Enrolment up but Iraq's schools suffering from neglect and war - UNICEF

15 October 2004

Enrolment in Iraqi schools is up but facilities are overcrowded and crumbling, as one in every four schools need major repairs, according to a United Nations-backed survey.

"Iraq used to have one of the finest school systems in the Middle East," said Roger Wright, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Representative in the Iraq. "Now we have clear evidence of how far the system has deteriorated. The system is overwhelmed."

The survey of some 20,000 institutions - from kindergartens through teachers training institutes - was released earlier this week by the Iraqi Ministry of Education. It found that millions of Iraqi children are attending overcrowded schools that lack even basic water or sanitation facilities, and have crumbling walls, broken windows and leaking roofs.

Despite these difficulties, overall enrolment surged in the 2003-04 school year, with about 4.3 million children currently enrolled in primary schools, up from 3.6 million in 2000, the most recent year for which data were available prior to this survey.

UNICEF voiced concern at the smaller number of girls enrolled, however, as the proportion of boys to girls - 2.4 million to 1.9 million - remains similar to pre-war ratios. "Gender equity must be urgently promoted," said Mr. Wright.

Rehabilitation work carried out by private sector companies, UN agencies and non-governmental organization (NGOs) on schools since March 2003 has only partially reduced the challenges.

Since the survey was carried out in January, the worsening security situation has slowed down work on fixing education facilities. "The problem is not just delays in improving school buildings," Mr. Wright observed. "More importantly, poor security is also holding back improvements in the quality of teaching and learning that is going on inside the classroom."


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