Either Occupation Or Education
By Dahr Jamail &
20 December, 2006
BAGHDAD, Dec 18 (IPS)
- Two in three children in Iraq have simply stopped going to
school, according to a government report.
Iraq's Ministry of Education
says attendance rates for the new school year, which started Sep. 20,
are at an all-time low.
Statistics released by the
ministry in October showed that a mere 30 percent of Iraq's 3.5 million
students are currently attending classes. This compares to roughly 75
percent of students who were attending classes the previous year, according
to the Britain-based NGO Save the Children.
Just before the U.S.-led
invasion in spring 2003, school attendance was nearly 100 percent.
Iraqis are forgetting almost
what a child needs. Dr. Ahmed Aaraji of the Baghdad Societal Organisation,
an Iraqi NGO which monitors the state of Iraqi schools and families
in an effort to assist families where possible, is trying to remind
everyone what that should be.
"To build a child's
character, the home atmosphere should be appropriate, parents should
attend to children, the school environment should be proper, and the
whole society should function at the best level," he told IPS.
"But none of these factors seems to exist in Iraq any more."
Iraq was awarded The United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) prize
for eradicating illiteracy in 1982. At that time, literacy rates for
women were among the highest of all Islamic nations.
Education today presents
a quite different picture. An IPS correspondent visited a primary school
in the capital city, located in the volatile al-Amiriyah district in
western Baghdad not far from the airport, after making his way through
piles of garbage. And these piles grow bigger by the day, residents
The two-storey building looks
neat enough with a fresh coat of yellow paint, but one step inside reveals
years of neglect.
"During the regime of
Saddam Hussein, Iraqi schools suffered from the poverty of the state
due to the U.S.-backed UN sanctions," the headmaster told IPS.
"The main problem now is the corruption of contractors and senior
Contracts have been handed
out for refurbishment, he said. But in effect, "they just paint
the walls and fix some cheap accessories to collect their cash, and
The United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF) declared as early as October 2004 that the education system
in Iraq was "effectively denying children a decent education, and
the poor quality of the learning environment delivers a major blow to
The study also confirmed
that thousands of schools lacked the basic facilities to provide children
a decent education.
UNICEF representative Roger
Wright said in the October 2004 report: "Iraq used to have one
of the finest school systems in the Middle East. Now we have clear evidence
of how far the system has deteriorated. Today millions of children in
Iraq are attending schools that lack even basic water or sanitation
facilities, have crumbling walls, broken windows and leaking roofs.
The system is overwhelmed."
Two years later, the situation
has grown far worse. Now it is so bad that international agencies are
not around to survey it any more.
Still, several parents continue
to send their children to school. "We have to because what is the
alternative," Um Abdulla told IPS at the front gate of a school
in Baghdad as she waited to collect her children.
Literacy is declining with
school education. UNESCO estimates that the literacy rate in Iraq as
of Dec 11 is below 60 percent, meaning six million illiterate adults.
The average literacy rate in Iraq 2000-2003 was 74 percent, according
to UNICEF in 2004.
In the rural areas illiteracy
is worse. Only 37 percent of rural women are literate, and only 30 percent
of Iraqi girls of high school age are even enrolled in school. That
compares with about 42 percent of boys, according to the UNESCO report
Security is the prime concern,
for parents and teachers.
"Roads are unsafe, with
all the explosions and abductions that threaten our children on their
way to school," mother of three Um Suthir told IPS.
Mothers usually accompany
their children to school and bring them back home. With abductions on
the rise, neither are safe.
Many schools in the capital
have lowered their hours of classes to less than four a day due to shortage
of teachers and facilities, and lack of security.
In war-torn Fallujah, many
of the schools destroyed in the November 2004 U.S.-led attack on the
city have not been rebuilt. This has led to reduced hours of classes
being held in sometimes three shifts in makeshift buildings.
Ali al-Ka'abi from the Ministry
of Education said the problem is worse in the capital and in cities
in al-Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, where up to 30 percent
of school buildings are being used by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. This
province, that includes Fallujah and Ramadi, has seen the fiercest resistance
to U.S. occupation.
The collapsing economy is
also keeping several children away from school. Many children have had
to leave school because of family poverty or after the families were
evicted from homes and hometowns for sectarian reasons.
"We are now living in
a factory building, and there is no school near our shelter," a
Baghdad resident told IPS. "I've had to ask for my oldest boy to
help cover expenses by working as a cleaner at a mechanic's shop nearby."
The man said he used to own
a small supermarket where he also lived; he now works as a porter. And
he has no hope his children can ever go to school any more.
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