Safety first, then celebrations
Palestine’s 12th-graders pass testing rite of passage amidst pandemic
The sound of fireworks erupted in near unison early on a July Saturday morning as Palestinian school students and their parents received the results of their high school matriculation exams, the Tawjihi. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebrations – cars honking in the street, pyrotechnics– seemed more intense than previous years.
Students celebrated the results that determine their university entrance, their field of work or study, or meet the expectations of their families that have supported them throughout the year as they studied for the test.
It was thanks to UNICEF and it is partners support that the exams, taken annually over 20 days in June, were even held. To try and prevent a widespread outbreak of the deadly and contagious COVID-19 virus, the Palestinian Authority had declared a 'state of emergency' on 6 March and gradually ramped up restrictions on movement and gatherings. Schools were now closed – how would the exam be held?
UNICEF and the educational cluster were able to bring together different resources to support the Palestinian Ministry of Education in administering the exams safely. Eight hundred and fifty schools were sanitized two days before the exams with essential hygiene and cleaning materials. Digital thermometers were provided so that test supervisors could monitor the students’ temperatures. And masks and gloves were distributed to students and administrators to protect them from viral transmission while taking the exam.
"The logistical obstacles to procuring these hygiene supplies in the middle of a lockdown and distributing them to over 200 locations across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were challenging. However, given the importance of having these testing centres open and operational, we coordinated with our many supply-chain partners to get this to happen," said Giorgio Figus, head of UNICEF State of Palestine's Supply team.
As a result, 79,800 grade 12 students (44,500 students in West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and 33,500 students in Gaza) (36,760 boys and 43,136 girls) were able to sit the exams for which they had studied so hard. The head of the Ministry of Education's health unit, Mr. Amjad Ehmedat, thanked UNICEF for its efforts, saying, getting "hygiene products to disinfect the school and the personal hygiene items provided to students and teachers enabled us to conduct the exams as usual in a safe environment. We hope that this cooperation will continue to re-open the schools safely.”
Seventy-one per cent of the students passed the exam, according to the ministry. The test is divided between a science stream where the average score was 99.6 out of 100, and an art stream, where the average score among test-takers was 99.3 out of 100.
UNICEF has worked to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the State of Palestine, which has infected at least 12.9 million people worldwide, by focusing on educational support. At time of writing, the number of people infected overall in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has risen to 25,577 and 150 people have died.
As schools prepare to start a new year in August/September, the Education Cluster and UNICEF continue to work with partners to support continued learning, develop guidelines for when the schools are able to reopen, and procure and distribute vital protective equipment and hygiene items. UNICEF is also supporting a back-to-school campaign to prepare students and their families for a safe return to school and learning. UNICEF is supporting all students, especially those at risk of dropping out of school. It is developing remedial classes that help students make up learning lost due to school closures and providing psychosocial support to help teachers and learners be resilient during this difficult time.
This project was possible thanks to support received from Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), and Education Cannot Wait (ECW).