The disconnect about displacement: IDP access to educational alternatives in Iraq in the Covid-19 era

Over six million Iraqis were displaced during the war with Daesh and, although many have returned to their communities, there are approximately1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDP) scattered across the country. Many IDP children in Iraq, whether in camps or in host communities, face challenges including poor infrastructure, lack of documentation, economic insecurity, trauma, and health shocks that make it difficult to access schooling. These shocks were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which led to nine months of nationwide school closures supported by some temporary use of online educational alternatives. However, distance learning is not accessible to the 50% of Iraq’s population without in-home internet access (ACAPS, 2020). This study explores how parents assess and identify the barriers internally displaced children who fled violent conflict with Daesh face in accessing education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Six IDP parents with out of school children and six IDP parents within school children were invited to take part in an online, semi-structured interview lasting up to one hour.

This study foregrounds the voices and family histories of IDPs when navigating educational access with particular attention to pandemic-related disruptions. Against a backdrop of grey literature that is largely dominated by household surveys, I make a methodological argument for the need for qualitative research on the ground. In doing so I clarify mainstream understandings of barriers and opportunities to education in Iraq. Although the literature says that poverty, trauma, and poor infrastructure are the main barriers to school access, these interviews suggest a more nuanced picture involving intangible challenges such as intergenerational illiteracy, bullying, and loss of faith in schooling’s promise. The data also indicates that the transformative qualities of displacement can potentially carry positive impacts related to resilience, including newfound opportunities for girls’ schooling, creative educational alternatives, and community participation. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has essentially halted all progress with respect to educational alternatives in the IDP community in Iraq due to lack of facilities appropriate for social distancing and inadequate access to internet and technology necessary for distance learning.