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

A 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.

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A 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.
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AAREF WATAD / AFP / Getty

  • 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.

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

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.

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Syrian 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.
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Ayham al-Mohammad / AFP / Getty

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.

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A 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
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Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / Getty

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.

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A 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.
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Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty

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.

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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.
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Anas Alkharboutli / Picture Alliance via Getty

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

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23 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.
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Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty

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

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15 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.
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Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty

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.

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Yemeni 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.
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Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / Getty

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

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

Source: DW


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

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A 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.
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Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP / Getty

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

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This 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.
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UNICEF

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

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

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

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A 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.
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Yusuf Bustani/Anadolu Agency/Getty

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.

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Pupils 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.
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Abd Doumany/AFP/Getty

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.

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Children 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.
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Ibrahim Yaosuf / AFP / Getty

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

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Syrian 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,
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Amer Almohibany / AFP / Getty

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.

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Syrian 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.
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Aaref Watad /AFP / Getty

Source: Al Jazeera


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

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Displaced 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.
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Aaref Watad / AFP / Getty

Source: Al Jazeera


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

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Displaced 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.
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Aaref Watad / AFP / Getty

Source: Al Jazeera


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

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Local 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.
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Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty

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.

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Displaced 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.
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Aaref Watad / AFP / Getty

Source: CNN


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

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22 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.
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Anas Alkharboutli/ Picture Alliance via Getty

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

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Displaced 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.
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Burak Kara / Getty

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

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Displaced 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.
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Essa Ahmed / AFP / Getty

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

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Displaced 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.
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Essa Ahmed / AFP / Getty

But it’s without a roof.

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Displaced 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.
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Essa Ahmed / AFP / Getty

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.

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A 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
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Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / Getty

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

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

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.

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Boys 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.
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Kate Geraghty/Fairfax Media via Getty

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

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School 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
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Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP / Getty

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

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A 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.
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Amer Alhamwe / AFP / Getty

Source: Al Jazeera


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

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

Source: Al Jazeera


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

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Children 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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Delil Souleiman / AFP / Getty