BAGHDAD - As another school year begins in Iraq, parents approach it with dread,
fearing for the safety of their children.
With the security situation grimmer than ever all over the country, just stepping
out of one's house means a serious threat to life.
"God knows how we could send our kids to school this year," Um Mohammed,
a mother of five in Baghdad told IPS. "Our financial situation is the worst
ever and the prices are way too expensive for the majority of Iraqis to afford.
I might have to keep some of them at home and send only two."
The 40-year-old woman shed tears when she started to talk about the family's
financial situation now compared to what it was before the US occupation of
"My God, don't those Americans have any conscience? We were not rich
before, but life was easy and we used to celebrate the school season, watching
our kids trying their uniform on and looking at the colorful pictures of their
new books," she said.
Iraqis blame their government's failure to provide them with basic necessities
on the US-led occupation that has brought such an incompetent regime to power.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education promised Iraqis a better educational year in
2007, a promise that has been made every year for the past four years.
"The educational system in Iraq is destroyed and we are suffering all
kinds of difficulties," said Hassan, a school headmaster in Baghdad who
spoke on condition that his last name and the name of his school would not be
used. "There will be a shortage of desks, blackboards, water, electricity
and all educational supplies as well as a critical shortage in the number
of teachers this year."
Teachers, like other Iraqis, have fled the country because of threats from
sectarian death squads. Some were evicted from their areas and moved to others
inside Iraq for sectarian reasons.
According to Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education, as of February 2006, nearly
180 professors were killed and at least 3,250 have fled Iraq to the neighboring
countries. The situation has deteriorated severely since then.
"The number of teachers leaving the country this year (2006) is huge and
almost double those who left in 2005," Professor Salah Aliwi, director-general
of studies planning in the Ministry of Higher Education told reporters during
an Aug. 24, 2006 interview in Baghdad. "Every day, we are losing more experienced
people, which is causing a serious problem in the education system."
While teachers are at risk, Iraqi families are concerned for the safety of
their children as well.
"I am not sending my two boys to school this year," Tariq Ahmed from
Baghdad told IPS. "I am sure hundreds, if not thousands, of students will
be abducted and killed by militias. I am not gambling with my boys' life
just to support Bush's lies that the country is safe and sound."
Last month, the Iraqi Ministry of Education warned of possible low attendance
of pupils at schools this year, saying it expects at least a 15 percent decrease
in attendance compared to previous years.
Leila Abdallah, a senior official at the Ministry of Education, told reporters
on Aug. 28 there has been a 54 percent increase in exam failure rates compared
to previous years.
She added that many students had not completed their last exams as they had
been forced by violence to flee their homes to safer areas.
The Iraqi NGO Keeping Children Alive (KCA), recently said education standards
in Iraq had dropped and many schools were relying on teachers teaching at least
100 students per class.
"Owing to lack of teachers, a class now has dozens of students, a situation
that is preventing teachers from giving sufficient attention to individual pupils,"
Moussa Dureid, a spokesperson for the KCA, said.
According to an Oxfam International report released in July, "92 percent
of children had learning impediments that are largely attributable to the current
climate of fear."
The report added, "Schools are regularly closed as teachers and pupils
are too fearful to attend. Over 800,000 children may now be out of school, according
to a recent estimate by Save the Children UK up from 600,000 in 2004."
Iraqis do not feel secure despite the reassurances of US and Iraqi authorities
that the security situation has improved.
"Universities are death squad headquarters," Qutayba Assaad, a professor
at Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad told IPS. "They are practicing
all kinds of torture inside the university and they abducted many of my colleagues
because of their sect or their objections to what the clerics are doing inside
"What education are you talking about," Kussay Kathum, a student
at Baghdad University told IPS. "This country is dead and its body is being
torn apart. They should stop schools and colleges attendance until they solve
the core of the problem."
His colleague, Sumaya agreed with him.
"Indeed they should change the whole system in Iraq before sending us
to school. It is suicide to go to colleges where the government's militias kill
people. It seems that our American colleagues do not care for what is happening
(Inter Press Service)