“There is a great shortage of educational cadres in Mosul as well as in other areas of displacement,” said Harith al-Abbasi, a teacher from Mosul who now works in an Iraqi private school in Istanbul. “The situation of schools in Mosul in general is very poor.”
The Iraqi government has pledged to hire more teachers, according to Saieh. However, no clear timetable has been set for this.
“With hundreds of schools damaged as a result of the military operations, the classrooms are often overcrowded,” she said. “Many children from the surrounding areas and camps are still without education, as enough trained teachers have not been allocated to ensure that children can get a good education.”
‘ISIS Children’: Stigmatized and Deprived
The report also highlights the denial of the right to education to an estimated 45,000 children whose parents are suspected of having been affiliated with the Islamic State. These children, who were born in or lived in areas controlled by ISIS between 2014 and 2017, lack the civil documents required by the Iraqi government to register in schools.
Iraqi Ministry of Education officials have signaled their approval of a plan to allow unregistered children to enroll in schools, but this agreement has not been fully put in place. One in every five Iraqi families reported that their children were denied access to education and other basic rights, according to an earlier study by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“Denying children their right to education because of something their parents might have done is a grossly misguided form of collective punishment,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press statement. “It undermines any potential government efforts to counter extremist ideology by pushing these children to the margins of society.”
To alleviate the education crisis confronting Iraqi children today, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s report recommends six urgent measures that the Iraqi government should take. They are:
- • Scale up the number of trained teachers in formal schools, particularly in areas with high numbers of displaced people.
- • Make more school facilities for both primary and secondary education available, and provide government support and staffing for them.
- • Allow children who lack the required civil documents to attend schools, sit for exams and obtain certificates.
- • End any occupation of schools by the military, security forces or other armed groups, in line with the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment by governments to protect education during periods of conflict. Iraq is one of more than 100 nations that have endorsed the agreement.
- • Provide support to non-formal education programs in camps for refugees and displaced people, and support accelerated learning programs to help students who have been out of school for years to reintegrate into the education system.
- • Fully fund the education measures called for under the United Nations’ Iraq 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan and ensure that the government allocates adequate support for education.
Saieh, from the Norwegian Refugee Council, stresses the importance of supporting the education of children as an investment in Iraq’s future. “If not, a new generation of Iraqi children will be further deprived,” she said. “This will undermine prospects for a stable and inclusive Iraqi society in the future.”
However, she believes that the Iraqi government cannot afford the cost of such measures on its own.
“The damage left by the military operations against ISIS has been enormous, one the government will not be able to stand alone,” she said. “That is why we are calling on the international community to support displaced Iraqi children to obtain their right to education.”