|Counselors and teachers are addressing the trauma and fears of students in Gaza [GALLO/GETTY]|
As students filed into the courtyard of Asma elementary school in Gaza City for the first time since the Israeli offensive began, they were greeted by a bleak reminder of the violence that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead and thousands injured.
A hole punched by an Israeli rocket scarred the courtyard latrine and blood soiled the wall beside it.
Asma is one of over 600 schools in Gaza – most of which reopened on January 24 – that is today facing a large number of post-war operational challenges.
Educators across the Gaza Strip are now considering whether to reschedule exams which were abandoned when Israel began bombing the territory on December 27.
Teachers are also faced with the task of teaching in rooms which had served as shelters for dozens of refugees.
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On their first day back to class, most children meandered in the courtyard, eating bread and cheese provided by the school and playing with their friends.
Inside the classrooms, debris left by the scores of refugees housed there until a few days ago still covered the floors – a box of tomatoes, empty bottles and, in some rooms, the shattered remnants of boards and chairs used for firewood in the absence of gas and electricity.
Many teachers say that a normal curriculum cannot be administered until students have been treated for trauma from the deaths of their classmates and family members.
“In the morning when I was working among the students, some of them were very frightened,” said Amirah Hamdan, a teacher at Asma who handles the morning attendance call.
“They thought that the war would start again because they were in the school.”
Other teachers and administrators say they will take the next few days to help the school’s nearly 900 students put the war behind them and return to their studies, but the first day made it clear that this will take time.
Students at the Asma school were mostly glad to return, though many were still shaken by the violence of the past few weeks.
Nour Abdel All, 10, says she lost two of her seven brothers during the war and is worried that she will lose more.
When she is old enough to work, she says, she would like to teach human rights, an attitude inspired by the loss of her brothers.
The bombing terrified her and she is still scared – particularly of the Israeli fighter jets.
“I pray that God will one day burn them all,” she says
Suha Dawoud, a supervisor at Asma, says her daughter was one of many students who had been taking her annual exams when the Israeli attacks began.
“They [the students] are not in a state of mind in which they can concentrate and focus,” says Dawoud.
“Even the most disciplined student would not be able to cope with examinations after the horrible scenes they have watched either on TV or on the ground.”
However, many students had been performing poorly at school even before Israel launched the war on Gaza on December 27.
The Israeli blockade has stifled the local economy forcing many students to reportedly abandoned their studies and seek employment.
Turning to education
|Several schools in Gaza were damaged in the Israeli attacks [AFP]
Many Palestinians see education as one of the few paths available to them to leave the territories in search of better lives.
In recent decades, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have posted better high school enrolment rates than Lebanon and higher literacy rates than Egypt and Yemen.
The Palestinian territories and diaspora have produced many influential academics, such as Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi and Mahmoud Darwish.
“Our goal is to keep the wheel of education going, because education is what our children have. It is their actual wealth,” says Dawoud.
“We do not have resources here in Gaza. We do not have raw materials or industry. We have nothing other than education itself.”
Educators like Dawoud are also up against the prevailing atmosphere of occupation and violence.
Graffiti depicting armed and masked men cover the walls, the faces of fallen “martyrs” glare down from lamppost signs, and digital gunfire sputters from internet cafes as rows of children sit enthralled by military-themed video games.
Even in Dawoud’s classes, the air of violence is there.
As a kind of therapy, she often gives children papers and pencils and asks them to draw what they are feeling.
“You might be shocked,” she says.
“Blood, destruction, people killing each other; guns are in their paintings and drawings.”
At the Palestine Secondary School for Boys, a government-run school for some 700 students in Gaza City, administrators have decided to cancel exams altogether.
They had been scheduled for December 29 – two days after the Israeli assault began.
El-Khalily, the school’s manager, told Al Jazeera that on their first day back, teachers did not hold regular class session but instead chose to help students cope with what they had seen and heard during the war.
Two students from the school were killed during the war and another five were wounded.
Teachers at the school are worried that student anger could lead to violence and failing grades in the days ahead.
“Maybe a teacher is explaining a lesson and the student is in another mental place,” says Nour El-Deen, an English teacher.
“His body is with the teacher, yes, but his mind is out. He is thinking of destruction, demolition.”