Saturday, June 11, 2011


Research paper/ Education sector in Iraq

Dear All,
I have just finished my first semester in the American University in Cairo, where my master study about public Adminstration and public policy was started last Febrauary 2011.
I wrote this research paper about Public Policy regardding Education sector in Iraq since 1970.
I know that the paper was not perfect 100% due to lack of refernces sometimes, but I did my best to be honest and neutral as any professional researcher should be.
this is the paper, and I hope it will add valuable infomation for any reader who wants to know more about Iraq, before and after the invasion.

Public policy about education in Iraq since 1970
In this paper I will try to explore different public policies that have been implemented in Iraq's education system since 1970. This overview will discuss the political and economic changes that took place in Iraq during the last three decades.
I will use the framework of UNESCO for analysing the education system, which includes three factors: supply, demand and quality.
I will also divide the period from 1970-2011 to a number of stages; each stage has many things in common.
Stage one: from 1970-1980 was stable with a high economic growth and positive impact on the education system.
Stage two: from 1980-1990 that includes eight years of war against Iran, which affected the economic system in a negative way, however its impact on the education system was not particularly clear.
Stage three: from 1990-2003 it started with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 followed by the sanction in 1991 which was removed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the American forces and their coalition.
Stage four: from 2003-2011 where Iraq faced political and economic disturbances which degraded all the public services and the education system as well.

Formal and informal education in Iraq
Iraq’s educational system used to be among the best in the region; one of the country’s most important assets remains its well-educated people. The results of education reforms in the 1970s and 1980s are evident in the high literacy rates among the adult population. However, over the past two decades wars, sanctions, and harsh economic conditions have taken a toll on the educational system. (UNDP 2005)
The administration and management of education in Iraq is highly centralized within two ministries, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. A similar structure is found in the three Northern governorates (UNESCO 2003).
The Ministry of Education is responsible for the management and implementation of pre-school, primary, and secondary education, the latter of which includes teacher training, fine arts institutes, and vocational education. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is responsible for the administration, planning, and management of higher education. Post-secondary education in Iraq includes technical institutes, colleges, and universities. Universities are semi-autonomous in most financial, technical, and administrative matters (UNESCO 2003)

The education ladder in Iraq (formal education programs)
Kindergarten: age between 3-4 years (non-compulsory).
Primary school: six years of education (compulsory) where schools accept children who are 7 years old. National exams are held by the end of the last year (sixth grade).
Intermediate school: three years then students pass a third form baccalaureate
Secondary school: three years then student should pass the sixth form baccalaureate
As for vocational training after intermediate school, students can choose a vocational training study of three years with commercial, industrial or agriculture domain.
For teachers' institutes after intermediate school, students can continue their studies for five years in any teaching institute.
Students who have finished intermediate and high schools can continue their studies in a college or university for a minimum of four years, and then they will gain a bachelor degree.
Post-graduate studies: students can continue their master and PhD degrees, each will take two to three years.
Also there are informal education schools for illiterate adult between 15-45 years, where they have a special program of three years (instead of six) to finish primary school.
UNESCO framework (as per their reports) for analysing the educational sector has three main components: supply, demand, and quality. The supply of education includes: infrastructure, which is comprised of the number of teachers, availability of school buildings, and other necessary educational material; government policies, and public spending on education.
The demand for education is related to the number of students at different levels, enrolment, and participation in education.
The quality of education refers to how the system works internally: what the children learn at school; their progress, and whether or not the system is successful at keeping the children in school.
According to UNDP 2005 report In Iraq: 99% of students attended public schools, 73% of primary schools students in Iraq needed less than 15 minutes to reach the nearest school with normal transportation. The accessibility of schools in urban areas is better than in rural areas. The availability of secondary schools is lower than primary schools and in most governorates the majority of the students need less than 30 minutes to get to secondary school, which can be considered a reasonable distance.
When I used to live in Iraq, I saw that the policy of the government was clear about the regulations of students' enrolment in schools; everyone has the right to be enrolled in the nearest school to his/ her residence. This rule is general and implemented in all Iraqi cities, to make a kind of fairness for all students; no school has privilege more than others. A limited number of public schools, that prove themselves to have particularly better teachers and higher average of students results in baccalaureate exams, get the status of Magnate Schools, and hence get to be more selective about the students they accept, the principal or his deputy would usually personally study every student file and decide if they are to be accepted in the school or not, and for average students applying, they will give priority for students coming from better schools and nearer geographical locations.
During sanction time, when the government was incapable of providing schools with new furniture or covering the maintenance expenses of all schools, parents were responsible of providing donations, we used to send heaters or fans to classrooms or participate with painting material and expenses to paint the school or to fix the restrooms in the schools for our children, because we saw that it is a part of reciprocation to our homeland. We parents ourselves have graduated from Iraqi public schools and universities during the golden era of 1970s and 1980s.

Stage one 1970-1980
When the Ba’ath Party came to power in 1968, eradication of illiteracy was made a primary objective. Educational policy was set by three laws passed in the 1970s: the Illiteracy Eradication Law (1971); the Free Education Law (1974), whereby the state would cover the costs of education at all stages; and the Compulsory Education Law (1978), which made six years of primary education compulsory for all children (Sousa 1982). In 1978, the government launched the National Comprehensive Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy, which aimed at eradicating illiteracy for all those between the ages of 15 and 45. The campaign mobilized the media, trade unions, and civic organizations; all sectors of society were targeted, and there was an emphasis on the full participation and emancipation of women. (UNDP 2005)
In that period of time I was a high school student in one of Baghdad's large schools, then was enrolled in Baghdad University, college of Engineering, and have graduated in 1976. I have lived all the positive practices that were implemented on the education sector.
Due to political and economic needs the government decided to nationalize the oil in Iraq in 1971, and this step was the beginning of a big growth and development process in the country on all sectors.
(These views on sectoral priorities receive some support from the recent record of mineral economies. A few countries such as Algeria, Iraq and Venezuela, which have deployed their mineral earnings to invest in human resources and not neglected agriculture, have strengthened the basis for diversifying their economies). WDR 1979
On the education sector growth, the indicators were: building more schools and universities all over Iraq and starting the literacy campaign. Living costs were moderate and teachers were from the middle class, they were enjoying good standards of living, my aunts were teachers and I witnessed them enjoying a very good level of life, they owned their houses and had cars, in summer holiday they used to travel to Egypt or Lebanon to spend their vacation, that means they had salaries enough to make good savings.
In that time also the government made political reconciliation with the Kurd parties in the north part of Iraq and gave them self- autonomy, one of the regulations of that law is to integrate teaching Kurdish language in the curricula of Arab schools, and Arab language teaching in Kurd schools curricula as well.
Also we got French language teaching in selected schools in Baghdad, my school was one of them, after I graduated from it they implemented this program of French language as an option, in the final exams, students who got highest marks from all schools, could go to Paris for a visit of two weeks, on the expense of France government. My two sisters got highest scores and they went to Paris with a group of girls and boys.
There was a central agency from the Education Ministry to verify the scores and distribute the students on different universities due to the scores they got in the sixth form baccalaureate exam and with accordance to a preference list filled by students. All students and their families trusted the system in that time, there was no fraud. Discipline was very high.
The government granted top ten students graduating from all Iraqi universities to travel abroad and study their Master or PhD either in the US or any European country, all expenses were covered by the Iraqi government, and those who finished their studies abroad, should come back to Iraq to work as teachers in Iraqi universities, with permission for all of them to bring their personal house furniture and a personal car, tax free.
In that time, when I was studying in the Engineering College in Baghdad University, we used to have Egyptian teachers, where the Iraqi government had made contracts with Arab PhD holders to come and work as professors in Iraqi universities due to the shortage of a qualified staff to cover all Iraqi universities.
The graduated students from universities, can find jobs in the government directly after graduation, there was central planning for the number of graduating students, and where to put them according to the market needs. Everything was centralized, and the government had strong role putting policies and strategies for all sectors.
UNIESO had selected Iraq in the end of 1980 as one of the best education systems in the region, the enrolment rates were about 100% and the illiteracy rates were about zero.
The education was for free for all Iraqis, from kindergarten to the doctoral level. The books are for free, and then students have to return them back to the school or university at the end of academic year. University uniforms were tailored and sold in each university with minimal prices.
When I graduated from the university in 1976, many of my colleagues chose to continue their master degree in Baghdad university or abroad when the capacity of Baghdad university was not able to accommodate for all the post- graduate students from all Iraqi universities. And those were the professors of Iraqi universities in the following years. They have played a positive role in their societies, two of my brothers were among them, one had finished his PhD in America, he is a dentist, the other one, a neurologist, had finished his PhD from Britain.
Stage two 1980-1990
In September 1980, the Iraqi-Iranian war started, and it continued for eight years.
The public policy was shifting towards militarization, but oil revenue and money came from Gulf countries to support the war against Iran helped Iraqis maintain the same level and quality of life, there were no significant indicators of deterioration in public sector services (infrastructure, education, health, etc..) it was all functioning well.
The government kept its positive policies about education; many universities were established in many provinces such as Kufa University built in 1987, Tikreet University in 1987, Anbar University 1987.
Iraqis with PhDs went back home, to contribute through their positions in universities, hospitals and other public sector departments.
Stage three 1990-2003
After the end of the war with Iran in 1988, Iraqi decision makers faced the reality of the huge loss the country endured and how it affected the growth of the economy. They took another unwise decision in 1990 when they invaded Kuwait, allowing the US to take the green light from the UN to bomb Iraq, which destroyed the infrastructure of the country like schools, hospitals, bridges, highways, communication systems besides the military factories and sites.
Then the UN imposed economical sanction on Iraq which lasted for 13 years (they moved it after the invasion of Iraq in 2003).
Here in this stage, Iraq started to suffer, and the process of deterioration started on ground to be a part of Iraqis life.
It is safe to say that this was the end of the golden era, and the beginning of the destruction era.
(Over the past two decades, wars, sanctions, and harsh economic conditions have taken a toll on the educational system. The youth (aged 15-24) literacy rate at 74 percent is slightly higher than the literacy rate for the population at large, yet lower than literacy rates for the age group 25-34, indicating that the younger generation lags behind its predecessors on educational performance. (UNDP 2005)
Iraq was not allowed to receive the revenues of the oil. The UN took the authority to deal with the oil revenue of Iraq, and kept a trust fund to fund the monthly food rations for Iraqi people, it was an agreement called the Oil for Food Program which was started in 1995.
Now the government is not wealthy anymore, has no authority and no sovereignty on its national revenues. Economy went through recession and the currency went down and down with strong rates of inflation. In the period from 1970-1980, one Iraqi Dinar used to equal $3. Now in this stage one US Dollar equals 3000 Iraqi Dinars!
Prices of food and other goods in the markets increased beyond reason and imagination.
At this stage a real problem started with the public sector employees' salaries, especially the teachers. While they were used to a high standard of living, now their salaries can hardly buy anything!
A salary of 4000ID = less than $2 a month.
How a school teacher and his family can survive with this 2$ per month?
The quality of teaching went down, bribes started to be a part of the education sector in Iraq, and the idea of private tutoring emerged to bring further income for teachers.
The phenomena of poverty started in Iraq, and drop-out of students from poor families started to be another challenge.
Let's see this table to indicate the decreasing rates of enrolment of children. (UNDP 2005)
Year of birth Has completed grade 4 All
1986 92 100
1987 93 100
1988 93 100
1989 93 100
1990 90 100
1991 87 100
1992 78 100

Children has completed grade 4 are 85% in rural areas, 91% in urban areas, due to same report of UNDP.
At the end of the sanctions stage, the reports of UNESCO indicate increasing in drop-out rates, and increasing of illiteracy rates in Iraq.( 2008 global report).
On regard to schools building there was no indicator that the government opened new schools. Also the government faced a problem of printing new books every year for students. The budget wasn't enough to cover that process, so schools kept old books for many years to be used by different students within the same school, there were very limited numbers of new published school books.
In the universities the problems were bigger and more complicated, there was no updating of knowledge, as everything was suspended after 1990 when the war and then the sanctions started. No new books or magazines were found in the libraries for researchers, and there was a very limited access to internet in that time. This was a very hard time for post-graduate students in all Iraqi universities; there was a real degradation in the level of higher education.
The curricula in the universities were old and no new references were available, and the number of existing books was limited, many students had to share one book.
I worked in Baghdad University as a part-time teacher in 1995 in the Engineering College, and saw with my eyes the destruction of the system, most of the professors were living hard financial conditions, the salaries were very law, and there were no performance appraisals and no incentives, most of the professors lost their satisfaction with their jobs, and they were not allowed to travel abroad. Many of them have worked as taxi drivers in the afternoon to gain further income for their families to survive.
Also I have seen one of the high-school teachers of my son, who quit his job in the school to work as a gas station worker when I asked him why, he said that the salary was not enough anymore.
Also the students lost their interest, what kind of future is waiting them?
The economy went down and high unemployment was obvious because most of the public sector factories and agencies were either destroyed by bombing through 1991 war, or the sanction caused to close them, there was no enough fund to keep them functioning and taking work force from Iraqis. Private sector was also limited and weak, most of foreign companies and investors left the country during sanction years.
Most of Iraqi families kept the education of their children as a high priority, they paid for the private lessons big amounts of money every year, and this ends the notion of free education on ground. It was another burden on their budgets.
The government policy was bad in one clear point, when it gave +5 degrees for each student on his or her final GPA in the sixth form baccalaurean exam if one of their parents were Friends of the President! (A Friend of the President is a status you get in return of various acts favoured by the government) also +5 for any student who's father was killed in duty during any of the wars, +5 if the student is married, in addition to many other reasons that could grant you 5 degrees, there was no limit on the total grades you could get if more than one of these conditions apply to you, a student could possibly get 15+ grades to their final GPA, which ultimately decides which university would accept the student and usually a tenth of a point makes a difference. here we lost the criteria and credibility of the system, after adding all these "bonus grades" to the GPA, some students in this stage had a GPA of over 110%, and the quality of students who were accepted in universities degraded as they didn’t deserve to be accepted if it wasn't for these extra bonus points, and those sons of Friends of the President were not doing well in university, and were ready to pay the teachers to get a copy of any exam questions, Which was an indicator of the collapse of the education system in Iraq.
Despite these hard economic conditions, the government kept opening new universities in many provinces: Babil University was opened in 1991, Theqar University in 2002, and have opened many new departments in old Universities (check the website of each university). Also the government granted the right to open private universities in Iraq during this stage.
While I was writing this paper I have seen the balanced public policy towards the education system in Iraq since 1970 through facts on ground, the government have opened many universities in Iraq whether in the north or south, regardless of any ethnic or sectarian discrimination.
In an interview with the Iraqi minister of higher education in 2004, he said that there were 20 governmental universities in Iraq, an average of one university in each Iraqi province, and 11 private universities.
The government gave enough access for all the parts of Iraq to have enough education institutions from the north to the south.

Stage four 2003-2011
After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and the American invasion, the country had entered another hard stage. In the beginning many people were deceived with the American administration rosy promises that Iraq will be the shining example in the ME.
We will discuss what happened to the shining example regarding the education system public policy.
The first big story was the contracts signed between the American administration with “Bechtel corporation “, it was a big fuss in the international and local media, that this construction company will make rehabilitation for all schools in Baghdad. We had to wait for months to see facts on ground, then things ended up with an Iraqi local contractor painting the schools and fixing some broken glass (these local contract costs only 2000$ for every school, while the contract of Bechtel was 60 000$ for each school rehabilitation they bragged about in the media).

Then we have faced the period of violence (2003-2008) where many school buildings were destroyed, or children stopped going to schools due to bad security conditions.
(In conflict-ridden areas, schools are not spared. In Iraq more than 2,700 schools were looted, damaged or burned in 2003. Only 30 per cent of Iraq’s 3.5 million students are attending classes, compared to 75 per cent in the previous school year. (UNESCO 2008 Global Education Report).

Also we have faced the problem of displaced persons inside the country due to sectarian violence between 2005 and 2008, where thousands of children lost access to school. (In Iraq, analysis of data from the governorates of Baghdad, Basra and Ninewa found that IDP families were far less likely to send their children to school than families in the local population. (Global education UNESCO report 2008)

So far, the Iraqi government had made two major changes: first it re-printed the text books for schools without any story or picture about Saddam and Al-Baath party, second they raised the salaries of all public sector employees, and teachers were included.
Now the salary of a primary school teacher is about 500$, and the salary of a university professor is 3000$, which is fair to keep them living in a decent way, put in consideration that prices and life costs increased multiple times since the 2003 war, but still, these salaries are much better than what they used to get before the war.
But no indicator about building new schools, or improving the performance of the teachers to use modern teaching tools or ways.

The country started to suffer from three problems: increasing rates of illiteracy according to UNESCO representative in Iraq in his press conference in Baghdad(2009) where he stated that the UNESCO estimation of the numbers of illiterate persons in Iraq is about 5 million Iraqis most of them are women. He said that they have a program with the Iraqi government to solve this problem, the aim is to reduce this number to the half in 2015, and this project will cost 40 million Dollars.

Repetition rate is a second problem in Iraq now (In Iraq, 89 percent of children enrolled in school reach grade five. Repetition rates are high: 20 percent of children
(23 percent boys, 16 percent girls) currently enrolled in primary school have repeated at least one year. A high repetition rate generally indicates a low quality of education. (UNDP 2005)

The third problem facing Iraqi schools is the high numbers of drop-out of students before the last year of high school, in the age between 12-18 years. The government has no clear official numbers about this issue. The UUNISEF announced in a press report in Jordan that the estimated number is about 600 000 Iraqi students were dropped the school in Iraq ( UNISEF press report in Amman 2006)

The Iraqi government announced its budget for the year 2011 which is 86 Billion Dollars. Education is supposed to get 10% of this budget (8.6 billion) which is supposed to be fair enough to solve part of these problems, but corruption is the plague in Iraq now.

Last year (2010) I was working in Iraq as the Country Director of an International organization, one of my female employees was working as a public school teacher in the afternoon with the kind of schools that gave informal education for students who had dropped the school in the past years. She told me that the school student’s number should be 150 students at least; so that the ministry of education would keep it opened and pay salaries for the staff. The reality is that the majority of students are not coming to attend classes, most of them pulled out because they are working to bring food for their families or are not very interested with this kind of education. She and the principal and all the staff used to fill a false list every day of the attendance of students, so that when a supervisor visits the school would see the names in the records are above 150, to keep the school opened and keep their salaries going.

I have seen corruption, but who will hold those people accountable?

Due to Global integrity report 2008 (many appointments in the Ministry of education, for example, are based on patronage despite laws preventing nepotism and patronage in the civil system).This is another problem in Iraq now, which increased corruption lack of transparency in the education system.

Another famous story of corruption relevant to the education system in Iraq happened last year, when Washington Post newspaper wrote about a scandal of 8000 personal computers that were shipped to Iraq as a gift from American people to Iraqi students, and the education ministry distributed only 4000 computer to schools in Babil province to the south of Baghdad, while the other 4000 were sold in Basra port to a local Iraqi businessman. All Iraqi media talked about this story, and the government opened an investigation about it under the pressure of the public, but can never guarantee that this kind of story will not be repeated.

In Universities the main problems faced them were the looting and destruction of many universities that happened after 2003, which affected negatively the performance of the universities and their staff. The second major problem is the assassination of the university professors all over Iraq, no one can understand why and who is behind it, while the rest of Iraqi professors and academics fled the country to live in the exiles, this is an on going brain drain process. The government did nothing to protect the amazing brains of Iraq.

(280 academics have been killed since the fall of Saddam Hussein, 296 members of
Education staff were killed in 2005, and 180 teachers were killed between February and
November 2006. (UNESCO report education under attack 2007)

(Baghdad universities are reporting attendance down by 40 per cent, in some departments attendance is down to one-third. More than 3,000 academics have fled the country.(UNESCO report 2008)
Also the university students have faced violence, kidnapping, and many have been arrested by different groups of sectarian militias.
This hard condition affected the attendance of teachers and students to their schools and universities as well, and affected the quality of teaching for sure.
Old teaching methods, old curricula, is still a problem in Iraqi universities besides the lack of teaching staff. Many universities had closed post-graduate studies in many of their departments.
Also Iraq has now high unemployment rates (due to local Iraqi reports it's about 40% especially among the youth). This is another threat for the outcome of the education system, graduate youth need sustainable jobs and life, and they are eager to be active actors in their societies and the economy of Iraq.

New universities
Last year when I was in Baghdad, I have seen that there were three "open-study" universities or "online study" universities which are private and have post-graduate studies, but they are still under struggle to gain recognition from the Iraqi Higher Education Ministry.

In the northern part of Iraq, which is called now Kurdistan, this region contains three provinces: Erbil, Suliamaniya, and Dohuk with population between 5-6 million. There political parties have separated their area from Baghdad central government since 1991, after the war with Kuwait, and with the help and support of the US.
They have good international support for their education system since 1991, through UNCEF, and UNESCO to reduce illiteracy rates in their provinces. Also they had opened the American University in Suliamaniya since 2007. They used to have two universities in the past: Suliamaniya University 1968, Erbil University 1980.
There are three official languages of education in their universities: English, Arabic and Kurdish.

After this overview of the political and economic history of Iraq since 1970, I have seen same political regime staying in power from 1968-2003. The regime implemented good educational policies which raised Iraq to be the best in the region at the end of the 80s according to UNESCO reports. The same political system had faced hard economic conditions which pushed the decision makers to reduce the level of support for the education system, and the departure of all international NGOs from Iraq also increased the shortage and problems in the education system (international NGOs only kept their relations and fund to the north of Iraq since 1991 after the north gained independence from the central government).
In the middle of 1990s Iraqis started to see the real deterioration in the education system when the salaries were about $2 a month for each teacher, and this pushed teachers to depend on the income of private lessons, or rewards, gifts and bribes from their students and their parents. Here we started to lose the quality and credibility of the education system in Iraq. The government did reforms for the salaries of public sector but it was still below the required level.
After 2003, Iraq was invaded, and the UN removed the sanctions imposed on Iraq. International organizations entered Iraq to work with the government on many development programs to improve the level of the education system, we read on the websites of these international NGOs how many millions they have spent in Iraq to improve the education system, but nothing of positive change was seen on ground due to corruption and bad security condition which cannot allow the international NGOs representatives to check facts on ground by themselves.
Oil is still the main source of the revenue for the Iraqi state. That means we have no real economic problems with no sanctions against our state, and international NGOs are functioning in Iraq with their heavy fund. Where is the problem then?
The problem now in Iraq mainly is political, the country is living through political unrest since 2003, even though we have had two elections since that time, but the government is weak and divided, because it’s based on sectarian and ethnic alliances, those groups are fighting in power for their own interests, they don’t have the time and capacity to think about public service improvement or empowerment.
The World Bank website reports talk about literacy rates in Iraq for adult with estimation of 78% (above age of 15) which is in the same rank of most poor African countries as I have checked the long list on the mentioned website, while Iraq is a rich country with both natural and human resource and it had a good and successful experience in the 1970s and 1980s regarding education.

It only takes a political will to make a good and clear strategic plan to improve the education sector and solve its existing problems like reducing illiterate rates, drop-out rates, building new schools, renew the curricula, apply training for teachers in deferent school levels, build modern laboratories in schools, and so on. This process can promote the quality of education in the whole country and give positive impact on the economy of the country in the coming years, to provide markets with a qualified workforce.
Also the government should hold control on the corruption in the country, which caused the bleeding of millions of Dollars that came to Iraq as donations but have disappeared without implementing or solving problems and no witnessed results since 2003,.
Yesterday I have seen an interview with the new minister of education in Iraq and he talked about a new agreement between the Iraqi government and the UNICEF plus the EU to work on four axis to implement a strategic development on the Iraqi education sector: the four axes are : schools buildings, schools curricula, training and development for teachers and finally working on reducing the drop out of students by improving the whole system to keep the satisfaction of the students as high as possible.

We will see, we have heard many of these stories since 2003, and nothing was done on ground despite the millions of dollars were given to Iraqi government as grants we have read about in all the reports of World Bank, UNDP, UNESCO and other international organizations.

The key of solution in Iraq is political stability. Iraq needs stable and strong government to start the process of development in all of life sectors, and the reform in education is one of the most important factors in any country to promote its situation.

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