How to get school bells ringing in east Mosul again?
The drawings hanging on the wall were a stark testament to the violence that children displaced from their homes around Mosul had witnessed. Detailed depictions of car bombs and unsmiling, somber figures played prominent roles in the children’s art work on display at the “With Education We Build Hope” conference.
But interspersed among them were other drawings that showed hope for the future: doves of peace pulling an Iraqi flag, families returning home and the Iraqi army retaking Mosul.
Despite the challenges of the last two and a half years, news of families being reunited and children going back to school have fanned the latent spark of hope for adults and children living in ISIL affected areas, despite headlines of battles and shifting frontlines.
“We are beginning to see life again in the schools of East Mosul,” H.E. Dr. Mohammed Iqbal, Minister of Education in Baghdad, said at a conference entitled “With Education We Build Hope” recently held in Dohuk and supported by UNICEF.
Going back to school, particularly for girls and young women, is a tangible sign for students in retaken areas that ISIL no longer holds a death grip on southern and eastern Mosul. And they are taking full advantage of the available classes.
“When I was visiting East Mosul last week, I met two girls — actually young women — who had recently been able to go back to school. They are both fifth graders, but one is sixteen and the other, eighteen,” said UNICEF Iraq Deputy Representative Hamida Ramadhani.
“To me, this represents the will to learn that exists in many Iraqis. Despite having been out of school for a while, children and young people are willing to seek out an education. I saw hope in the eyes of those children.”
Seeda, one of a group of 8–11 year old students from the Alhadbaa Primary School for internally displaced children who opened the conference, said that even though she had been forced to leave her home, she still enjoyed school.
“We hope people see our pictures and see that we’re back in school because that’s where we drew them,” Seeda said.
The conference brought together government representatives, NGOs, donors, implementing partners, international organizations and children to begin formulating a plan to improve education in Ninewa governorate after it is completely retaken from ISIL.
Speakers addressed such issues as getting teachers and students back into school, providing psychosocial care, teaching life skills and accelerated learning programmes.
“Children are the center of all this. The theme of this conference is very important — with education we create hope. I’m focused on how to meet the children’s demands, and see how we can ensure they do not have false hope,” said Ms. Ramadhani.
For many children, going back to school can play a pivotal role in helping them deal with the distress of displacement. Regular education gives children structure and a routine to help normalize their lives while also providing continuity of educational development, making sure displacement does not equate lost years of academic training.
Seventy schools are now open in East Mosul, and over 54,000 children are attending classes. The Iraqi Federal government aims to open 250 of the 400 schools in east Mosul within the next 100 days.
Jennifer Sparks is a communications consultant with UNICEF Iraq.