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Why more and more of Gaza's parents are sending their kids to private schools

Despite the difficult economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, parents are still enrolling their children in high-cost private schools, which indicates the value they place on quality education.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Diaa Khalil of Gaza City started sending his son, who is a second-grader, to the Ibad al-Rahman private school in Gaza because he believes private schools are the best option in light of overcrowded classrooms in the government and in United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools.

Khalil, a journalist from Gaza, told Al-Monitor he pays $1,200 annually for his son’s education and he is comfortable with it, even though public schools charge parents only a token amount and UNRWA schools are free.

“I believe I am making a good investment," he explained. "I am buying comfort for my son and making sure he will love school and refuse to move to a different one. I enrolled him in a private school because I don’t believe education in UNRWA schools is useful at this time, especially with the high level of classroom occupancy.

"In fact, in private schools, there are 14 students in each classroom, while in public and UNRWA schools, this number can reach 50 students per class. I wanted him to be in a privileged school with few students in the classroom, where he will receive great attention from the teachers and the administration.”

Khalil believes private schools are registering a high turnout in the Gaza Strip because of the quality of education and the administrators' attention to details such as extracurricular activities.

The Islamic al-Naser Model Private School was one of the first private schools in the Gaza Strip. It was established in 1962 under an Egyptian administration but closed in 1967.

“The school was closed when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip,” Mohammed al-Alami, the school's director and chairman, told Al-Monitor. “It was reopened in 1976 by my grandfather, Ragheb al-Alami, who managed the Islamic endowment in Gaza and concluded a number of charitable projects, including this school and a hospital.” Alami said the school, which accommodates students from kindergarten to high school, is a charity school. “This means that when the school’s balance sheet registers a loss, the board of trustees decides whether to continue working or shut down the school. All profits shall be allocated to the endowment institution sponsoring the school, to allow it to promote and develop its projects.”

In the 2015-16 academic year, the school registered 1,480 students, compared with around 1,420 in 2014-15, according to Alami.

“Some parents who transfer their children from government and UNRWA schools to private schools believe their children will receive a better education," he said. "For example, we teach English and French, in addition to the Arabic mother tongue, not to mention extracurricular field training activities.”

The school, which sits on more than 18 dunams (about 4.5 acres) of land, covers its expenses through yearly tuition fees of $330 to $590.

“We are a charitable institution, and thus our policy is not to increase the fees, which must be reasonable and affordable," Alami said.

In 1976, there was only one other private school in the Gaza Strip, and it closed. But today there are many more and their number is rising. “The fast increase in the number of private schools indicates a trend among citizens in the Gaza Strip to shift toward private education,” Alami said.

Hussein al-Aili, director of the Special Education Department at the Ministry of Education in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “There are so far 53 private schools in the Gaza Strip, and a new school will be opened during the next academic year.” He said a significant increase coincided with the 1994 advent of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.

Aili said average annual fees for the 18,200 private-school students in the Gaza Strip range between 2,000 and 2,500 shekels (around $511 to $640). "International schools, such as the American International School in Gaza, apply annual fees of more than $2,000 [per academic year], and there is a segment of the population in the Gaza Strip that believes these schools are appropriate for their children,” he added.

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