More than half a million children in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have resumed their education with thousands of schools re-opening since Iraq declared victory over ISIS, Unicef said on Thursday.
Intense violence broke out in northern Iraq after the insurgents swept into Mosul and declared a so-called “caliphate” in 2014 that devastated the city and shut down all public services.
“For years, children in Mosul and areas that were under the so-called Islamic State control were deprived of their right to education,” Lord Jack McConnell, vice-president of Unicef UK said in a statement.
Children were used as human shields by the insurgents and forced to take part in the battle when government forces attempted to re-take Mosul back from ISIS.
“Now with the support of Unicef, nearly 2,000 schools have reopened and children have finally been able to resume their studies,” Lord McConnell said.
Protecting the youngsters and resuming their education has been an urgent task for humanitarian organisations.
Although Baghdad declared victory over the insurgents in 2017, the terrorists have gone underground, carrying out various attacks across Iraq and remaining active in rural areas.
Since then, more than half a million students have resumed their studies, but the children’s agency said educational needs in Mosul and across Iraq remains “immense”.
Children also need specialised services such as psychological counselling and some may need mental health care.
But Unicef estimates that nearly 2.6 million school aged children are not attending school regularly or not at all across the country.
"Approximately 68 per cent of out-of-school children are aged between 12-17. This age group is particularly vulnerable to exploitation, more likely to engage in child labour, child marriage and are more likely to be depressed about their future," Laila Ali, spokesperson for Unicef Iraq, told The National.
Oil-rich Iraq historically had very high literacy rates and primary school enrollment was 100 per cent in the 1980s.
But with the imposition of international sanctions in August 1990-1991 following the Kuwait invasion the illiteracy rates increased.
The figure exacerbated after the civil war that broke out following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.
For those children who are attending schools, the quality of education and overcrowding remains a concern, the agency said.
“The shortage of teachers and school buildings means classrooms are overcrowded with as many as 60 students per class,” Ms Ali said, adding that children have about three hours of contract time with teachers.
“Half of all schools across Iraq require rehabilitation. There is also shortage of teachers in conflict affected governorates,” she said.
This gives the children little opportunity to learn and participate in extra-curricular activities, including psycho-social support and playing with their peers, Ms Ali said.
The agency said it has supported the local authorities in Mosul to rehabilitate and repair damaged schools, provided learning materials including math and science kits as well conducting teacher training, so that children can quickly resume their education.