Committed to learning despite all odds

Sima’s story

Narmin Ezzet
Sima standing outside her classroom
28 February 2021

Sima is a ten year old girl in Grade 4 at Qamishli Basic School in Qushtapa refugee camp in Erbil, northern Iraq. Her brother, Ahmed, also studies in the same school.

Sima and Ahmed have now returned to their school. Almost an year ago the COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt suspension of school,  leaving Sima’s  education in danger.  For many months, Sima and Ahmed’s return to school was fraught with uncertainty, putting them and many other children’s education at risk.

By the end of May, 2020, the Ministry of Education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), with support from UNICEF and other partners, began broadcasting lessons on education television and through online learning portals, with the hope that learning could continue. This was a novel way of learning for children, who now found themselves having to learn on their own.

UNICEF stepped in to provide much needed support by producing and distributing self-learning materials that based on the school curriculum. A set of self-learning materials  comprises of  one textbook that consists of four main subjects; Arabic, math, English, and science, and is available for children from grades 1 to 6. The materials include worksheets and exercises that children use them for learning at home on their own or with support from their parents. This is how Sima and Ahmed were able to continue learning, with the help of their mother, even when their schools were closed.

In addition, UNICEF supported the KRI government in identifying learning facilitators from within communities, who were then trained to lead sessions for a small group of children, while adhering social distancing, mask wearing and other measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

When schools finally reopened in November 2020 in Iraq, students continued using the blended learning approach, which children required to attend school in person one day of the week and to continue learning through the educational TV and online portals the rest of the days.  Learning facilitators continue to support  the children  by following-up on their progress in schools and helping them to work through the self-learning materials.

Some of the books provided by UNICEF and partners
Some of the books provided by UNICEF and partners

Sima loves Math and English and has been able to improve her English language skills during the program. She is proud of her languages skills, and spoke to us in English when we interviewed for this story. She had also completed the Math book and  wants to become a teacher of either math or Kurdish language when she grows up.

"I tell my friends they should go to school to become engineers and teachers" she said with a smile.

Blended learning in Iraq has bridged the gap caused by school closures and allowed children like Sima to continue learning and gain skills to better the lives in future. Under this programme, over 7300 Syrian refugee children in Darashakran, Qushtapa, Kawergoosk, Basirma refugee camps in Erbil and Arbat refugee camp in Sulaimaniyah have been able to continue their learning.

This work was made possible by generous support from the Governments of Germany, Norway, Kuwait, the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The writer Narmin Ezzet, is an Education Officer for UNICEF in Iraq based in the Erbil Field Office