Education is a vital foundation for advancement and progress in society. Without it, citizens remain uninformed and obscured from the tools and knowledge required to promote positive social and political change. Therefore, this week, our campaign to Put Iraq Back on the Agenda focuses on the weak education system in Iraq.
Iraq’s educational system used to be one of the finest in the Arab world, with a primary school enrollment rate nearing 100%. However, due to decades of dictatorship, war, sanctions, and violence, many schools were destroyed and teachers-turned-soldiers perished. Under Saddam’s regime, schools and universities suffered from a lack of academic freedom. Books were censored, bookstores monitored and routinely shut down, and the contents of libraries carefully regulated all as part of an effort by the regime to control knowledge. Secondly, military spending as well as Iraq’s economic hardships under international sanctions diverted resources away from education. As a result, teachers were paid very little and many depended on bribes or worked as private tutors to supplement their incomes, which harmed the quality of learning and cultivated an environment of corruption that persists to this day. Lastly, following the 2003 U.S. invasion, money poured into Iraq but has since been mismanaged and poorly spent.
Today, there is a huge deficit between the needs of the public and what the government can supply. Consequently, Iraq has a low student enrollment (66% in primary schools and only 37% in secondary schools) and literacy rate (down to 78%) compared to other countries in the region. This is a huge problem considering that Iraq has one of the largest youth populations in the Middle East and North Africa. One of the biggest challenges that Iraq’s education system faces is the lack of schools in general, which has resulted in overcrowding. In March 2012, Education Minister Mohammad Tamim insisted that Iraq needed at least 12,000 new schools but this has not come to fruition due to poor funding and an anemic education budget.
Moreover, the curriculum in Iraq is outdated and subpar – teachers are not properly trained, staff is underpaid, and there is low achievement among students. The school curriculum, further, does not meet the demands of the labor market, which has contributed to high unemployment (18% in 2010) among Iraqi youths. As a result, the current dropout rate among students in Iraq is unprecedented. According to a survey by the Tamuz Organization for Social Development in 2011, more than 20% of primary students drop out each year and roughly 65% of children in southern Iraq don’t attend school at all.
A poor educational system cannot prepare Iraq’s younger generations for the jobs and roles that are needed to promote peace and development. When a government and society fails to sufficiently invest in education, it squanders the talents and ambitions of its most important resource: the youth. Without access to a decent education, Iraqi youths will continue to feel disenfranchised, disillusioned by the lack of job prospects, and inclined to find work through other, less legitimate means. Therefore, with the support of the U.S., the Iraqi government needs to reinvest in education infrastructure, develop educational programs, and build more legitimacy around the institution by promoting education reform.
Please join us in our campaign to Put Iraq Back on the Agenda because Iraqi education matters.