We address the alarming state of education in Iraq
The three-year-long presence of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq significantly devastated the country’s education system, leaving hundreds of thousands of children out of school and many schools in ruins. These are the stories of people from Bawiza village.
Laith, 38, is a headmaster at a PIN-supported school for boys. Laith himself knows the cost of war – his brother disappeared during the period of IS rule and his family has not heard anything from him since. Laith believes psychosocial support is very important and that all children need to be involved more in recreation activities to be able to forget about the war.
“Around 20 % of students attended the school during the time of IS. Only those families who supported it were sending their children to school. Most of those children are lost now. We do not know where they are. Some of them left to go abroad with their families and only a few families stayed. Children have no responsibility for what their fathers did; it doesn’t matter whether they are from an IS family or not, they are all children and we need to treat them equally.
Continuous displacement, overcrowded schools, a lack of teachers, insufficient teaching capacities and a shortage of learning materials is the new reality for education in Iraq.
To address the alarming state of education in the country, People in Need, with the support of Iraq Humanitarian Fund, trains teachers how to provide psychosocial support to children, facilitate recreation activities and lead awareness sessions. People in Need also provides all the items and tools required for these activities. For those children whose education is now far behind the school programme, PIN organises catch-up classes.
Last year we had some challenges at school. The students were bullying and blaming children from IS families. Teachers intervene of course. They talked to the students and explained that all children are equal. This year we do not have this problem anymore. Today, there are more than 1000 boys attending the school and we have 39 teachers. However, some of the teachers had been displaced to Bawiza from other places and they will go back to their own schools soon, which means the actual number of teachers we have here will decrease. We have 18 classrooms at the school; it’s not enough to accommodate everyone.
The period of IS was a dark period, for education especially. But I’m optimistic about the future and hope all people can live together peacefully.”
Aya facilitates catch-up Arabic classes at one of PIN’s supported schools. Despite the fact that Aya is a university graduate, she works as a free lecturer [not officially appointed by the Ministry of Education to the school] and doesn’t receive any salary. She loves teaching and hopes to get an official job soon.
“During the IS period there were no jobs. Even after Mosul was retaken I couldn’t find one. I love teaching, so I started to work at the school as a free lecturer. I’m facilitating a catch-up class in Arabic.
After Mosul was retaken, children were transferred to the grade they were supposed to be in according to their age, but not according to their level of knowledge. Children missed several years of schooling and are far behind the school programme. At the beginning, the most challenging thing for me was that many children could not speak Arabic at all. Now thanks to catch-up classes they started to speak. Anything that children don’t understand during the regular lessons they will learn during the catch-up classes.
We see that children are affected by war. Sometimes arguing with one another they use phrases like “I want to kill you”, “I want to destroy you” etc. We can see the influence of war though their paintings as well. Most of their paintings are about the war and fighting.
We try to be close to the children and remove the barriers between us and them. We want to be friends to them. Once they see that, they start to listen to us.
I hope education in Iraq will improve, because education is everything for society.”
Rasha, 33, teaches students how to draw and paint. Rasha is also a free lecturer. She is filled with happiness when she is with children. Rasha says there are many talented children at the school and the only thing she dreams of is to have a place where their drawings and paintings can be displayed on the walls.
“I didn’t stop painting during the IS period, though it was prohibited. I was hiding my brushes and paintings in the attic. No one could work as an artist or teach painting. Everything was prohibited. I used to mostly stay at home. If you wanted to go outside, you needed to wear a hijab; you cannot see anything in it.
People were afraid all the time; everything was banned.
I love teaching. It makes me happy to be with children. I teach them how to draw. There are so many talented students. Even those who never drew before are learning it slowly, step by step. We teach them how to draw fruits, for example, how to mix the colours and make new ones; how to draw shadows etc. They love to draw landscapes, nature and Iraqi flags.
This class is not obligatory to attend and everyone who wants can come. Now we have two groups with 30 students in each.
Children love this activity. Especially on Saturday; they cannot wait to come. On Saturdays, they don’t have any classes at school, only recreational activities – sport, games, singing, drawing and so on.
At the beginning, students used to come to class without paper or pencils or paints. Families simply couldn’t afford it, so I bought it for them. We should care for our own children. Even if we just give a pen or pencil to students, they are happy. When the children are happy, I’m happy too, even though I’ve spent my own money.
What I hope for is that we can have a place where we can put students’ drawings and paintings on the wall. It will motive them even more and inspire others.”
“I’m Ahmad and I am 11 years old. I used to go to school in a town called Fayda. This year I’m going to school in Sada village. My brothers and sisters go to the same school, but in the second shift. I like learning and doing homework. I like physical education, but my favourite subjects are Arabic grammar and maths. Science is the most difficult to learn. I have many friends at school; some are nice, some of them are so-so. Mr. Mohamad is my favourite teacher, because he teaches us very well. When I have free time, I’m playing outside with other children.
I’ve learned many new things at school. I learned long division and multiplication in maths and I learned about vertebrate animals in science. Children need to go to school so they can learn.
When I grow up, I want to be a teacher because they help people to learn or a doctor because doctors help people to feel well.”
Ageel, Ahmad’s father
“After we fled Mosul we faced many difficulties with accommodation and livelihood. My children felt scared. They used to wake up at night feeling afraid. Thank God that ISIS was defeated and we are back to our home now.
I have five children. Four of them are going to school. I’m happy that they are at school. They found friends there. They visit each other and study together.
They like physical education the most. Actually, they like all subjects; they just find difficulties in science. The content of the science curriculum is suitable for secondary level rather than primary school. I’ve also noticed that teachers speed up their teaching in a way that students can’t follow and understand the subjects. Some of the students have already studied half of the book, but midterm exams are going to take place in a month. If teachers speed up the teaching, children will have a lot of work and as a result, they may hate school.
School is very important. It provides a bright future. Children become more sociable by communicating with teachers and other students at school; it also helps them to be educated and well developed.
My biggest fear is that another group like IS may appear and threaten people again.
I hope that my children will be able to find a job when they grow up.”