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Instability Threatens Iraq's Education System - 2004-09-12

A top Iraqi Education Official tells VOA that instability is hampering Iraq's efforts to rebuild its shattered education system and that fear is preventing many children from going to school. The official has expressed his concerns at a UNESCO-sponsored conference on education held in Geneva.

Iraq's Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Muhyi Alkateeb tells VOA he is afraid that Iraqi children will not begin school on October first. He notes that the school year was supposed to have begun earlier this month, but was postponed because of the dangerous security situation. He says things have not improved and he believes the new starting date of October first also will be missed.

"If the security is going to be like this, continue to be like this, a lot of parents will be reluctant to send their children to schools," Mr. Alkateeb says. "It is going to be very difficult to have a very functional and regular schooling for this year."

Mr. Alkateeb says nine million students are enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. But, he calls this an artificial, paper enrollment. He says most of these children do not attend school because their parents are scared that they might be kidnapped, hurt or even killed in the rampant violence.

The Iraqi Ambassador says no schools in the country are intact, basic equipment such as blackboards and books are lacking. He says there is a big shortage of teachers and those who are available are not well trained. Mr. Alkateeb says the school curriculum is very backward and still full of the kind of propaganda and nationalistic tributes which existed under Saddam Hussein.

"We do not have a curriculum for progressive science so we can catch with the world because for four decades we were under Saddam and now we have to catch with the world," Mr. Alkateeb says. "So, we do not only have to change the humanitarian side of the learning,but the science too because it is very backward also." Mr. Alkateeb says Iraq does not have the money it needs to rebuild its educational system. He says once security on the ground improves, he hopes the schools will benefit from some of the 18-point-six billion dollars the United States government has pledged to give to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.