After the Islamic State children try to catch up with school in Mosul
It was the end of the school year and the students at Al Huda primary school in Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, were as spirited as ever, running around and playing with their friends. Many said they were sad to see school break for the summer holidays.
A majority of the 320 students at the school had missed out on their education when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) occupied the city in June 2014.
The armed group took over government offices and schools, introducing a new curriculum focusing on their harsh interpretation of Islamic law and weapons training.
Families that were not able to flee before ISIL’s advance on the city said they kept their children out of school for fear of their safety and indoctrination. According to the United Nations’ children agency in Iraq, “thousands” of children were deprived of a formal education because of ISIL.
“When ISIL came, I thought I would never come back to school again. I can’t believe it,” said 12-year-old Najd Ayad Hamdi, a student at Al Huda.
Most of Mosul’s students returned to schools only after Iraqi forces recaptured the city in 2017, but many are now struggling at school after missing three years of education.
Tawfiq Rafh, headmaster of Al Huda, said only children of ISIL families attended Mosul’s schools during the group’s reign in the city.
“In each grade normally there would be at least 40 students [at Al Huda], but the kids all stayed at home, only the ISIL children went to school maybe totalling only four or five students in each grade,” Rafh said.
“The fathers and mothers [of Mosul residents] helped the students at home, so they didn’t forget what they already learnt,” he said, noting that most home schooling was limited to basic instruction.
After ISIL’s defeat, the Iraqi Ministry of Education launched an Accelerated Learning Programme targeting children who had missed out on school. Under the programme, 26 out of 650 schools in Mosul were selected to run classes on the weekends to help students catch up on subjects they had missed. But Al Huda was not selected.