By Dan Stoner, Co-Chair of the Basic Education Coalition
In a world where education is drastically underfunded, especially for children born into poverty and facing discrimination, the United States should be championing American values and doing more for those in need, not less. Yet the Administration recently decided to eliminate millions of dollars of bilateral and multilateral aid that supports the education of more than 525,000 Palestinian children, a decision that will have ominous effects.
When the UN General Assembly created the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in 1949, it was charged with delivering food, healthcare, education, and other social services to Palestinian refugees until a lasting peace in the Middle East can be negotiated. UNRWA is still today the principal international organization delivering humanitarian assistance to 5 million Palestinians and provides education to more than 525,000 children in 725 schools across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. The need for these services is dire; an estimated one in four people in the West Bank and Gaza are living on less than $1.90 per day and 44.5 percent of youth are unemployed.
According to a 2016 World Bank study, UNRWA consistently delivers quality instruction and achieves higher-than-average learning outcomes. UNRWA students are typically a year ahead of their peers and many go on to complete university education and return to serve as teachers, doctors, and nurses. In Gaza alone, UNRWA is providing over 240,000 students with basic education as well as courses that focus on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance.
The education that UNRWA offers is an invaluable resource for the region’s displaced and marginalized. However, Palestinian children may not be able to remain in school for the rest of the fall semester unless UNRWA is able to fill the significant gap left by the U.S. funding cuts. Throughout the summer, the Administration has continued to ignore warnings from many expert voices, including a bipartisan group of seven former UN Ambassadors. Unless we change course now, teachers could go unpaid, schools could shutter, and students will be left behind.
Education equips children with tools to make valuable contributions to civil society. Goals of peace and stability will be undermined if we fail to provide education for more than half a million children in need. These children do not have a seat at the negotiating table, yet their education is in sincere jeopardy of becoming a casualty of a conflict that they do not control.
A child’s right to education ought to be unassailable. To take away the opportunity to learn is to deprive the very freedom of opportunity that our country stands for. The Administration should immediately act to reverse their decision and release the full 2018 expected U.S. contribution to UNRWA so that children who are already burdened with an abundance of hardship will be afforded the basic right of an education.
Note: On September 13th, 2018, the Basic Education Coalition signed on to this letter: U.S. Humanitarian and Development Organizations Urge Trump Administration To Restore Funding for Programs for Vulnerable Palestinians