Lack of books affecting children's education

A shortage of books and poor conditions in schools is slowing the educational progress of Iraqi children, according to teachers in the capital, Baghdad.

Teachers say the shortage means they are distributing one book between 10 students, something that didn't happen during Saddam's Hussein time. "We started our year without the minimum conditions needed to teach our students," Zina Obaidi, a science teacher at Kadhimya secondary school in Baghdad, told IRIN.

After the fall of Saddam, all school books distributed by the regime were said to be full of propaganda and were taken out of circulation. Some 64 million new textbooks are to be reprinted this year. They will not contain references to the Baath party or images of the former president.

Funds are coming in from a variety of donors for the new textbooks, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In addition, heads of primary and secondary schools in Baghdad say that after the recent war, most decent books in libraries and schools were stolen and that delivery of the new books has been very slow.

They added that many meetings had been held with the Ministry of Education but up to now there had been no solution to the lack of books and poor sanitation in some schools.

A teacher shows the poor water supply in a Baghdad school.

"If everyday they change someone in the government and don't stick to the right way of working, education in Iraq will be lost and the children will suffer," Fadia Ibrahem, director of Mansoor primary school in Baghdad, told IRIN.

Iraq's Minister of Education, Sami Abdul Mehdy, told IRIN that they are working hard to revamp the education system and that a special group from the ministry would be visiting schools to establish their requirements. He added that the education system had suffered major blows and that it would take some time to recover.

According to US officials, some 3,100 schools have been rehabilitated countrywide. There are some 11,066 primary schools in Iraq and about 4.3 million students attending them. Many buildings were destroyed during the recent fighting and others have been neglected as rehabilitation continues.

Education officials attribute the delay with the books to security and a shift in companies responsible for printing them, mainly outside the country.

Textbooks distributed by the government of Saddam Hussein have been taken out of circulation.

Teachers also say that basic facilities and supplies, such as potable water, are lacking in many schools and that in some places sewage is overflowing. The Ministry of Public Works says that it is working to full capacity to carry out repairs in schools.

"It is terrible to see children bringing water from their homes because the school cannot offer clean water. The winter is coming and there are no heaters," Mariam Kubaissi, a mother of a child at the Mansoor primary school, told IRIN.

The United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF) spent about US $15 million in the education sector in 2003. This included a massive back-to-school campaign that began right after the war, with the distribution of 1,000 school-in-a-box kits. UNICEF support also enabled 5.5 million children to take their annual examinations in June 2003.

More than $1 million was spent on printing examination papers and restoring exam centres that had been damaged or looted after the war.

In September 2003, UNICEF began delivery of education kits for every primary school pupil, teacher and principal in the country.

This included more than 8,000 primary schools, covering approximately 3.6 million school children and 131,000 teachers and school principals at an approximate cost of $8 million. By the end of 2003, over 95 per cent of the school kits had been distributed.

But teachers say the situation has been particularly bad this year, with few NGOs on the ground. Many aid agencies have left the country due to insecurity and the ongoing kidnapping of foreigners. "If you have one book for 10 students and 10 drops of water for one child, what can we expect for the future of Iraqi children?" Obaidi asked.