Children’s education gravely affected by conflict

Eight-year-old Ahlaam al-Hasnawi and her three brothers, aged between seven and 13, should be at school but their widowed mother recently demanded they stay at home for fear that they might be killed on the streets of Baghdad or in school.

“I love my school, my teachers and my fellow pupils. Even though my class was often empty, there was still much more to do there than stay at home where my mother forbids me from even going to our neighbour’s house,” Ahlaam said.

“I cannot just stay at home watching television but my mother told me last week that the situation in our neighbourhood was getting dangerous and she had to take me away from school until things improve. But I don’t believe that will happen soon,” she added, with tears in her eyes.

Last year, Ahlaam was one of 35 students in her class but today there are only 11 left. Some have fled the country with their parents, others are displaced and now live in improvised camps, and at least half of them stay at home for security reasons.

According to a report released last year by NGO Save the Children, 818,000 primary school-aged children, representing 22 percent of Iraq’s student population, were not attending school.

A joint study by the Iraqi Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that of those who do not attend school, 74 percent are female. Aid agencies estimate that thousands of Iraqi parents do not send their daughters to school for cultural reasons and because of the general insecurity in the country.

Schools likely to continue emptying

They add that schools and universities are likely to continue emptying throughout 2007 if there is no let up to current levels of violence and the displacement it causes.

Mohammed Abdul-Aziz, a statistician at the Ministry of Education, told IRIN last week that at least 110 children had been killed and 95 injured since 2005 in attacks on schools. These numbers do not include children killed or injured on their way to or from school.

In addition to pupils dropping out of education, teachers have been equally affected by insecurity in Iraq.

“Teachers are fleeing the country on a daily basis, leaving schools without experienced teachers. Educational standards in Iraq have severely worsened,” said Muhammad Tammin, a spokesman at the Ministry of Education.

“Violence against teachers is making them look for more secure places to work or even stay at home. We must also not forget that hundreds of teachers are themselves displaced and can no longer go to teach at their regular schools,” Tammin added.

Last September, the Ministry of Education increased teachers’ salaries by 20 to 50 percent in an attempt to entice teachers to stay in their jobs. More recently, the government hired 13,000 guards to protect schools and universities.

However, specialists say these measures have had little impact on the rate of teachers leaving their profession and children continue to be deprived of both an education and social support system.

“Iraq’s education system needs a great deal more investment and attention to survive this time of crisis,” Roger Wright, UNICEF representative for Iraq, said in the joint study with the education ministry. “Schools are the best place to give psychological support to children affected by violence and displacement, providing a focus for stability and healing within Iraqi society.”


see also
IRAQ: Samir Ibraheem, Iraq “We were 21 students and today I’m the only one in class”