First Published: 2010-11-03

 

Baghdad school system struggling

 

Pupils resume studies in crowded classrooms, often without electricity, driving some parents to opt for private schools.

 

Middle East Online

By Anwar Faruqi - BAGHDAD

They deserve better conditions

Discarded drinks cans and plastic bags litter the halls of al-Mamuniyeh state school in Baghdad where, despite over a billion dollars of US spending on Iraqi education, children squeeze into dim, crowded classrooms, often without books or electricity.

In the same neighbourhood, the spotlessly clean al-Mawwada girls school that is privately-run and housed in a large modern villa seems a world away: teenagers with books sit behind neat desks in air-conditioned surroundings as a maths teacher chalks a quadratic equation on the blackboard.

With security on the mend and violence ebbing as Iraq staggers to its feet following the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, more schoolchildren have returned to classrooms, teachers and educators say.

But that has overwhelmed the poorly-funded and long-neglected state schools, driving parents to one of the few dozen private schools like al-Mawwada that did not exist under Saddam but are now springing up in Baghdad and other parts of the war-torn country.

"Private schools are better because they employ better teachers," said Adnan Hashim, headmaster of the state-run Omar Bin Abdulaziz secondary school in Baghdad.

"I would prefer to send my own son to a private school than to educate him here," said Hashim, remarking that the annual fees of about two million dinars (1,600 dollars) for a final-year student were too expensive.

Iraq once boasted an envious state education system, producing some of the most qualified doctors, engineers and scientists in the Middle East.

All schools were state-owned and literacy was compulsory from an early age, as it is now, but one in five Iraqis under 15 still cannot read, according to the UN.

"Overall, Iraqis' perceptions of education have deteriorated during the past few years," said a UN report in April.

Education has been a prime target of insurgents fighting against American forces and the Iraqi government.

Between 2003 and 2008, 31,598 violent attacks were reported against educational institutions, said a February 2010 UNESCO report quoting the Ministry of Education.

"I have no problem paying the fees for a private education," said Fatima, a mother of three seeking admission for her 14-year-old at the Osool al-Deen school for boys.

"I am paying for after-school private lessons anyway because the teaching is so bad at his public school. I am hoping that he won't need those lessons once he starts here," she said.

"In the public schools you're on your own. There is no one to help if you don't understand something," said Riham Rashan, a tall and lanky ninth-grader at al-Mawwada. "The teaching is much better here."

Private schools sometimes have facilities like swimming pools, or French-language or music lessons, not available in public schools.

They also often have better teachers because they pay around double what their state-employed colleagues receive and because thousands of experienced teachers were forced out of their jobs at public schools after the US-led invasion for links to Saddam's Baath party.

"Public schools in Baghdad are overcrowded because less than 30 have been built here since the invasion. We need 952 more," said Falah al-Qaisi, a senior education official in Baghdad's provincial council.

He said that some schools had about 70 students per class, while private ones had no more than 25.

Since 2003, the US government has spent more than one billion dollars on education in Iraq. The funding built over 500 schools and refurbished more than 2,500 others nationwide, according to USAID.

There are about 3,000 public schools in Baghdad, while just 30 private ones have opened since they were authorised by the government in 2008.

The popularity of private schools has meant that their numbers are growing.

The UN says that the Iraqi government has "identified education as one of its main priorities" and increased budget allocation from 7.2 percent in 2008 to 9.9 percent in 2009.

But Qaisi believes much more is needed -- between 18 and 20 percent of the budget -- and that the outdated curriculum should be modernised.

He noted that the results from the private schools favoured by Iraqi parents were not actually much better.

"Of the 61,000 students from public schools who took the exam last year for a high school diploma only 27 percent passed. But the percentage of students from private schools was only 31 percent -- not much different," Qaisi said, adding that the situation in Baghdad was worse than other parts of Iraq because of the capital's larger population.

He said many who had stayed out of school for a year or two during the worst violence were having a hard time picking up their studies where they left off.

 

Islamist protesters, police clash in Cairo

New Israel party created amid rumours of early elections

French lawmakers to debate recognition of Palestine

Oil prices nosedive in Asia after OPEC refuses to cede ground to US shale

Well-loved Lebanese poet dies aged 102

Jordanians protest against Israel ‘Jewish’ status law

Foreign workers will get more protection in Gulf

Syria, Russia support UN in suspending Aleppo fighting

Powers to push for Iran nuclear deal before new deadline

Iraqi forces, tribesmen battle IS jihadists in Ramadi

Egypt jails 78 minors for pro-Morsi protests

OPEC meets for pivotal decision on oil output

US slams Assad regime for ‘continued slaughter’

Pope to rebuild bridges with Islamic world in Turkey visit

Regime indiscriminate strikes kill scores in Islamic State 'capital' in Syria

Putin meets with Syria Foreign Minister in Black Sea retreat of Sochi

Egypt, France agree to step up cooperation against terrorism

Britain rushes to fight terror with controversial bill

Gunmen kill 3 Egypt policemen in fresh terrorist attack

Iran lawmakers finally approve third Rouhani science minister pick

Turkey clears only suspect in alleged poisoning of former president

Huthis humiliate Al-Ahmar clan with capture of Sanaa headquarters

Christians hold out in Syria second city despite Daesh threat

Libya’s Derna emerges as new IS stronghold

Egypt to reopen Rafah border crossing Wednesday

Egypt leader begins two-day trip to France

Tribesmen blow up Yemen’s main oil pipeline

Russia trims oil output

Lebanese diva Sabah passes away

UN chief calls for halt to Libya air strikes

Syrian air strikes on Raqa kill 63 civilians

17 killed in fatal Cairo building collapse

Egypt nabs five Salafist leaders

Essebsi leads Tunisia presidential vote

Paris pushing for 'safe zones' in war-torn Syria

New air strike hits Tripoli’s sole operational airport

Pentagon chief steps down

Saudi seeks to ‘knock out’ shale oil competitors from oil market

Death toll rises from Morocco flash floods

Yemen troops free 8 hostages from Al-Qaeda

Italy hails Egypt as 'strategic partner'

US Congress skeptical of Iran nuclear talks extension

Khartoum, Darfur rebels open ceasefire talks

Time runs out for biggest chance to resolve Iran nuclear standoff

Egypt leader heads to Italy