Middle East

Iraq

Iraq's Education Setback

Young girls at central Baghdad's al-Umama school on January 17, 2004.  (Photo: Karim Sahib, AFP-Getty Images)


Following the invasion of Kuwait, UN sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 badly affected education in Iraq. During the 2003 U.S.-led occupation, the education system continued to deteriorate.

According to UNESCO, until 1989 Iraq had been allocating 5% of its budget to education. This percentage is higher than the maximum rate in developing countries, which stands at 3.8%.

Tens of thousands of new schools were built across Iraq between 1960 and 1990. In the 1990's, during the UN sanctions on Iraq, the number of schools needing urgent repair in central and southern Iraq reached over 83%. This number has increased since the war on Iraq in 2003. U.S. appointed Iraqi authorities have started a campaign to reconstruct Iraqi schools.

Reconstruction

Muzhir al-Dulaymi, spokesman for the League for the Defense of Iraqi People's Rights, told Aljazeera.net that contracts for reconstructing schools in Iraq are not adequate to upgrade educational premises to the required standard. "Companies are winning bids worth millions of dollars to reconstruct schools, but in fact schools have only been painted. No improvement to the infrastructure, and no new equipment has been bought," said al-Dulaymi.

Aljazeera's correspondent in Baghdad says the painting was not exactly part of the reconstruction plan, but was carried out to change the characteristics of Saddam Hussein's time. "Schools were painted to wipe out slogans on school walls put up during the Saddam Hussein era," said Harif.

Anmar al-Azzawi, an Iraqi citizen told Aljazeera.net that students have seen nothing new in their schools, although ministry of education officials promised many new changes.

Iraq was unable to build new schools during 1990-2003 the period of UN sanctions. In 1980, 500 pupils attended one school building, while in 2003 the number has risen to 4,500 pupils for each school building.

The U.S. occupation authorities handed over the ministry of education to Iraqis last month. Al-Dulaymi says they did this to avoid the headache of having to fulfill their promises. "They handed over the ministry of education to Iraqis. The question is, are they willing to spend enough money to develop education in Iraq? Will the occupation authorities give Iraqis the right to allocate enough money to reconstruct their education system? Let us see what the future brings."

Children out of school

The number of children under twelve who have left school in order to earn a living has been significantly increasing since the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990.

UNESCO reports say that before the sanctions 95,692 students dropped out of school. In 1999, following nine years of sanctions, 131,658 Iraqi children were out of school. The number has increased since the occupation of Iraq and is unlikely to go down in the near future, despite promises made by U.S. appointed Iraqi authorities. Leaving school before twelve used to be an offense in Iraq, a law established in the 1970's. This law has become invalid since the collapse of the Iraqi state in April 2003. "The number of children out of schools is not monitored any longer," Harif said.

Earning a living is not the only reason children are leaving school. The security and political situation is also a major contributing factor. "There are people who have stopped sending their children to school fearing they may be kidnapped," says Harif. "Also a large number of children have left school in Shia areas to join the al-Mahdi army."

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