As yet more Palestinian children were detained by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem in April, the need for a high quality education system for the Palestinian side of the city is obvious.

East Jerusalem houses around 300,000 Palestinians, 39 percent of whom are children. A third of Palestinian homes lack Israeli-issued building permits – placing 90,000 residents at risk of displacement.

Inequality is entrenched in society

Although Palestinians are required to pay the same taxes as all other city residents, they do not get the same services.  There are 1,000 public parks in West Jerusalem  but only 45 in East Jerusalem, 26 public libraries compared to 2 and 531 sports facilities against 33.

The enjoyment of basic human rights is threatened by poverty, military raids, housing demolitions, mass arrests, increased violence and marginalisation. Three out of four Palestinians in East Jerusalem live beneath the poverty line, the vast majority of which are children.

As far as education is concerned, the situation is also very challenging. Students face a shortage of classrooms, trained teaching staff and space for inclusive education and resources. Limits on the freedom of movement for both teachers and pupils – as well as difficulty accessing schools – disrupt pupil’s education. School dropout is a serious problem, alongside a lack of resources to deal with the needs of a diverse number of students.

Children have the chance of an inclusive quality education

Terre des Hommes (TDH) Italy’s Valuing Diversity project aims to help make an enjoyable and effective education a reality in East Jerusalem, by working to improve the Palestinian education system as a whole, and helping to develop inclusive, high-quality schools within in the city. TDH Italy’s actions are built on promoting an education system which embraces diversity and tackles discrimination, while enabling every school to respond to pupils’ diverse needs, interests and aspirations.

In the first phase of Valuing Diversity, children with additional needs were supported in mainstream classes. Teachers and school staff were trained to deal with various educational needs. Resource rooms were set up and used to develop multisensory facilities. Barriers to learning and participation were knocked down by providing all pupils with the opportunity to learn.

The project also extended outside schools. Extracurricular activities, events to help raise awareness within the communities (which also support and empower parents) and the set-up of an online Arabic and English forum to pass on teaching tips and materials have all been created.

Unfortunately, punitive collective punishments such as arrests are the reality in East Jerusalem, including of children. TDH Italy provides socio-educational and legal support for children out of school. These children have no documents, have been arrested, are ex-detainees, currently detained or under house arrest.

So far, Valuing Diversity has reached 2,050 students and their parents in ten public schools, 120 school personnel, 100 ‘out-of-school’ children, the Palestinian Ministry of Education, 70 university students and ten schools with inclusive education teachers.

More can be done for East Jerusalem’s children

The problems child detainees face has been taken into consideration for the second phase of Valuing Diversity, running from 2016 to 2019. TDH Italy is promoting a mobile team of educators to reach children temporarily excluded from the education system and to welcome them back into school.

This new phase also involves extending inclusive education to all children legally required to attend school, establishing Grade Zero classes with the aim of easing the transition between pre-school and school for all children and the continuation of events to raise awareness within communities.

The Valuing Diversity project’s goal is to unite children through diversity, and champion learning through inclusion – collaborating with local organisations and parents to create a community where everyone is valued.

The children of East Jerusalem face numerous challenges. But with an inclusive education they will genuinely benefit from, the potential of these children will go far beyond the prison cell and help them build an inclusive community that everyone can enjoy.