Learning in the Face of Adversity

The UNRWA Education Program for Palestine Refugees

The Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) initiative is designed to help countries identify actionable priorities for strengthening education systems so that all children and youth can be equipped with knowledge and skills for life. Any education system is a complex network of providers and beneficiaries, institutions, and individuals whose efforts and interactions determine whether the country is using resources effectively to advance learning for all.

While building schools, equipping classrooms, and providing textbooks are all important, merely increasing inputs is not enough to improve student learning. Evidence shows that how schools and school systems use those resources matters a great deal in driving learning. At the World Bank, we focus on improving the non-input factors that drive learning—the information flow, accountability relationships, incentives, financing structures, and behaviours, especially the presence and actions of good teachers to ensure learning. This book applies the systems approach to explain how a school system responsible for helping educate refugees is achieving relatively high results. There is much to learn from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools for Palestine refugees.

This book highlights the fact that in a context of adversity and conflict, an education system requires more than the mainstream education model. It demands also a resilience approach. From the mainstream lens, the UNRWA system exhibits the effective classroom practices of teachers, strong school leadership, assessments, and shared accountability for learning, which support organizational adaptability and performance in the face of adversity. A resilience approach also calls for the recognition of the risks and vulnerabilities that students face and a commitment to foster relevant interactions across school and community actors towards the protection, well-being and learning of students in such challenging contexts. A resilience approach does not imply that schools and communities at risk are left to fend alone, but calls for an alignment and institutionalization of relevant education services and systems to foster and support the resilience processes of which students, teachers, and families avail themselves.

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