In an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy in Mosul after its liberation from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), the Iraqi Ministry of Education has made it possible for students in their final year of high school to take their exams.
Although the city has yet to recover from the nine months of fierce fighting that eventually ousted ISIS, educational authorities have insisted that exams take place at the usual dates, even if that means that pass rates are low.
Thousands of students sat their Islamic education exam on July 19th, with exams in other subjects following. The exams were taken at exam centres in the eastern side of the city, which has been the least affected by the battles.
The exams went ahead in spite of a shortage of services that meant some students had to take the exams in halls without electricity, while others had no cold water to drink.
Most students were ill-prepared, having received incomplete instruction throughout the academic year in the subjects on which they were tested.
"The decision to go ahead with the exams in Mosul rather than postponing them until next year was a huge challenge in itself," ministry spokesman Ibrahim Sabti told Diyaruna.
But the ministry succeeded in overcoming it, thereby proving to the world that it can persevere, along with the youth of Mosul, he said.
No preferential treatment
The ministry has not given Mosul students preferential treatment over those from other areas, Sabti said, noting that all examinees are being treated the same, even though some have experienced exceptionally difficult conditions.
This is because the exams set a national standard which cannot be compromised or lowered in certain areas, he explained.
The ministry has been working with other government agencies to create the right environment for students in the next academic year, he said, adding that the situation will only get better.
On the other hand, Iraqi MP Sajida Mohammed, who represents Ninawa province on the parliamentary education committee, told Diyaruna she believes that students sitting the national exams in her province need special care.
"The students of Mosul have had to sit their exams without any consideration for the hardships they have endured, particularly in the last few months as battles raged in the city," she said.
She urged the relevant authorities to consider that some students have lost parents or family members or have been traumatised by the situation.
"Despite all the challenges and difficulties, however, merely going ahead with the exams in the city is testament to the possibility of normal life in Mosul," she added.
Reviving the education sector
The federal government has prepared a comprehensive plan to revive the education sector in Ninawa, Mohammed said.
The first step is to compile an extensive database detailing the condition of schools within the province and identify those that are fit for purpose and those that need to be torn down and rebuilt.
The second step will see rehabilitation and repair work beginning at the schools under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education.
The third and final stage is the psychological rehabilitation of students and teachers, who have faced years of oppression and exposure to extremist ideology under ISIS control, she added.
Mohammed said she was pleasantly surprised to find that "the influence of ISIS has been quite limited on students and teachers, as residents of the province largely rejected the group's deviant ideology".
She called on the federal government to take into consideration the economic situation of the teaching staff and ensure they receive back pay, as most were committed to showing up despite the difficulties they faced.
Ninawa education budget comptroller Raed Ismail said the province's education authority has issued salaries to 10 batches of teachers (14,515 teachers), paying out a total of 13.5 billion Iraqi dinars ($11.6 million).
"The authority will continue to disperse salaries to the remaining teachers in the coming days until it is able to pay the 24,000 staff members," he told Diyaruna.