The fight for education: after the Battle of Mosul

Primary school represents what may be the most important stage for students, preparing them with knowledge, skills and development for life. Mosul fell under the control of Islamic State (ISIS) back in 2014, and when Iraqi and Kurdish forces began operations for taking ISIS out of Mosul, many students weren’t able to attend school. That messed up years of their education. After these forces were able to take out ISIS and return peace to Mosul in 2017, some students started attending primary schools again. However, even after the war ended, education quality was still affected by the war — because the war for Mosul left footprints that had serious effects on students.

Primary school students in Mosul were affected by the war with ISIS, which cost them years of their education. According to UNICEF, “Even though the conflict has ended, an estimated 2.5 million children in Iraq are not in school. And girls are particularly affected by economic, physical, psychological, cultural barriers to accessing education.”[1]

And aside from those students in Mosul missing years of school, they have also been affected by the footprint of ISIS, which has had a physical and psychological impact on them. According to Sadia Ahmed, an Arabic teacher in Huda primary school in Mosul, “I tried my best in providing students with a healthy environment by providing them with activities and challenges, so they can forget what happened and also focus on their education that they missed for years during the war.” Huda is a primary school that used to be the best in Mosul, in preparing students with the best knowledge and skills. Ahmed emphasized that she tried to provide students with activities and knowledge that can enable them to repair what they missed, and at the same time help them to learn and understand. This shows that war had long-term effects on education quality in Mosul, even after the war had ended.

According to UNICEF, “Families that were not able to flee before ISIL’s advance on the city said they kept their children out of school out of fear for their safety and that they might be indoctrinated.”[2] When ISIS began taking control of Mosul in 2014, families were afraid to send their children to school. Nahla Ganem, who is an English teacher in Laila primary school in Mosul, said that she didn’t allow her 10-years-old daughter to attend school after ISIS began entering their schools every day and warning them to stick to their roles such as wearing a veil, wearing black clothes, and studying certain subjects such as the Quran, Arabic and math. After Ganem kept her daughter at home, she started homeschooling her. But she said, “I still couldn’t provide her with the best knowledge and skills as the school did, because we all were mentally affected by the environment around us… after Iraqi and Kurdish forces were able to control Mosul and my daughter started to attend her school again, I could see the effect of messing up some years — that is, by not getting good grades, and also by needing more time to understand simple and basic materials.”

 After students started to attend school normally in 2017, researchers started to record the grades of students from 2014-2017 to see the effect of the war for Mosul on education quality. Mohamed Rabeeh, the supervisor for Huda primary school in Mosul said that based on the data that he collected about the number of students who passed and failed classes in 2017, he thinks that the educational system needs to be renewed and teachers need had to be retrained in order to improve the education quality again for students and make positive changes in the future.

This chart represents the number of male and female students who passed/failed classes for Huda and Laila primary schools in Mosul 2017.

According to this chart created by Rabeeh, there are some ups and downs for students who passed and failed classes in 2017. We can see that the number of male students who failed the classes are less than the female students who failed. This supports Rabeeh’s point that war had a long-term psychological effect on female students more than male students in Mosul, which led to deterioration of education quality. Rabeeh emphasized that “the psychological effect of war on female students more than males may go back to what happened to women in Mosul when ISIS was in control, including harassment.” It’s important also to consider the other horrors that women suffered during that time, such as the fact that many mothers were killed when they refused to have sex with ISIS.

According to Relief-web, “In west Mosul, 83 schools have reopened in east Mosul, allowing 288-500 students to go back to school. 14 of these schools are supported by UNICEF.”[3] Aissam Jabber, the principle of Mustaqbal primary school in Mosul, said that the Minister of Education in Iraq should be responsible for repairing what the students in Mosul missed during the war — by retraining teachers and changing the materials in the school system, so that teachers can help students to learn and improve their skills without pressure.

However, Jabber said that he has seen nothing from the government except promises, and that the only people who participated in improving education quality were UNICEF (by repairing our school buildings). “However, that didn’t really help us in improving education quality as it was before. Because not only students but also teachers forgot and missed lots of material during the war that lasted more than three years.”

According to Jabber, UNICEF was the only helpful hand in repairing schools and providing a healthy environment for the students — such as rebuilding schools, and providing students with new books, pens, note books, and other needs. But that wasn’t helpful in giving students the same quality of education as before. Education was still affected by the footprints of war, and one of the main reasons for this is that the responsibility was not taken seriously by the Ministry of Education in repairing what was damaged during the war.

This pie chart shows the percentage of students who in 2017 attended primary schools in Mosul, and those who stayed at home. The chart was created in 2017 by Mohamed Rabeeh, supervisor for Huda primary school in Mosul. He said: “I was asked to create this chart when students started attending school back in 2017, because in the beginning our teachers struggled with teaching students and helping them learn and understand things that they had already gone through. But teachers found that students took a lot of time to cover these materials. I think this goes back to the years that they missed without opening any book.” Looking at the chart, we see that the number of students who attended school in 2017 was more than those who didn’t. However, the percentage of those who didn’t attend schools is still big. This clearly indicates that missing years of primary school did affect students’ ability to understand, learn, and improve their skills, affecting greatly the quality of their education.

It is clear that even after Iraqi and Kurdish forces defeated ISIS and returned “peace” to Mosul, people there are still affected by the long-term effects of the war. These include the ability of primary school students to learn and improve their skills. The footprints left by the war will have a long-term effect on the quality of education in Mosul.


1. “Through Education, Iraqi Children Aspire Towards a Better Future.” UNICEF Iraq. Accessed May 30, 2020.

2. “60,000 Children Back at School in West Mosul but Others Are Traumatised and Hiding – Iraq.” ReliefWeb. Accessed May 30, 2020.

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