Aid & Development

Schools in Sirte return to normal despite security challenges

North Africa

Families in Sirte are allowing their children to return to schools after seeing an improvement in the educational institutions and in services.

Schools are beginning to reopen in Libya’s northern coastal city of Sirte. The schools are reopening following an increased effort to reconstruct the city following the battle to remove ISIS militants from the city, which concluded in December 2016.

Immediately after the war, insecurity in the city meant that the restoration of Sirte’s educational facilities had elicited little support from the local authorities, with local volunteers carrying out the task of restoring some basic education for the city’s young people. However, these volunteers had very little resources and limited means to initiate any major reconstruction projects for schools.

More than a year on from the defeat of ISIS in the city, security has been gradually re-established throughout all of Sirte’s neighbourhoods, allowing a resurgence of economic activity and a return to normal life for the city’s residents.

Sirte Municipality, governed by the Government of National Accord, has subsequently taken an increasing role in coordinating the reconstruction of educational facilities, as well as the provision of resources, with the assistance of international organisations.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is rebuilding and providing resources for 12 schools in the city, in addition to providing long term support to a further 8 schools. Moreover, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing support to another 13 schools.

Restoring the city’s educational facilities and providing young people and children with a proper education is essential in preventing the proliferation of extremist ideology in Libya. ISIS place great emphasis on education, viewing the indoctrination of children as vital for the survival of the caliphate and its ideology. The militant group also produced its own curriculum with accompanying literature designed to desensitise children to violence. “The literature is a serious and systematic attempt at shaping young minds,” said Jacob Olidort, an expert on extremist literature. “The aim is of producing not just believers but militants.”

Child militants were known by the group as “Cubs of the Caliphate.” International aid organisations are concerned that the level of exposure to extremist material that children have received will trigger a cycle of violence and further indoctrination. Additionally, many of the children who previously lived under ISIS rule will be profoundly traumatised.

UNICEF and the Institute for Global Engagement are providing a rehabilitation programme for the children, which was originally developed for child soldiers in Sierra Leone and proved to be highly successful.

The reopening of Sirte’s schools by the Municipality and international aid organisations provides not only an important return of institutional education for the city’s youth, but also a welcome return to a sense of normality. The return to normal life for Sirte’s young population will provide the foundations through which rehabilitation and therapy can succeed.