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.

 

Air strikes kill 150 militants fleeing Fallujah

UN envoy seeks Syria peace talks’ resumption in July

41 killed in Istanbul airport bomb, gun attacks

EU agrees to opens new chapter with Turkey on accession talks

Egypt becoming departure country for migrants to Europe

US Navy probe finds leadership failings in Iran capture

Quartet report says Israel must urgently halt illegal settlement expansion

At least 70 killed in northern Aleppo clashes

Sisi praises Egyptian 'revolution' against Morsi

US-backed Syria rebels look to cut off ISIS from Iraq border

Egyptian Coptic priest shot dead in El-Arish

Iran sacks heads of four state banks over high pay

Detained RSF Turkey representative released

Lebanese army says ISIS attacks foiled, 5 arrested

UN extends Darfur mission despite Sudan opposition

Turkey detains 13 over airport attack

Palestinian killed by Israeli troops after deadly attack

Tunisian killed in Istanbul attack seeking to repatriate IS-linked son

Turkish forces kill 2 suspected IS jihadists at Syria border

Egypt president urges religious reforms to counter extremists

First aid convoy since 2012 enters two besieged Syria towns

Race to succeed Cameron begins after stunning Brexit vote

Yemen peace talks to take two-week break

Iraq secures $2.7 billion US military loan

ISIS pushes back Syria rebel offensive on Iraq route

Israel cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal

Turkey airport attack slams limping tourism industry

Putin lifts Turkey travel restrictions, orders trade 'normalised'

Fears for stranded Syrian refugees as Jordan blocks access

Bahrain activist back in jail despite worsening health

Witnesses recount Istanbul attack

Car bomb kills 10 in Kurdish-held Syria town

Ban to Israeli PM: Gaza blockade ‘collective punishment’

Alstom-led consortium awarded $2.88 billion Dubai metro extension

Democratic hopes fade away in Egypt

US-backed Syria rebels advance on key IS link to Iraq

Israel revokes controversial 'Hannibal Directive'

Detained Bahraini activist hospitalised

UN chief urges Netanyahu to make tough choices

Saudi Aramco, SABIC in joint petrochemicals study

Yemen clashes, air strikes kill 37 civilians

Egypt's anti-graft tsar becomes public enemy number one

Iraqis shun return to 'cursed' Fallujah

Lebanese army raids refugee camps after bombings

Ankara goes back on compensation offer for downed Russia jet