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School Year Opens In Mosul After ISIS Forced Out Of Iraqi City


All right. So this is the start of the first school year for children in Mosul since ISIS was forced out of that Iraqi city. Most residents had kept their kids home for three years as schools were run by the militants. Then some kids started catching up on classes as ISIS was forced from neighborhoods in the spring, but many couldn't do that. NPR's Jane Arraf went to see the opening of the new school year.


JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: This is an elementary school in Mosul, and it's the first day back. For the first time since 2014, it's the start of a school year not run by ISIS for ISIS children. The kids at the school haven't been to regular classes for three years, and they're really excited.

ALI: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: That's Ali. He's in sixth grade. We're not using his last name.

ALI: (Through interpreter) None of us went to school when ISIS was here. We stayed at home. Now the teachers are teaching us and handing out books. It feels good to be back.

ARRAF: When ISIS took over Mosul, he was in the third grade. But like other students, he took makeup classes and then passed the exams he needed to be admitted to the proper year.

YASSAR GHANAM SHAKER: (Speaking Arabic).


ARRAF: There are more than 300 kids here this afternoon from grades one to six. School Principal Yassar Ghanam Shaker has them line up in the courtyard.

SHAKER: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: "Make sure you're on time in the morning," he tells them, "I don't want any absences. We want you to succeed." There are holes in the walls from shrapnel. Before classes started, teachers donated paint and came in on their own time to cover them with cheerful scenes of Mosul. I pop into a first-grade classroom where children are chanting.


ARRAF: It's a traditional chant that in their lifetimes hasn't been true, "my country is a peaceful country." Most parents pulled their children out of school when ISIS took over the city. Its classes included weapons training. Even basic math used the example of bullets - five bullets plus five bullets equals 10 bullets.


ARRAF: This math class is in a battered schoolroom with dirty walls and old desks, but the kids are scrubbed clean.


ARRAF: A lot of them are eager to raise their hands when asked for answers. But there's a lot here that's lacking.


ARRAF: "This is our library," Ahmed Abdul Aziz al-Jabouri tells me proudly. He's pointing to an old bookshelf with a few-dozen cartoon paperbacks.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) The teachers brought whatever books we had at home here. In the future, we're going to ask students' families to bring books so this small library will grow.

ARRAF: They've also asked each student to bring a flower to plant in the patch of earth at the entrance to the school they hope will be a garden.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) Three years out of school is a long time so it's affected their minds with all the pressure and the bad treatment. We want to free the children's minds from all those bad thoughts.

ARRAF: The education ministry is still trying to figure out how to open hundreds of other damaged schools. I go across town to another school where the principal shows me around.


ARRAF: There's a huge hole in the wall of this school. It's from an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade. It's blasted out half the wall and destroyed the entire classroom next to it.



ARRAF: We walk past cartoon characters painted on the wall before ISIS - Aladdin, SpongeBob SquarePants. All their faces have been defaced.


ARRAF: The principal explains it's because ISIS follows an interpretation of Islam in which depicting people or animals is forbidden. She worries about the effect on the kids of having lived under ISIS, but she says the main thing is that the children are back and life can start again. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
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