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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Gaza’s University Students Drop Out at an Accelerating Rate Due to the Pandemic

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Many students lack laptops and have a poor Internet connection, said Kordia. “And some depend on 3G (to access classes), which they buy for a dollar for a few hours to use.”

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, universities around the world, including those in Gaza, tried to move to online classes to prevent disruption to education. But Gaza’s students have faced barriers to such classes such as power cuts, a lack of access to laptops or smartphones, and no Internet at home.

At the same time, many university officials, teachers and students were new to e-learning, officials say, only having tried only a few experimental classes when the coronavirus lockdowns first occurred this past spring. In late August, however, the 17 universities in Gaza were expected to become full-service institutions of e-learning. They weren’t ready, say officials. (See a related article, “Palestine’s Universities Scramble to Move to Online Learning During Coronavirus Shutdown.”)

“The e-learning system is a new experience for lecturers and universities that are still lacking experience and training in it,” Kordia said. He added that the universities are providing lecturers with training sessions on how to use the online platforms.

Meanwhile, politics is exacerbating the situation.

In 2007, Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip following a military conflict with Fatah, one of the main Palestinian factions. The blockade has devastated the economy in Gaza, causing widespread destruction and high unemployment.

In August, Israel tightened the blockade. Now, poverty is increasing in Gaza due to a combination of ongoing effects of the blockade and severe job losses from the three-month lockdown this spring. The World Bank noted a 10 percent rise in poverty in the
Gaza Strip, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line before the pandemic.

At the same time, Israel had also announced a plan to annex parts of the West Bank. As a result, the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, refused a transfer of tax revenue, which left the authority struggling. It then stopped paying for electricity for Gaza exacerbating the already acute power shortages there, the Refugees International report said.

The Shadow of Politics

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year, these deteriorating economic conditions and internecine politics were already hurting students working toward advanced degrees in the Gaza Strip, causing them to drop out in high numbers before completing their degrees, a situation that has significantly worsened over the past few years. (See a related article, “Many Master’s Degree Students in Gaza Are Forced to Drop Out.”)

Now, university students who are still enrolled say they feel trapped by the situation and doubt they can complete their degrees.

Abdullah Abu Zayada, a journalism and mass communication student at Al-Azhar University, says he has no choice but to drop out even though he only has one year left to finish his degree.

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