Spread the love

Dilapidated schools, overcrowded classes: on education, Iraq is a bad student

In a dilapidated classroom, schoolchildren from a village in central Iraq follow the lesson crowded together. several on their desks, illustrating a decline in the educational sector weighing on the future of young generations.

“When it rains, we don't teach classes: the water seeps through the roof”, confides to AFP Oudaï Abdallah, principal of the primary school in the hamlet of al-Aïtha , in the Bani Saad region.

“We are afraid that the ceiling will collapse on the children,” he explains, referring to the wooden beams holding woven branches, from which a light bulb and a fan hang.

In the public establishment, no heating in the classes. To protect from the cold, broken windows are replaced with planks of wood or cardboard. The toilets are in the courtyard, under the open sky. “The 200 students share a single sink,” admits the principal.

This school, in the province of Diyala, is far from being an exception. In an Iraq rich in oil but undermined by decades of conflict, endemic corruption and failing public policies, one school in two must be rehabilitated, according to Unicef.

Terracotta schools abound in remote regions, when they have not been replaced by modest prefabricated structures.

Dilapidated schools, overcrowded classes: on education, Iraq is a bad student

Students take a lesson in a classroom at a school in central Iraq, March 10, 2024. © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

In a country that prides itself on having once had one of the best education systems in the Middle East, overstaffed schools divide teaching into several rotations, with some students having classes only in the morning and others in the afternoon .

Even the Ministry of Education recognizes that Iraq needs 8,000 new schools. Hundreds of establishments are under construction.

– “Chicken coop” –

“With the dust, the mud, vipers and scorpions, this school is not even suitable to be a henhouse”, says Ahmed Latif, mathematics professor at al-Aïtha, in his thirties.

The public school closed in 2011 for renovations that, a decade later, were never completed. So, to continue the children's education, the parents rented a stone and earth building on a farm, to convert it into a school. Families and teachers paid to build additional classrooms.

Dilapidated schools, overcrowded classes: on education, Iraq is a bad student

Students stand in front of classrooms at a school in central Iraq, March 10, 2024. © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

“These schoolchildren (…) have the right to benefit from the benefits of oil,” argues Mr. Latif, referring to the immense profits reaped by the country. “But they, nor their parents before them, benefit from it.”

Citing “violence, damage inflicted on infrastructure and massive displacements” of the population, 'UNICEF recognizes that years of conflict “have weakened the Iraqi government's capacity to provide quality educational services for all.”

“The number of qualified teachers in Iraq has declined at all levels of education, with the exception of pre-school,” adds the UN agency on the Internet.

If the World Bank welcomes a government's national strategy aiming to increase from 10% to 16% the share of the budget allocated to education, she considers this measure “below what is necessary to meet the country's significant needs in human capital”.

In addition to investments in infrastructure, the institution recommends reforms in the field in order to “improve human capital” and equip “young people with the skills necessary for the jobs of today and tomorrow”.

Because the sector's “gaps” have led to “high youth unemployment, a significant skills mismatch and low labor market participation — all of which hamper the country's economic growth 'Iraq”.

– “Priority file” –

Of the 43 million Iraqis, 60% are under 25 years old, according to the UN. The country has some 12 million schoolchildren, the majority in primary school, according to Education Ministry spokesperson Karim al-Sayyed.

Dilapidated schools, overcrowded classes: on education, Iraq is a bad student

A student rings a makeshift bell hanging from a palm tree at a school in central Iraq, March 10, 2024 © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

“Education has become a priority issue for the State”, he assures, referring to a partnership with Chinese companies which should enable the construction and entry into service this year of a thousand schools, to eliminate earthen and prefabricated schools.

Under these conditions, the private sector prospers. In Baghdad and the metropolises, several establishments have opened, intended for the middle classes or the elite: annual tuition fees amount to hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Despite a modest salary as a civil servant, Wissam spends $680 annually to educate his 10-year-old daughter, Banine, in the private sector.

“The private sector is is cleanliness, comfort, air conditioning in classes, quality education”, justifies the forty-year-old.

Banine “spent a year in the public sector, learning was mediocre, the school was crowded. In his class there were more than forty children.”

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116