Conflict has had a disastrous impact on Iraq. Of a population of 36 million, 15 million are living in conflict-affected areas, and 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The battle for Mosul, which ended in July 2017, displaced nearly one million people and ongoing conflicts in other governorates are similarly disruptive. In addition to providing education for large numbers of internally displaced children, Iraq also hosts 57,601 school-age, refugee children from Syria, primarily in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), further straining education systems struggling to meet demands.
Conflict and falling oil prices have impaired the government’s ability to provide services and support recovery in areas recovered from ISIL/Daesh. The scale of the conflict is a challenge for humanitarian organizations as needs are greater than services provided and continue to grow.
School-age children represent half of the internally displaced population and 3.7 million school-age IDP children attend school irregularly or not at all, and more than 765,000 children have missed at least one year of education. Statistics for refugee children are similarly alarming, with only 57% enrolled in formal education opportunities.
Many schools have been damaged by the conflict and large-scale displacement means that schools in secure areas are hosting three shifts of students every day. For internally displaced students there is a critical shortage of trained Arabic speaking teachers in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where the primary languages of instruction are Sorani and Kurmanji Kurdish.
Many students cannot attend school because families cannot afford it or because they must work to support their families. Preliminary research indicates that young men without opportunities for participation in education are more likely to join armed groups, raising concerns about future conflicts.
Challenges and Opportunities
The fluid nature of the situation, with ever increasing and ever-changing needs poses a particular challenge for addressing the needs of internally displaced learners, returnees and refugees. As the conflict shifts and changes, the location and type of intervention must also change.
The economic crisis resulting from the conflict and falling oil prices has had a significant effect on educational provision and participation. The government is struggling to pay teachers and provide learning materials and maintain school infrastructure and it is difficult to provide quality education in a conducive environment for internally displaced and returnee students. The crisis has also impacted families, who are struggling to pay the costs associated with school attendance and concerned about losing income generated by children’s employment, which is a particular problem for the parents of young adults.
The Ministries of Education of the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq may be struggling to meet the needs of the school age population but they are clearly committed. They are willing to adopt new standards and approaches to improve access to education, although they may need assistance with the development and application of new ideas. While the Ministries of Education provide educational services for internally displaced and returnee students, they are not able to fund the educational needs of Syrian refugees of school-age and educational costs for the refugee population must be covered by international organizations.
Families value education for both boys and girls and want children to attend school. Widespread literacy and positive perceptions of education and social support for educational participation mean that efforts to address economic and material barriers to enrollment and attendance are likely to enjoy community support and a high rate of success.