Here in England the new school term is well under way. Children have settled into their new classes, made friends and in some cases become acquainted with the expectations of unfamiliar teachers. The start of term is always greeted by both teachers and children with mixed emotions. For some who have enjoyed the freedom of a summer break and the opportunity to spend unstructured times with friends, the return to school can seem like the imposition of inevitable incarceration until the next school holiday. In reality however, most soon readjust and settled into the routine of a new term.
For teachers too it may take a little time to get back into stride. Though they have doubtless spent many hours during their break preparing lessons and resources for the coming weeks, once the doors open to a new class there are the usual questions about how quickly they will settle, and what challenges they will bring that permeate every teacher’s mind. Just as with the children, after a few days the routine is re-established and the holidays will seem like a distant dream.
For some children the beginning of this school year is viewed through a very different lens and will hopefully bring renewed hope and security. The UNICEF website currently features an unattributed article under the headline Children in Gaza: “It is beautiful to be back at school with my friends.” The text describes how after fifty days of relentless terror and bloodshed some children in Gaza, supported by aid from UNICEF are returning to their schools for the first time in a few months. Their enforced break from education resulted not from a holiday, but was necessitated as a safety precaution against the bombing and fighting that has marred their nation. In some instances their schools were commandeered to provide shelter for families made homeless by bombing. Many of these children now look forward to a return to some form of normality, or at least a respite from the violence that has characterised much of their young lives. Their experiences have been so harrowing that it is hard to imagine how they will re-adjust to the routine of classroom life and the need to concentrate upon their studies.
One seventeen year old boy interviewed by UNICEF states that;-
“I have seen so much violence, I don’t know how to cope with it. All I wish for is having peace of mind. I wish everything could be like it was before, that my house were still standing.”
Whilst a ten year old said:-
“It is beautiful to be back at school, free to leave my house and to play outside with my friends again.”
These children, living in an abnormal situation clearly hunger for the simple normality that most of us are fortunate enough to experience in our day to day lives. That which at times may appear to be a dull and routine existence to many children in my own country, is something which these young people long to experience. For them schooling provides far more than an education, it gives them an opportunity to touch the normality that most of us take for granted.
The world in which they live is mismanaged by adults who have simply failed to find a means by which they can live together and try to understand their differences and similarities. The children themselves are powerless victims in a situation that is out of the control of all but a few powerful individuals. These men (they are almost exclusively men) who hold such power over life and death are clearly able to shut the images of children from their minds, as they continue their relentless pursuit of their own selfish ends. Mohammed, an eleven year old boy cited in the UNICEF article says:-
“I was so happy to be able to get out of my home at last, after so many weeks confined at home. I was frightened that some of my friends might also have been killed, but thank God, I found out this morning that it is not the case.”
Unlike Mohammed, many children returning to their schools in Gaza will be mourning the loss of friends and family. Inevitably they must wonder whether when violence next erupts, as it almost invariably will, they will lose more friends, or indeed might themselves become victims of this appalling mayhem .
Schools to these children afford a safe haven where they can learn and play with their friends. The teachers working in these schools will face a major challenge in enabling their students to come to terms with the violence that has become a feature of their lives. It is almost certain that without the professionalism of such teachers, and the values that they instil in their students, today’s children will become embroiled in the violence of the future.
Perhaps the political leaders of Israel and Palestine should return to the classroom and spend some time learning alongside the children who have faced such terror in recent months. I am sure that there is much they could learn by listening to the voices of these innocents.