Stand Up, Be Counted
Everyone loves a census, from the obvious politicians and policy makers, to builders, educators, geographers, and business people. Napoleon was famous for them. Everyone can gain something from the information conveyed in a census which is often referred to as the bedrock of government. To sum it up: how can you govern a country and plan for the future, if you don’t know how many citizens you have and where they are?
A census acts like a snapshot of a country. From age to occupation, religion to income, it gauges trends and tabulates numbers to provide a model for statisticians. Based on a census, resources can be allocated, voting districts can be drawn up, and problems can be addressed. Other studies have also pointed out that participation in a census builds a sense of civil engagement, the idea that there is an exchange between yourself and your government in which you are an active participant with inherent importance. This idea of civic engagement is often seen as a key to empowerment in communities.
Iraq hasn’t conducted an official national census in 25 years.
The reasons for this are varied, and some of them very sensible. An official position on the ethnic make-up or religious leanings of this or that district might be controversial to say the least in Iraq’s volatile political environment. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the youth population under 25, that is to say 60% of Iraq’s population, has never been counted in an official census.
Smaller, regional surveys, conducted by NGO’s, have served to partially fill this national void. These surveys, like the World Health Organization’s 2007′s Iraq Household Socio-Economic Survey (IHSES), have documented, among other things, a continuation of poor enrollment. This is especially troubling since Iraq’s educational system was once considered the best in the Middle East. Nowadays, it is not unusual to have classrooms with 40 students or more, or to have “shifts” in which half of the students are taught in the morning, while the other half are taught in the afternoon. In the absence of a comprehensive, state-sponsored census, children and young people have the most to lose. While there are a variety of problems that arise from an inaccurate account of a country’s population, education is certainly among the most glaring example.
Young people react differently to stress and conflict, and so face a different set of challenges than adults in the same situation. These formative years will shape the rest of their lives. Inability to provide adequate education due to poor allocation of resources is not only a terrible shame in the present, but will cast a shadow over Iraq’s future. Information is required about the challenges that young Iraqis facing in acquiring their education, so that these can be addressed and overcome.
This Saturday, look here for our interview with former EPIC staff Ahmed Ali, now an Iraq analyst whose work has been published in Foreign Policy Magazine and who has been a frequent commentator on national and international media. Ahmed will weigh in on the difficulties facing the Iraqi education system, a system he himself went through, and the importance of projects like PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change.
Program Design Intern at EPIC. He is a second year masters candidate and the Barzani Graduate Peace Fellow at American University