(The “Mosul Eye” is a historian who documented life under the Islamic State occupation of Mosul. See A Conversation with the Mosul Eye Historian and An Independent Historian Documents Life Under the Islamic State.)
The so-called Islamic State placed great importance on education during their occupation of Mosul in the past two-and-a-half years. Islamic State officials introduced radical changes in the principles and content of education. For example, they announced that children must begin compulsory primary education at the age of four, with an emphasis on Arabic, followed by study of the Qur’an and Islamic law until the age of fifteen. After that, children would be trained in the use of weapons. At the same time, they abolished teaching of the arts, history, geography, philosophy, sociology, psychology and the Christian religion. They demanded that math teachers remove any questions that mentioned bank loans, democracy or elections. Biology teachers were not allowed to teach evolution or even to refer to it. And they banned the teaching of classical pre-Islamic poetry from Arabic courses.
These policies resulted in thousands of male and female pupils withdrawing from school, as their parents feared they would become subject to something that was more like propaganda than teaching. But the biggest problem now is with those pupils who entered school under these new policies. Hundreds of children have received their education in schools controlled by Da’esh, and a great number of them have been turned into fighters. This is a serious problem. We need to look into how to reform education in our city after it is liberated.
With regard to primary education, this is what I think is needed:
1. Begin preparing new curricula. There is no use returning to the teaching programs that were used in the time before Da’esh, because they will not work now.
2. An effort using the appropriate mix of international efforts to rebuild a system of comprehensive primary education Personally, I think we need to take inspiration from the experience of primary schools in Finland, since traditional methods of primary education will not help the thousands of students today who dropped out of education or who went through schools controlled by Da’esh.
3. Attention to the psychological condition of students, and to dealing with children who have witnessed violence.
4. To resume the teaching of the arts of all kinds.
5. It will not be possible to rely on government schools alone. They cannot accommodate and supervise the education of all students. International organizations such as UNICEF will need to take an active role as well.
6. Retraining, counseling and education for teaching staff in Mosul schools, especially for those subjected to acts of violence at the hands of Da’esh.
7. Preparation of teaching staff in Mosul for new leadership roles in the next phase of education.
8. With regard to young people, I hope foreign cultural organizations will quickly return to our city after liberation, and provide a variety of beneficial cultural activities.
As for university education:
1. It is essential to re-hire the teaching staff who moved away in recent years to Kirkuk, Irbil, Dahouk and Baghdad. Many of them have a clear vision about how to improve university education as well as the skills to do so.
2. Pressure should be brought to bear on the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to help students who had to drop out of education because of displacement or because they were confined inside Mosul.
3. The psychological aspect is important for university students too, and they should receive appropriate care.
Finally, education has always been a more powerful thing than anything Da’esh had at their disposal, and through education we will restore and rebuild our city and ourselves.