education in iraq - UNDG Technical working group in Iraq

United Nations
Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq
16 May 2003
The short and long-term reconstruction of Iraqi education is an enormous challenge for post
conflict Iraqi society. After three wars and 13 years of comprehensive sanctions the Iraqi
education system has deteriorated to just a bleak image of what it was like 15 years ago. In the
beginning of the 1980s Iraq had one of the best education systems in the Arab world. Gross
Enrollment Rate for primary schooling was around 100%. The Higher Education, especially the
scientific and technological institutions were of international standard, staffed by high quality
The quality of Iraq’s educational system was initially worsened as a result of Iran-Iraq War
(1980-88). The primary enrollment, for instance, had gone down to 85% in 1988. Following the
sanctions in the 90s the quality of the education system decreased dramatically. In 2002 the
literacy rate among females in the 15-45 year group was only 45% and for males 71%. Drop out
rates are very high. Between 40-50 % of children drop out of primary school between grades 1
and 6. In intermediate school 30-40% drop out between grades 7 and 9. The number of buildings
dedicated to primary schools has decreased from 9,092 in 1989/90 to 7,572 in 1997/98.
Meanwhile the country has experienced the demographic growth from about 17 million in 1990
to 26 million in 2002. Over the same period the number of pupils enrolled in primary education
level grades increased from 3,743,684 to 4,244,243. According to Ministry of Education
estimates (1999-2000), 6,648 new primary and secondary schools needed to be constructed to
meet the demand of population growth and eliminate double shifts and 5,940 schools required
rehabilitation or maintenance.
In the center/south of Iraq, the Oil-for-Food Programme (OFFP) has improved to some extent the
learning/teaching environment. Between 1998-2002 most of the schools in centre/south received
school furniture, learning materials and rehabilitation supplies to carry out maintenance of school
buildings and few new schools were opened. However, the investment in building materials under
OFFP for primary schools was well below the requirement to improve access to education.
While the rehabilitation of primary school facilities was not pursued actively, GOI put emphasis
in construction and rehabilitation of higher education infrastructure. Under OFFP most
universities extended their premises. New universities were opened in central and southern
governorates of Diyala, Najaf, Kerbala and Thi-Qar. New colleges were established in Tikrit, and
some were extended in Basra and Diyala.
Since the inception of the Programme, largely owing to OFFP in Northern governorates the
situation has been improved through capacity building, procurement of education materials and
textbooks at all levels. UN agencies, implementing the Programme on behalf of GoI, rehabilitated
Note: Data used for this document are extracted from a range of documents, published in the UNESCO,
UNICEF and OIP websites (;;
and constructed over 1444 primary schools, 276 secondary schools and 33 institutions of higher
education. As a result of the increased availability of educational facilities most schools have
started to operate in two rather than three shifts. The disparity in investment and assistance level
between the three northern governorates and the center/south is reflected in significant differences
in indicators for access to education. In the north, between 1995/1996 and 2001/2002 primary
schools enrollment increased by 77%, in secondary education by 103% and in higher education
by 76%. In the center/south, during the same period, primary enrolment increased by 21%,
secondary by 3.8% and in higher education by 28%.
On the whole Iraqi teachers are well qualified, but reduction in teacher salaries from 500-1000
dollars per month in 1990 to 5-10 dollars today has resulted in increased turnover of teachers
looking for better paid jobs elsewhere. Besides, in service training of teachers and school
management staff has been more or less non-existent during the last decade, particularly in
center/south. Curricula and textbooks have not been revised for about two decades, and teaching
methodologies are not updated. The challenges ahead are immense. The Iraqis have a strong
tradition and motivation for education and are committed to rebuilding the system.
Before the hostilities started, school year was disrupted for almost 6 million Iraqi children and
youth. In the north the schools were reopened shortly after the collapse of the regime; however
many school buildings needed rehabilitation. There was some minor damage in 90% of 179
schools occupied by IDPs. In the center/south the government forces used many schools as
ammunition depot. It is not clear how many schools have been damaged and looted during and
after the conflict. Higher educational institutions, laboratories and libraries, being much better
equipped than primary and secondary schools, have suffered extensive damage.
Following UNICEF call to resume studies without delay a number of schools have been reopened
in Baghdad in spite of the fact that the coalition forces still classify Baghdad as “an uncertain
environment”. In fact, a large number of unexploded ordnance in the streets and insecure situation
in general does affect attendance rate. In addition, absence of teachers (apparently due to lack of
fuel for transportation), and parents keeping children at home due to both insecurity and
confusion about the curriculum remain major constraints. Of particular concern is the extremely
low rate of girls’ attendance owing to insecurity. Overall, psychological trauma of both teaching
personnel and students could also affect the beginning of teaching/learning process.
A number of challenges are envisaged for the reconstruction of the Education system.
There is one short-term and one long-term perspective.
The short-term perspective is to get more students back to educational institutions and normalcy
as soon as possible. Measures have to be taken immediately to ensure that students can take their
exams and not lose a whole school year due to the conflict. Schools, which are in such bad
condition after the war that they simply cannot be used, for example, due to lack of water and
sanitation facilities, will have to be rehabilitated immediately and provisional “buildings”
acquired where necessary in order to keep education going. Areas, which have been strongly
affected by fighting, will have to be cleared of mines and explosives, and activities to do this
should be stepped up. Necessary and basic teaching learning material (School in a box), student
desks and office stationary will have to be supplied. Students, teachers and management will be
encouraged to go back to education, if necessary mobilization campaigns will be considered.
Teacher salaries, which have not been paid for the last two months, will have to find a solution
immediately. Basic psychosocial training of head teachers and teachers to help identify and
support children and adolescents with conflict related problems will have to be implemented. One
of the main challenges in the short-term perspective is to acquire enough donors to be able to
supply what is needed within a very short period of time.
The long-term perspective of rebuilding Iraqi education to an internationally satisfactory level
will have to take years and a lot of resources. It must be up to the Iraqis themselves to set the
attainment targets for this work and decide structure and contents of their future education
system. There is little doubt, however, that some of the most important challenges will be to
Raise the attendance levels in preschool, primary, secondary, vocational, tertiary and
non-formal education.
Increase the literacy rate to previous levels, with particular attention to female literacy
Reduce gender imbalance in enrollment and attendance on the various levels of basic and
secondary education and pay special attention to the increasing feminization of the
teaching profession.
Reduce drop out rates considerably in primary, secondary and vocational education.
Reduce repetition rates as repetition may be seen as a great waste of resources in any
Renovate, rehabilitate and build new schools to reduce the number of double and triple
shifts, and without being tempted to raise the average student teacher ratio by putting
even more students into already crammed classrooms.
Educate enough teachers to keep pace with increased attendance rates on the various
levels of education and retain qualified teachers by way of decent salaries and other
Revise curricula and textbooks and train all teachers in new curricular contents, new and
student friendly teaching methodologies and constructive interaction with the local
community and with parents.
Provide pedagogical support material to help teachers attain high quality levels of
Develop a program of information and communication technologies for all teachers and
Revise examination and evaluation systems in accordance with new curricula and new
teaching methods.