Internally displaced children who fled Deir al Zor are seen at a school, a former Islamic State base, in the Syrian city of al-Bab, Syria, September 19, 2017.
Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

In recent years, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has attracted considerable attention for its educational system, given the shocking nature of its curriculum and the role that it is believed to play in the indoctrination and recruitment of children. In graphic propaganda videos, ISIS has featured ashbal, or “lion cubs”—the term that the group uses to describe its underage fighters, most of whom appear to be well under ten years old—participating in violent training exercises and even executing prisoners. Its “textbooks," which the group distributes as PDFs through its social media channels, cover a wide range of subjects, such as geography, history, computer programming, chemistry, mathematics, and English, but use crude exercises to desensitize children to violence: arithmetic problems that involve counting bullets or the number of ISIS soldiers and “nonbelievers” on a battlefield, for example.

Much of what is known about ISIS’ educational system, however,

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  • KINANA QADDOUR is a Syrian American teacher based in Washington, D.C., and Turkey. She has worked on education and teacher-training initiatives for displaced Syrian teachers and youth in both Jordan and Turkey.
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