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Iraq's Schools Suffer from War, Neglect - 2004-10-17


The first comprehensive study on the condition of schools in Iraq shows thousands of them are seriously damaged and unfit for students. The study, carried out by the Iraqi Ministry of Education and partially funded by UNICEF, says the schools' problems date to the Saddam era.

The survey covers 20,000 schools and institutes. It shows that a series of wars and more than a decade of neglect and under-funding have led to a serious deterioration of Iraq's education system.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy says more than 200 primary schools were damaged by bombing since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. She says one-third of those schools were in Baghdad. In addition, she says, more than 200 schools were burned, and over 3,000 looted.

"I want to emphasize that the problems the survey identifies are only partly attributable to the most recent conflict," she said. "In fact, Iraq's schools have been in a general state of decay for years, going back, indeed, to the Iraq/Iran war. That war, the Gulf War and the most recent conflict, and the impact of years of sanctions, isolation and mismanagement have taken their toll."

The survey finds that more than one-quarter of all school buildings are in need of some serious repair. It says most schools lack basic equipment, such as desks and chairs. It says overcrowding is a big problem.

Ms. Bellamy says up to a quarter of all primary schools are running two or three shifts a day.

"There is also another troubling finding, and that is the inadequacy, or lack, of water and sanitation facilities," said Ms. Bellamy. "One-third of the schools have no running water at all, half lack working sanitation facilities. This, among other things, discourages attendance by girls, and that is reflected in a gender gap in the enrollment."

The survey shows about 4.3 million children are currently enrolled in primary schools. This is up from 3.6 million in 2000. But Iraqi officials acknowledge that enrollment does not necessarily correspond with attendance.

At a meeting on education last month at the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Iraq's ambassador to the Paris-based agency said most children do not attend schools because their parents are scared they might be kidnapped, hurt or killed in continuing violence.

UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy says the worsening security situation is making it difficult to rehabilitate the damaged schools. She says poor security also is holding back improvements in the quality of teaching.

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