Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Iraq’s Struggling Education System

Iraq’s education system used to be one of the best in the Arab world. Decades of war, sanctions, and civil war however, destroyed much of it. Today, like many services in the country, there is a huge gap between the public's needs and what the government can supply. Not only that, but Iraq has a very low student enrollment and literacy rate compared to other countries in the region. This will have major impacts upon Iraq, because it has one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Before Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, its schools use to be known for their quality. In 1980, the country had almost 100% enrollment in primary school. That went down to 91% in 1990, 85% in 2007, before rebounding a bit since then. By 2010, 89% of youths in urban areas, and 77% in rural ones were in school. That covered 87% of boys, and 82% of girls. The main causes of the drop in numbers were the wars and sanctions that beset Iraq from 1990 to the present. The United Nations imposed an embargo on Iraq in 1990 for its invasion of Kuwait. Its infrastructure was devastated in the following 1991 Gulf War, and then the country faced extreme difficulties rebuilding afterward. Then in 2003, the U.S. invaded giving rise to an insurgency and militias, which confronted each other in the civil war from 2005-2008. During those years it was unsafe for many children to attend school because of the violence, and the threat of kidnapping by militants who used the ransoms to fund their activities. With the sectarian war over, it is only in the last few years that enrollment has begun to recover.

Today, there are not enough facilities to meet the population’s needs. There is a huge shortage of schools at the primary and high school levels, and overcrowding in the ones that do exist. In March 2012, the Education Minister Mohammed Tamim said that Iraq needed 12,000 new schools, and 600 added each year. Since 2003, only 2,600 new ones have been built however, and last year, the Ministry said it could only build 200 that year. The major problem is the lack of funding. The annual budgets simply do not allot enough to build all of the schools that are needed.

There are also issues with what children are or are not learning. The Education Minister said that the curriculum hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, 70% of teachers are not properly trained, the staff is underpaid, and there is low achievement amongst students and high illiteracy. A survey by the Tamuz Organization for Social Development done in the first half of 2011 found that many schools were broke down, more than 20% of primary students, around four million children, drop out each year, and that up to 65% of children in southern Iraq don’t go to school.  According to the United Nations, in rural areas, only around 77% of kids were enrolled in primary schools in 2010, and 19% of Iraqis aged 10-14 are not in school. Overall, 74.1% of the population is literate, which is the fifth worst in the Middle East and North Africa. These problems are why few people have confidence in the country’s education system. A poll done in September 2011 found that only 34% of Iraqis were satisfied with their local schools, down from 66% in February 2009. These are all bad signs, because they show that even if the government were ever able to build all of the necessary schools many of them would not provide a good education to their students. The curriculum has atrophied for decades, and teachers are not qualified, and many students are not learning as a result. The Education Ministry not only needs funds to construct new facilities, but to reform itself so that it can provide a good service to the country’s youth.

The youth component of the Iraqi population is the fastest growing in the nation. Iraq had an estimated 30,399,572 people in 2011 according to the CIA World Factbook. The median age was 20.9, and 38% of the country was 14 or younger. Both of those statistics made Iraq the second youngest country in the Middle East and North Africa. This important element is obviously not being invested in, which could have detrimental affects upon Iraq’s future. One of the major problems with the Iraqi bureaucracy for example is a lack of trained staff. If many Iraqis are failing to gain even a basic education, this issue will likely not be solved any time soon.

In the last several decades, Iraq went from one of the best education systems in the region to a mediocre one. Wars and sanctions devastated the government’s ability to take care of its children. Today the school system is failing to educate a large number of kids, because of a mix of untrained teachers, lack of schools, and out of date methods. Until the government focuses upon this problem, and allocates the necessary funds to begin to turn things around, Iraq’s young will suffer. It is already hard enough to find a good job in Iraq. Lacking skills only makes that more difficult, and denies future generations the benefits of the new society being created after the fall of Saddam Hussein. 
A temporary school in Karbala set up in a tent, Mar. 2012 (Reuters)
Around 1,200 students attend the school in Karbala (Reuters)
Because the Education Ministry does not have the funds to build new schools, many provinces have to do with makeshift ones like these (Reuters)


Abedzair, Kareem, “Iraq needs 12,000 new schools to accommodate hike in student population,” Azzaman, 3/21/12
Brosk, Raman, “Iraq needs 5800 schools to end shortage in school facilities,” AK News, 3/9/11

Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2011

Crabtree, Steve, “Opinion Briefing: Discontent and Division in Iraq,” Gallup, 3/6/12

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Factsheet on Iraq Youth,” United Nations, August 2010
- “Literacy in Iraq Fact sheet,” September 2010

Al-Samaraai, Israa, “700,000 children fail to enroll in primary schools in Iraq every year,” Azzaman, 5/12/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, ”Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/11

United Nations Country Team – Iraq, “The Millennium Development Goals In Iraq,” August 2010

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