and assets just to cover the daily cost of living. “I’ve sold the gold of my wife and there’s nothing else to sell,” Mr Zyoud said.


When the Palestinian Authority paid its employees 1,500 shekels (US$344) in July, most of it vanished in debt repayments, Mr Zyoud says. His bank took 1,000 shekels (US$229) almost as soon as the money went into the account. Like many other unpaid workers, Mr Zyoud has been surviving on credit and racking up enormous debts.

The principal at Mr Zyoud’s school, Khaled Bzur, spent his 1,500 shekels paying off debts at the local shops. Now he can’t afford the stationary, school bags or uniforms that his three sons need for the new school year.

Nor can he afford the 12 shekel (US$2.75) daily taxi fare to send his sons to and from school. Instead they will have to walk the three kilometres there and back each day.

Education in figures

  • Number of government-run schools in West Bank and Gaza: 1,726.
  • Number of students in grades 1-12: 1,674,098.
  • Number of teachers in governmental schools: 35,102.
  • 70% of students attend governmental schools; 24% attend UNRWA schools; and 6% attend private schools.
  • 58.9% of young people between 10 and 24 years of age say their top priority is education.
  • School fees at government schools have been lowered from $US 11 to $US 4.5 this year.
  • PA civil servants, including 35,000 teachers, have received little pay since February 2006.

 

 
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