The Iraqi Ministry of Education has warned of the possible low attendance of pupils at schools in the coming year, saying it expects at least a 15 percent drop compared to previous years. Parents have blamed the government for the poor protection of their children and many have opted to keep them at home.
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“We are trying to encourage families to take their children to school as there has been a continuous decrease in attendance in the past four years and this has seriously affected pupils’ performance,” Leila Abdallah, a senior official at the Ministry of Education, said.
“We have enhanced policing at the school gates of most schools but families are still scared to send their children to school. This might seriously affect their future,” she added. “I don’t blame them for trying to protect their children but we have to start changing the actual situation of violence by teaching pupils how to build a better Iraq.”
Parents have also been irked by poor examinations results in the past academic year.
According to Leila, there has been a 54 percent increase in exam failure rates compared to previous years. She said many students had not sat the last exams as they had been forced by violence to flee their homes for safer areas.
Also, few schools have offered extra preparatory classes to students who have to repeat their exams because teachers are too afraid to leave their homes.
Muhammad Azize, 12, a pupil at one of Baghdad’s secondary schools, said he had failed and would be forced to repeat the year. He blamed lack of electricity at home, which had prevented him from revising, and the continuous clashes near his street: “I couldn’t study or concentrate with the continuous clashes near my street in Alawi District.”
Muhammad, who recently lost his father in a sectarian attack, told IRIN he could not now fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor. “I failed my exams and my family told me that I won’t go to school next year as it has been useless… My mother thinks that I have to help to increase our income by helping my brothers who already work,” he said.
Shortage of teachers
“We are having serious difficulties getting teachers. Most of them are leaving their jobs after being threatened by militants or insurgents,” Leila at the Ministry of Education said.
Keeping Children Alive (KCA), a local non-governmental organisation, 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.
Um Haydar, a mother of four, said her children would not attend school next year as violence was increasing. She had heard from the school manager that her children would have to attend classes with nearly twice as many pupils as last year.
“When I asked her if there had been an increase in the number of students this year, she said the problem was the non-availability of teachers and resulting large classes,” Um Haydar said. “My solution is to teach them at home.”