Iraqi educators are working to counter the extremist ideology the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) tried to instill in youth in the areas it controlled.
Efforts to excise violent extremist ideology "are a top priority" for the Iraqi Ministry of Education and the Ninawa Directorate of Education, said Ninawa director of education Wahid Farid Abdul Qader.
"It would not make sense to start a new stage, following the liberation of our cities, without making the purification of our young people’s minds from terrorism our main concern," he told Diyaruna.
"We got down to work right after liberation, and we first replaced all school curricula that were changed by the terrorists with officially approved curricula," he said.
Hundreds of primary and secondary school teachers were enrolled in courses to learn how to combat the ideological and behavioural influences of ISIS.
Students in Ninawa were in turn enrolled in classes designed to strengthen their sense of civic duty and to instill positive values such as the acceptance of others, a strong moral sense and religious moderation, he said.
Determining the level of impact
In the first months after Ninawa's liberation, education officials conducted surveys to gauge the degree of ISIS's impact, which included a representative sample of students, including those in displacement camps, Abdul Qader said.
These showed "a small percentage" of negative effects, he said, with young teenagers and primary school students the most affected by the group's indoctrination attempts and older students the least affected.
A year after the liberation of Ninawa, the ministry's Directorate of Educational Preparation and Training conducted another set of surveys that included hundreds of students from all grades, he said.
Most of the students who were surveyed registered zero impact, he said, noting that this shows the diminishing effect of ISIS's indoctrination attempts.
The group's attempts to create a generation that espouses its ideology has failed, Abdul Qader said, but noted that efforts in this regard will continue.
By the end of July, he noted, 320 male and female teachers in Mosul and Erbil had completed a two-week training course for teachers and instructors on how to counter extremist ideology in the classroom.
ISIS influence was temporary
ISIS used "dirty tactics to submerge the national and cultural identity", said Raad al-Jubury, union of Iraqi teachers head in Ninawa province.
While it was in control, ISIS "significantly changed" school curricula, replacing set texts in Islamic education and history classes with books that incite violence and distort Islamic heritage, he told Diyaruna.
Scientific subjects did not escape ISIS's assault either, he added, with mathematics textbooks using violent imagery and the group cancelling biology and physics classes under the pretext they were incompatible with religion.
ISIS "also turned sports into a lesson to train students on fighting and weapons use", al-Jubury said.
Despite the threats they received from the group, many local residents refused to let their children attend ISIS-run schools, said Ninawa provincial council security committee member Hassan Shabib.
"Terrorists forced the locals to send their children to school, but parents did not succumb to the pressure, because these schools did not provide knowledge, nor did they espouse higher values," he told Diyaruna.
They were akin to military training camps that aimed to raise a generation of extremists and suicide bombers, he said.
"People knew the true intentions of ISIS early on and thwarted their plans," he said. "That is why you do not see a strong hold of their ideology in the minds of students."