33 photos show what it's like to go to school in a war zone

AAREF WATAD / AFP / GettyA displaced Syrian boy writes on a whiteboard in an UNICEF tent converted into a school at a camp near al-Dana town in northwestern Syria on September 10, 2019.
  • An estimated 420 million children are living in war zones. In 2017, 262 million children were thought to be out of school.
  • The worst areas affected are Africa and the Middle East, in countries like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
  • Schooling continues, in whatever way it can, but it’s not a long-term solution.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Conflict around the world is costing hundreds of millions of children their educations.

In 2019, Save the Children said one in five kids were living in a conflict zone. In February, the non-profit estimated 420 million children were living in war zones, and in 2017, the United Nations estimated 262 million children were out of school, because of conflict.

In war-torn countries like Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, classrooms have formed wherever possible – beneath trees, in the skeletons of bombed-out schools, or on special buses. Classes continue, even when walls have been reduced to rubble and sunlight pours in through holes in the roof.

These photos show what it’s like to go to school in a war zone.


A century ago, Save the Children’s founder Eglantyne Jebb said, “Every war is a war against children.” According to the non-profit, 420 million children now live in war zones around the world.

Omar Haj Kadour / AFP / GettySchool children walk past a damaged building in the town of Binnish, in Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province on October 15, 2018.

Sources: USA Today, Stop The War on Children


In Syria, the school day begins with the journey there. Here, students take an improvised taxi to school. Faces are pressed against the window, while bags are placed on top of the car.

Ayham al-Mohammad / AFP / GettySyrian students ride in an improvised taxi near a Syrian-government-controlled security zone on their way to attend classes at regime-run schools in the centre of the northeastern multi-ethnic city of Hassakeh on October 10, 2018. – Many parents in northeastern Syria, most of which is controlled by Kurdish authorities, are opting to enrol their children in overcrowded state-run schools despite the complex commute. The defections reflect the broader fissures in the northeast between those supporting formal state institutions and those defending parallel bodies developed by the Kurds.

In Yemen, 2 million children are currently not going to school. For those who are, the circumstances are less than ideal. This boy, with his pet goat, is heading to his classroom in a field, after funding for a new school dried up when war broke out in 2015.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettyA Yemeni school boy holds his goat as he arrives to attend an open-air class at a unfinished school on September 16, 2019 in the southwestern Yemeni village of al-Kashar in Taez governorate’s Mashraa and Hadnan district at the start of the new academic year

Source: Al Jazeera


School begins with the morning bell. In the Al-Zaatara refugee camp near Syria’s border, a teacher lets the children know classes are about to start.

Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / GettyA teacher at a UNICEF-run school for Syrian refugees rings the bell on October 4, 2012 in the al-Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq near the border with Syria.

Once school is underway, some children are lucky enough to sit at desks. Here, students work in semi-darkness, in the rebel-held Idlib Province in Syria in early 2019.

Anas Alkharboutli / Picture Alliance via GettySyrian children sit inside a classroom of the damaged Al Kefir school at Jisr al-Shughur in the rebel-held Idlib Province. More than 200 students are still going to the school despite the devastation caused by raids carried out by the Syrian government between 2015 and 2016.

Despite chipped walls, they participate and follow classroom protocol, like raising their hands.

Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty23 January 2019, Syria, Jisr al-Shughur: Syrian children sit inside a classroom of the damaged Al Kefir school at Jisr al-Shughur in the rebel-held Idlib Province. More than 200 students are still going to the school despite the devastation caused by raids carried out by the Syrian government between 2015 and 2016.

White boards, at least what’s left of them, are still used.

Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty15 October 2018, Syria, Tur Laha: A Syrian student stands at a damaged blackboard of a classroom in a school in Tur Laha on the Syrian-Turkish border. The remote, impoverished school, where almost 200 students of local residents and displaced persons live, is located on a mountain and lacks the necessary means to provide education under the harsh conditions of the coming winter season.

In Taez, Yemen, a class sits with its back to rubble on the first day of the year in 2019. Their classroom was heavily damaged in an airstrike in 2018.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettyYemeni children listen to their teacher on the first day of the new academic year in a classroom that was heavily damaged in an air strike in Taez on September 3, 2019.

According to Save the Children, two in five children in the Middle East live within 31 miles of a conflict.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettyThe classes are given in the undamaged section of the school normally, but the tour was organised to show the press the extent of damage that the school sustained in an attempt to get funding for repairs.

Source: DW


In Syria, instead of practicing fire drills, children prepare for air strikes. They crouch under desks and cover their heads.

Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP / GettyA member of the Syrian civil defence, known as The White Helmets, teaches schoolchildren how to protect themselves in case of an air strike during a war safety awareness campaign conducted by the group in the rebel-held area of Harasta, on the northeastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, on May 2, 2017.

In Mosul, Iraq, an elementary school class is taught to identify different types of landmines.

UNICEFThis class of boys at al-Morabeen elementary school in east Mosul is learning how to identify different types of mines. Many areas of Mosul remain contaminated with unexploded mines which pose a serious threat to children’s safety. These awareness raising classes, run by the Danish Demining Group and with the support of Germany BMZ, are helping kids keep themselves safe.

Holes in walls are a common sight. In Iraq, girls can be seen studying through a hole in 2017.

Anmar / UnicefGirls in a classroom at Al Zahraa Albaidhaa girl’s school in Falluja, in Kuwait, 2017.

Some school’s roofs, like this one is Damascus, are crumbling — a visible sign of air strikes.

Yusuf Bustani/Anadolu Agency/GettyA teacher teaches a lesson to his students in a damaged school in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on October 09, 2017. Hundreds of schools damaged and became unuseable after Assad Regime’s forces carried out land and air strikes over the de-conflict zone.

Others no longer have staircases. In the Syrian city Douma, due to heavy shelling on a daily basis, 48 schools were also moved underground to keep young civilians safe.

Abd Doumany/AFP/GettyPupils walk in a corridor on November 5, 2016 at a school in the besieged Syrian town of Douma after a school interruption due to ongoing shelling in the area. Aspects of daily life in Douma have completely shifted below the surface, with basements turned into schools and playgrounds, and even subterranean bakeries and makeshift clinics.

Source: Al Jazeera


At lunchtime, children still play. But instead of a jungle gym or sandbox, partially destroyed walls and buildings become props for games.

Ibrahim Yaosuf / AFP / GettyChildren play in the yard of a school that was partially destroyed during battles, in the village of Kufayr, in Syria’s Idlib governorate, on February 4, 2019.

Other Syrian children swing over the damaged remains of their school, on the outskirts of Damascus.

Amer Almohibany / AFP / GettySyrian boys play on swings in the playground of their damaged school on November 9, 2017 in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta town of Hamouria, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus,

Many children aren’t fortunate enough to even have the skeleton of a school left. According to UNICEF, one in five schools can’t be used due to the conflict. Tents often have to suffice.

Aaref Watad /AFP / GettySyrian children gather in a tent repurposed as a make-shift classroom, at a camp for the displaced near the town of Sarmada in the northern countryside of the rebel-held Idlib province on December 1, 2018.

Source: Al Jazeera


In the north west of Syria, near Al-Dana, UNICEF provides lessons in converted tents.

Aaref Watad / AFP / GettyDisplaced Syrian children take lessons in an UNICEF tent converted into a school at a camp near al-Dana town in northwestern Syria on September 10, 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera


Aid groups do what they can, but it gets crowded.

Aaref Watad / AFP / GettyDisplaced Syrian children take lessons in an UNICEF tent converted into a school at a camp near al-Dana town in northwestern Syria on September 10, 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera


Elsewhere in Syria, in Idlib and Hama, mobile schools, formerly buses, are being used as classrooms to teach displaced children.

Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via GettyLocal teachers have invented the mobile schools, seen here on September 22, 2019, to provide displaced children from rural Idlib and Hama countryside with an education. The project targets approximately 1,000 children aged between 5 and 12 years who have dropped out of their schools as a result of the Syrian civil war.

The project teaches about 1,000 children, aged between five and 12, who have dropped out of school since the civil war began in 2011.

Aaref Watad / AFP / GettyDisplaced Syrian children queue for their turn outside a bus converted into a classroom in the village of Hazano in northwestern Syria on September 15, 2019.

Source: CNN


Inside the bus, it’s colourful. The students learn Arabic, English, maths, painting, and singing. It’s an answer to schooling concerns for those in the area, but it’s not enough.

Anas Alkharboutli/ Picture Alliance via Getty22 September 2019, Syria, Hazano: A Syrian teacher interacts with Syrian children inside a bus which is converted into a classroom. Local teachers have invented the mobile schools to provide displaced children from rural Idlib and Hama countryside with an education.

Other displaced Syrian children learn sitting on the ground of an olive grove in Idlib.

Burak Kara / GettyDisplaced Syrian children attend a class under olive trees in an open air school on the outskirts of Killi village on September 18, 2019 in Idlib, Syria.

In Yemen, classes are also taught wherever there’s space. In the Hajjah province, a class learns under the shade of a tree.

Essa Ahmed / AFP / GettyDisplaced Yemeni students attend a class in an open field under a tree in the northern district of Abs in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah province, on October 28, 2018.

In the same area, students are taught in a makeshift school, which at least has walls to shelter them.

Essa Ahmed / AFP / GettyDisplaced Yemeni students attend a class in a makeshift school in the northern district of Abs in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah province, on October 28, 2018.

But it’s without a roof.

Essa Ahmed / AFP / GettyDisplaced Yemeni students walk to attend a class in a makeshift school in the northern district of Abs in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah province, on October 28, 2018.

And in such an arid climate, finding shade inside the classroom is imperative. In September, daily highs in this area of Yemen are often in the upper 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettyA Yemeni teacher gives an open-air class at an unfinished school on September 16, 2019 in the southwestern Yemeni village of al-Kashar in Taez governorate’s Mashraa and Hadnan district at the start of the new academic year

In Afghanistan, school kids also learn in a roofless classroom. They sit beside rubble that used to be their school, in the Nangarhar province.

Noorullah Shirzada / AFP / GettyJuly 22, 2019, Afghan schoolchildren study at the destroyed Papen High School in Deh Bala district of Nangarhar province.

Here, boys sit in a tent classroom in the Herat Province. UNICEF funds a school that teaches girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon.

Kate Geraghty/Fairfax Media via GettyBoys sit in a tent classroom at Shaidayee High School in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Regreshan, Herat Province, Afghanistan, June 18, 2019. The school, which is funded by UNICEF, accommodates 1,890 students.

Despite the work done by teachers and volunteers, these classrooms are a temporary answer to educating children in a war zone.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettySchool children attend an open-air class under a tree near their unfinished school on September 16, 2019 in the southwestern Yemeni village of al-Kashar in Taez

As Alaa al-Khamooneh, a maths teacher working in underground classrooms in Douma, told Al Jazeera, “We couldn’t imagine staying here giving lessons under such circumstances.”

Amer Alhamwe / AFP / GettyA teacher explains a lesson to his pupils at a school in the city of Harim in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province on October 15, 2018.

Source: Al Jazeera


“We are doing our best for the next generation and we hope that they will have a better future,” he said.

Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / GettyA Yemeni boy holds his notebooks as school children attend an open-air class under a tree near their unfinished school on September 16, 2019

Source: Al Jazeera


For now, schooling continues whatever way it can. When the school day is over, children head on home.

Delil Souleiman / AFP / GettyChildren walk past UNHCR temporary shelter tents as they head to school on the first day of classes at a refugee camp housing Iraqi displaced families on September 28, 2016

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