Iraq hijacked education
A draw of a gun machine is seen on the desk of Hag Ali high school for boys taken over as a collective shelter. The conflict has left behind deeply scars in the psyche of children and it has reversed more than two decades of expansion of access to education. Northern Iraq. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
Children back to school after ISIL was pushed out of east Mosul in al Meqqa School for girls in East Mosul, Iraq. April 23th, 2017. After ISIL took control of Mosul in mid-2014, the extremist militant group closed the city’s 990 schools, altered the curriculum to support its ideology, and then reopened the schools to push dogma over academic learning. Iraq. April 23th, 2017. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A draw of Iraq borders is seen painted in a bullet riddled abandoned school, caught in the crossfire in Kanash Gawra, outskirts of Gwer. The weakening of the Daesh terror regimen has brought up into the surface deeply scares that shakes the bases of the educational system and the access to thousands of kids to the school. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
Asaf Ahmed, a young Iraqi refugee looks at the window inside the school Hag Ali high school for girls in Northern Iraq. He has been here for the last 20 days. He was attending lessons in Qayara, but once Daesh came, he dropped out his studies. No prospect for him to return home soon. Refugees sleep in classrooms, hallways, and the courtyards of facilities intended for children’s education. Northern Iraq 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
Curriculum student’s pictures lie on the floor inside the abandoned school Al Derbas primary and high school located in Hag Ali, Northern Iraq. With its currently crisis education have been stretched to breaking point. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
Portrait of Haj Ali, a Sunni 15 years old fighter inside his position in Northern Iraq outside Qayara. He joined the sheikh militia of Nazhan Sajar, to overthrow the Daesh regimen, a couple of years ago. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
Isis has destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts in Mosul library.. Mosul University was one of the largest and most respected educational and research institutions in the Middle East before it was taken over by ISIS. East Mosul. April 2017. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A draw in a wall defaced by ISIL in a wall´s school of Eastern Mosul. Islamic State fighters defaced anything they deem to be religious or western idolatry. East Mosul, Iraq. April 12th, 2017. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A view shows the impact of an air strike in an abandoned school located at the recently liberated area of Takh. Almost 10 villages outskirts Gwer were liberated by Peshmerga forces on August 14th-15th, 2016. There are hundreds of schools in Northern Iraq that can no longer be used any more. Northern Irak, August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A PKK fighter looks outside an completely destroyed class room in the recently liberated area of Setyh, Northern Iraq. The school was destroyed by an air strike. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A ray of light bathes a destroyed blackboard inside an abandoned school in Sinjar. On August 2014, Islamic state militants attacked the Valley of Sinjar and the towns located at Nineveh province. On December 2015, the Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region's Peshmerga forces, also involved US air support and fighters from the Yazidi minority announced the liberation" of the town of Sinjar in a major operation against the Islamic State. Sinjar, Northern Iraq, April 2016. August 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A young student attends lessons inside a school in Eastern Mosul. The sounds of kids in regular schools can be heard again in the eastern side of the Iraqi city of Mosul. ISIL was forced out the area Iraqi forces a couple months Iraq. April 12th, 2017. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A ray of light hits a pile of desks inside an abandoned school in east Mosul.East Mosul was liberated from ISIS on December. April 5th, 2017. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
A Sunni refugee girl observes the sunset at Dibaga Refugee Camp. Iraqis caught in Islamic State crossfire flee to refugee camps near Mosul. The conflict has left behind deeply scars in the psyche of children and it has reversed more than two decades of expansion of access to education. August, Iraq 2016. Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo
How ISIS changed Iraqi schools
Iraq’s education system has been devastated by ISIS, but there’s still hope of avoiding a ‘lost generation’ Photographs by Diego Ibarra Sánchez
Story by Kyle Almond, CNN
After two years in the darkness, living in the shadow of ISIS, children in northern Iraq are finally getting a chance to learn again.
Schools are starting to reopen as Iraqi forces push back the terror group, and more might be opening soon after Iraq claimed victory this week in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and ISIS’ last major stronghold in the country.
“But war is not finished with the last bullet or when they are raising the flag,” warns Diego Ibarra Sanchez, a Spanish photographer who has been documenting the country’s educational crisis.
Much work remains to rebuild and restore what has been lost.
“ISIS, in a couple of years, wiped out years and years of investment,” Ibarra Sanchez said.
His photos show the devastation. Schools abandoned and heavily damaged. Libraries destroyed. Thousands of books and manuscripts burnt.
ISIS used many schools as headquarters for their fighters, but in others they continued to teach young children -- albeit with a much different curriculum.
Instead of subjects such as history and geography, students were taught religious extremism and violence. A math textbook, for example, asked students in one exercise to calculate the number of “unbelievers” who could be killed by a car bomber. Another referenced how many explosives a factory could produce. All plus signs were removed because they resemble the Christian cross.
“Parents were quite afraid of sending their kids to the (ISIS) schools,” Ibarra Sanchez said. “Sometimes they were forced to.”
And it wasn’t just the children.
“I met one teacher, 51 years old. She was forced to impart the lessons during the regime because ISIS was telling her, ‘If you are not giving the lessons, we are going to kill you,’ ” he said. “So she was forced to go to the school and to teach. Now she's quite happy because she's in east Mosul in a school that is open again.”
UNICEF and other nongovernmental organizations are helping to rebuild schools and make sure children have whatever they need to succeed. Earlier this year, UNICEF estimated that one of every five schools in the country were out of use.
One big problem, Ibarra Sanchez said, is that many of the buildings are full of booby traps set by ISIS. The schools have to be carefully cleared by specialists before lessons can resume.
Even when schools restart, students still face an uphill climb. Many are now two years behind on their studies, and there’s a lot of ground to make up.
Ibarra Sanchez fears that this could become “a lost generation,” but he was impressed by the children’s resilience and their eagerness to learn.
“They don’t deserve to grow up without a childhood as we understand childhood,” he said. “That right to play, that right to learn, that right to share without being afraid that someone is coming to your house or you cannot go to school.”
Although he has seen many improvements since an August visit last year, more equipment and more teachers are still needed for the schools, Ibarra Sanchez said. And the ISIS threat continues to loom in some areas.
“Life is starting again,” he said, “but there is a long way, a long path after a bloody war.”