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Education under ISIS: The perils of going to school in Mosul, Iraq

ISISThis week, world leaders have come together in New York for the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly and two major international summits on the global refugee and migrant crisis. GCE members working in contexts of emergency and conflict have been telling us their stories, putting conflict into context and explaining how civil society is working to support children struggling to realise their right to education.

The challenge to provide education for all of the 75 million children and young people affected by conflict and emergencies  is immense – and includes not just refugees, migrants and displaced people, but also those who remain in crisis-hit areas. Like the children of Mosul in Iraq. This city, the second largest in Iraq, has been occupied by ISIS, or ‘Islamic State’, since June 10th 2014. ISIS has turned Mosul into a key stronghold, and has attempted to take control of all sectors – including education.

Here we share a report from the Iraqi Institute for Development (IID) which shows the shocking extent of ISIS’s impact on the education sector in Mosul.  IID is the coordinating organisation of GCE’s member network in Iraq, the Iraqi Coalition for Education for All. Through its work, IID aims to promotes a culture of peace, tolerance and justice in Iraq. The studies and reports it produces serve to raise awareness of the specific challenges to realising human rights in Iraq.  This particular report Education Under ISIS Control In Mosul was released at the end of 2015, and the English translation provided here also includes updates from 2016.

The report examines ISIS’s development of a new curriculum for school-aged children living inside the areas it controls. Subjects previously taught such as history, geography, literature, art and music have been withdrawn, and replaced with a new curriculum of Sharia or Islamic law. Students are taught how to use weapons and engage in combat, while some children are lured with money or cars to join training camps. Textbooks clearly promote the ideology of religious extremism and violence: Illustrations show children carrying weapons and dressed in clothes worn by ISIS militants and mathematics exercises ask students to calculate, for example, the number of explosives a factory can produce in a particular ISIS-controlled state.

While education across all stages, including at tertiary level, is free in government-controlled Iraq, ISIS enforces fees on children in Mosul to attend schools. The ISIS curriculum is taught by regular teachers who are threatened and forced to teach against their will. Those who refuse are usually punished physically or, for example, their houses are confiscated.

For parents, their worst nightmares have been realised.  Increasingly, they are refraining from sending their children to school. As one parent put it “I will not let them go to an ISIS-run school just so they can learn about murder and extremism.”  The impact of an ‘education’ that aims to instil violence, extremism and hostility in the minds of the next generation will be devastating.

The full report is available to download here, in English and Arabic.


Photo, provided by the Iraqi Institute for Development (IID), showing CDs of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools disseminated by ISIS, which students are urged to print out at their own expense.

Read our blog post on realising the right to education in Yemen here