London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The deteriorating security situation in Iraq is hampering the education of more than 6 million students in elementary and middle school throughout Iraq, as the forces responsible for guarding schools are unable to fulfill their mission, the country”s Minister of Education said on Thursday.
During a press conference in London, Abdel Falah Hassan al Sudani, indicated that building new schools in the province of Samarra had to be halted because of the soaring attacks and threats against the workers in the last two months. Unable to change the school curricula following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the government had to suffice itself with deleting the passages that referred to the old regime.
According to the minister, the lack of security and bad economic conditions in some areas in Iraq has contributed to a decline in student numbers, "following years of neglect, wars, and sanctions which negatively impacted the education of millions of Iraqi children in elementary and middle schools." School guards, he added, had not received the appropriate weapons with "many fleeing under attack, as was the case at the Ministry”s headquarters three weeks ago."
Those involved in the education sector have suffered from deteriorating security conditions throughout Iraq, al Sudani said, with ministerial staff falling victim to the insurgents; a director general died last month and another suffered serious injury after an attempt on his life last week. In the last month alone, the Minister stated, armed men murdered five teachers at a school in western Baghdad and two died in the summer whilst overseeing end of year exams.
The Minister told Asharq al Awsat, "Some teachers have received threats in flashpoints around the country. We have had to move them to other region for their protection. So far, seven have been died but the attacks are not widespread."
Currently, 80% of all Iraqi children are in full-time education, spread through elementary and secondary. Some of the most pressing problems in education are "a shortage of trained teachers, the lack of new schools being built, the absence of planning, as well as financial scarcity," according to the Minister.
Elementary education was compulsory in Iraq but "the law is not applied in all cases. Not all children currently go to school. We are looking to make the first three years of secondary education also obligatory, so that all Iraqis are in school until age 14."
On the challenges the Ministry of Education was facing, al Sudani said the training of new teachers was proving difficult, with only 10% of all instructors receiving the necessary preparation after 2003.
The deteriorating conditions in several schools and buildings hampered education in Iraq as the Minister estimated that ඝ% of all schools, which number 14300 in total, needing restoration, while another 10 to 15% need to be destroyed and re-built entirely."
A total of 19,270 schools exist in Iraq at present, al Sudani indicated, but only 14,300 had buildings in habitable condition, which meant that some establishments had to share premises and alternate school hours to allow the maximum number of students to follow lessons. The Minister calculated that, on average, repairing each school would cost between 30 thousand and 300 thousand USD, depending on the damage. Building a new school would cost between 500 thousand to 900 thousand USD.
A total of $50 million has been earmarked by the Iraqi Ministry of Education to build 383 schools, including 85 in the capital, and 297 outside of Baghdad built by the Ministry of Labor.
Asked by Asharq al Awsat on school curricula since the fall of Saddam, al Sudani indicated that the change in textbooks was more of "a process of editing because we lack the necessary means to print new school books."
He added that the Ministry was currently working on three major modifications to the curricula, most significantly "ridding the education system of the culture of violence which permeated our textbooks and taught our children violence. We need to encourage them to love peace and respect human rights." In addition, updating "old education methods" and teacher training were earmarked for change.
In the past, al Sudani indicated, "teachers were trained to provide information only. Instead, they should teach children to think for themselves and analyze information."
During his latest visit to the United Kingdom, the Minister met with publishers and discussed the possibility of publishing new textbooks throughout Iraq starting with the 2006-2007 school year.
Praising the cooperation between the Ministry in Baghdad and the Kurdish regions in Kurdistan, al Sudani revealed that "the two regional ministries in Irbil and Suleimaniya are responsible for education in that region."
Arabic is being taught in the Kurdish provinces as an additional language, while other languages spoken in Iraq, such as Kurdish, Turkish, and Syria, were taught in the rest of Iraq, "if requested by more than 25 students in any given school, such as in Mosul, Diyala, Baghdad." The Minister added: "Citizenship classes are crucial for the children of Iraq to solve queries about religious or civil education and the differences between the people of Iraq."