The siege of Mosul in Iraq by ISIS for over two years and the consequent fightback by US-backed Iraqi forces in the largest ground operation since 2003, has had a debilitating impact on schoolchildren. UN organisations and other bodies estimate that over a million children had been indoctrinated into chemistry and mathematics classes of another kind: mixing chemicals to make bombs and counting rifles became part of their curriculum.

ISIS-affected children return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
Schoolchildren attend class after registering in a school in Mosul, Iraq. Schools in Iraq's east Mosul are limping back to normalcy after two years under Islamic State rule when they were either closed or forced to teach a martial curriculum that included lessons in bomb-making.Reuters

However, after weeks of bitter battles, and east Mosul being reclaimed, it now appears that thousands of children will be returning to schools and resuming normal classes. UNICEF has helped reopen 70 schools and these are being cleared by security forces to ensure there are no booby traps. As of now, 30 schools have reopened with about 16,000 children resuming classes.

An ISIS-scarred child gets ready to return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
A mother adjusts her daughter's hat before she enters a classroom in school in Mosul. Girls were forbidden from going to school under ISIS extremist rule for two years until U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured most eastern districts of the city and are preparing to push into the western part of Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State across its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.Reuters

Psychologists and social workers are worried about the mental scars on these children as well as their initial reactions when they return to their classrooms after such a long gap. In one school, the yard where they played football is now a graveyard with dozens of freshly dug graves.

ISIS-affected children return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
Fresh graves in a school compound in east Mosul, Iraq. One schoolyard in the area has been turned into a cemetery covered with dozens of freshly dug graves, leaving no open space for children to play.Reuters

For the parents of these children who were brainwashed by ISIS extremists, this return to school is evoking mixed feelings: while there is overwhelming relief that the two years lost will now be made up and that children will learn what they should be learning, there is also apprehension.

Football after ISIS extremists are defeated in Iraq
In another school in east Mosul, young boys play football in after they registered. The writing on the wall, from the siege by the ISIS, reads "obedience", a grim reminder of Islamic extremism.Reuters

 For the teachers of these schools, the challenges are not limited to lessons alone but to the process of registrations and enrollments. UNICEF-funded new uniforms, bags and textbooks also have to be organised and distributed.

ISIS-affected children return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
Teachers carry boxes with new school bags for students who are registering in a school in east Mosul that has reopened after US-led forces defeated the ISISReuters

 All these will, hopefully, bring a smile back on the faces of the children as they skip through familiar corridors, sit at their old desks and begin the slow process of learning from textbooks that were considered evil by ISIS forces. For girls who were forbidden from being exposed to education, this is even more heartening.

ISIS-affected children return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
Under the ever-smiling eyes of Mickey Mouse, schoolchildren walk along a corridor in east Mosul. Reuters

As the old jungle saying goes: "When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled." In this case, the ISIS has not succeeded in eradicating education and there is a newfound air of optimism rising above the smoke and rubble as a generation sets out, once again, to open their minds. After east Mosul, now the west remains to be won.

After the ISIS defeat by US-led special forces, children return to school in east Mosul, Iraq
A child waits for his father at a school in Mosul. A full return to normalcy will not be easy for children, who bear the scars of living in the Islamic State's de facto capital in Iraq.Reuters