Put Iraq Back on the Agenda Because Iraqi Education Matters
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 and Iraq’s economic hardships under international sanctions diverted resources away from education. 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 created an environment of corruption that persists to this day. Lastly, since the U.S. invasion, money poured into Iraq but has 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 Middle East and North Africa. One of the biggest problems is the lack of schools in general, which has lead to overcrowding. In March 2012, the 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Moreover, the curriculum in Iraq is outdated and subpar – teachers are not properly trained, staff is underpaid, and there is low achievement among students.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 Iraqi students is unprecedented. According to a survey by the Tamuz Organization for Social Development (an Iraqi NGO) in 2011, more than 20% of primary students drop out each year and up to 65% of children in southern Iraq don’t even attend school.
A poor educational system cannot prepare younger generations for the jobs and roles that are needed for Iraq’s peace and development. When a government/society fails to sufficiently invest in education, it squanders the talents and dreams of their 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, support 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!
Ayhan has her B.A. in Political Science and International Relations from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is pursuing her M.A. in International Affairs at American University with a concentration on the Middle East. She is currently an intern at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center and after graduation she hopes to continue working with the MENA region.