Reaching the estimated 3.5 million Iraqi children who are missing out on their education is the goal of a Back to School campaign launched by the United Nations’ children’s fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Education.
“Some 3.5 million school-aged Iraqi children are missing out on education, which means they are at increased risk of early marriage, child labour and recruitment into armed groups,” the UN News Centre reported on Friday. “About one million school-aged children are internally displaced, and 70 per cent of them have lost an entire year of school.”
UNICEF hopes to see as many children in the classroom as they can and is running a public information campaign along with providing school supplies, help with transportation, and basic services. The agency has built pre-fab classrooms providing learning space for 42,000 displaced children and distributed supplies to more than 280,000 children in 2016.
They are particularly concerned about children in Anbar and the Mosul area where ongoing fighting has led to displacement and precarious living conditions. This summer, Rudaw met 9-year old Shima who, along with her family, had escaped Islamic State-held territory southeast of Mosul and settled in Debaga camp, south of Erbil. Her greatest fear is not being able to continue her education.
“I couldn’t study because Daesh was taking money from us,” she cried, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. “I don’t know if I can study in third grade or not. I finished first and second grade but I wasn’t able to finish third grade because they were asking for money.” In areas it controls, ISIS has introduced mandatory Sharia courses.
“It called on [schools] to repent and ‘purify their minds’ to match its opinions on principles of nationalism, secularism, and democracy, which it believes are contrary to Islamic Sharia and must be corrected,” the Atlantic Council think tank reported in April. The curriculum enforced by ISIS focuses on “Islamic jurisprudence and religion, in addition to norms and manners.”
Even physical education has been changed, with the militants focusing on training children in use of weapons and fighting techniques to participate in jihad, according to the Atlantic Council. Mixing of genders, music, and even basics such as mathematics have been banned, a teacher formerly from Raqqa told the think tank.
Dr. Dylan O’Driscoll, a research fellow with the Erbil-based Middle East Research Institute (MERI) warned in a recent report on planning for the liberation of Mosul that education will be a significant challenge for those who have lived under ISIS rule for more than two years.
“A new education system must be established in Nineveh to deal with the fact that many of the youth have been without a proper education for over two years. However, this system needs to run in parallel with the normal education system in order to also accommodate those just starting their education.”