Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The American University in Cairo...
I have just finished the second academic semester in the AUC, where I persue my Master studies in Public Policy and Adminstration.
I left to Jordan, to have short vacation with my family.
Also I would like to share with you this reserach paper about education reform in Iraq after 2003. Hopefully it will help many people to know more about facts on ground in Iraq.
Hopefully will have enough time in the coming days ,to write more about Egypt.
Educational Reform in Post-War Iraq: Successes and Failures
This paper will focus on the education reform in Iraq after the invasion of 2003. Education is one of the priorities in the Iraqi society. People of Iraq are proud of its historical position as the cradle of civilization and the place in which the first human experience of writing occurred. That is why Iraqis are ready to sacrifice everything to put their children in school and to follow up on their performance, making sure that they are doing well and their future is promising. People want their children to be good citizens and to play an active role in the development of their country. Iraqis have suffered a lot during three decades of wars and sanction, and they have witnessed the deterioration of their quality of life in many aspects such as education and health. They are thus very eager, after the fall of the old regime, to see reforms take place in their country, especially in the sectors of education and health, which are considered to be crucial parts of life.
The Iraqi government has made many reforms in the education sector since 2003, but the people have seen those reforms as falling short of their hopes and ambitions. Since the invasion the government has been very considered very weak, and has been plagued by corruption. Many stakeholders in the country have tried very hard to control and eliminate the corruption.
Stakeholders such as political activists, local media, local civil-society organizations and international organizations are working together to minimize corruption in the Iraqi public sector, including the education system.
Despite the limited reforms which have been made in the education sector, the Iraqi people are not satisfied. The media is constantly reporting about the concerns of the stakeholders regarding the quality of education and the outcome of this system. People are concerned about the future of their children and civil society organizations are concerned about increasing literacy rates in the country. International education organizations such as the UNESCO and others have reported about problems in Iraq such as lack of school buildings, lack of modern equipment and laboratories, high student/teacher ratio, and so on. Those are difficulties affecting the level of education in a negative way and they need more attention. It will take strong will and serious commitment from the Iraqi government to improve the education sector. This will be critical for strengthening Iraq as education is considered to be the key to the development process.
The Formal Education System in Iraq
The Iraqi constitution of 2005 stipulated that education is a fundamental factor for the progress of society and is a right guaranteed by the state. Primary education is mandatory and the state has guaranteed that it shall combat illiteracy. Free education, in all its stages, is a right for all Iraqis. (World data on education,7th edition,2010/11)
The structure of the educational system in Iraq is broken into the following stages:
• Pre-primary education (kindergarten): It lasts for two years starting age 4 and it is not compulsory.
• Primary Education: It is a compulsory six years of education which starts at minimum age 6 and ends with standardized national examination.
• Secondary Education: It has two stages. The first one is intermediate which includes three years ending with standardized national examinations followed by the second stage which includes three years ending with the Iraqi Baccalaureate (high school diploma).
• Vocational Education: This starts after the successful completion of the first stage of secondary education and it takes three to five years. If the students join the secondary vocational school (agricultural, industrial, veterinary or commercial studies) this will take three years. If they enter a teachers training institute it will take two more years to graduate. The students thus spend the first three years in general vocational education and an additional two years in subject specialization.
• Higher Education in Iraq: This begins after completing 12 years of education and takes from four to six years, depending on the field of study. In the arts, sciences, law, economics and most engineering majors it takes four years to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Pharmacy and some engineering majors take five years and medicine takes six years.
• Master’s Degrees are offered in numerous fields and are usually completed in two years.
• Doctoral Degrees are awarded in some fields. They usually take three years of study after a Master’s Degree.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education is responsible for all the levels of education prior to university including the planning, implementation, curriculum development, school management, teacher management, education research and innovation, education standards, coordination with national or international partners as well as any activities related to religion, sports, health, morals and the environment.
The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is responsible for the administration and supervision of both private and public universities, colleges and technical institutions.
In this paper I will talk about the reform in pre-university education in Iraq after 2003.
The Concept of Educational Reform
The Education system in Iraq witnessed serious steps of reform during the1970s and 1980s which had a very positive outcome on society and the economy. UNESCO had selected Iraq in the beginning of the 1980s as a model for one of the best education systems in the region.
The results of education reforms in the 1970s and 1980s are evident in the high literacy rates in the adult population. However, over the past two decades, wars, sanctions, and harsh economic conditions have taken a toll on the educational system (UNDP 2004).
After the American invasion in 2003, the new Iraqi government has also made many reforms to the education system in order to increase its efficiency and effectiveness.
The government increased the salaries of all the teachers. In cooperation with UNESCO, the Iraqi government worked to change the curricula of all levels and printed millions of new textbooks for the Iraqi students.
International NGOs also worked on the rehabilitation of hundreds of schools in Iraq and trained thousands of teachers in the process of improving the quality of education in Iraq.
The government has joined many international education agreements such as Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and Education for All (EFA) Program, and is committed to ensuring those goals by 2015.
The government of Iraq has therefore indentified education as one of its main priorities. This was reflected in the increase of total government expenditure allocated for education from 7.2% in 2008 to 9.9% in 2009 (IAU, 2010).
From national and international reports, as well as from local media, we can identify the main problems in the Iraqi education system. There is large scale corruption in the governmental education institutions. For instance, false documentation about expenditure for rehabilitation and reconstruction of schools has become common. Also, staff recruitment in the educational system is being affected by intervention of political parties.
Additionally, there is a high illiteracy rate according to international NGOs reports (UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO) in 2010. There are also high drop-out rates. Girls drop-out more commonly than boys, and rural drop-outs are more than urban, according to 2010 reports.
Moreover, weak performance of teachers – due to a lack of teachers training - has increased the student drop-outs. According to post war UN reports, about 85% of schools need rehabilitation – particularly in water and sanitation. Despite funding from international NGOs, there has been a very low scale of rehabilitation which the Iraqi government is exaggerating in its official announcements.
Furthermore, there is public discontent about the performance of the education system. Parents are paying extra expenses for private lessons to ensure a high level of education for their children and to ensure that their children will pass the final national examination.
A disparity exists between business market needs and the output of the education system. According to World Bank reports, the unemployment rate is about 40% among young adults and fresh graduates, especially those who have only finished Secondary Education.
Identifying the Specific Stakeholders
Here is the list of stakeholders in Iraq who could be involved in the education process:
• Government (The Iraqi Ministry of Education): The role of the government is still not effective due to the large scale corruption in all its institutions. Political parties in the government are trying to impose their ideologies through the education curricula and through the recruitment process for teachers, principals and other public sector workers in the education system as candidates are selected due to their political background rather than their competency.
• International donors (UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, World Bank and others): These organizations are trying to help Iraq to have high standards in the education system; they have written many reports since 2003 about the weakness of the system and have put many plans to help the Iraqi government to solve those problems.
• Teachers: In order to reduce corruption, the government increased teachers' salaries after 2003. This is specially to reduce the phenomenon of private lessons after school, which teachers used to give for their students when their salaries were low. At the time this was justified by the teachers' need to make a better income, but this phenomenon still exists and it adds a heavy financial burden on the parents. Teachers need to be trained about new teaching methods and effective management of their classes and schools. This will improve the quality of education.
• Students: Students are concerned about the quality of teaching, quality of the curriculum, and they want a fair grading system.
• Parents: Parents want to see good results from the education process. They want to see their children gain successful careers after their graduation.
• Private sector: The private sector needs a highly qualified work force, which are the products of the education system in any country.
• Local civil society NGOs: These groups want to be involved in any project or activity relevant to community development such as literacy reduction, capacity building for youth, women empowerment and so on. They are always willing to play an effective role and to have effective partnership with the government and the private sector
Approaches to Solve the Problem
Stakeholders should work together to improve the quality of education, to improve the performance of the system, and to gain better outcomes from the whole process.
The budget of education in the fiscal year budget should be increased in order to have enough space to improve many aspects relevant to the education process. For instance, the government should allocate a budget for building more schools and should recruit more teachers. This would reduce the ratio of students to teachers and thus improve the outcome of the education process.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education should monitor and evaluate the implementation of the new curricula to be sure of its positive impact on the students’ understanding. The improved system should improve their skills, for example their communication and leadership skills, and their knowledge of modern technology, so that they can contribute to the future of their country. The Ministry of Education should constantly check on and follow-up with its teachers and supervisors in order to get feedback.
Iraqi schools need more equipment and better technologies now to promote the quality of teaching and to enhance new teaching methods. This should include updated computer, language and science laboratories. Also a new emphasis on extra-curricular activities should be made, including sports and arts. This should have a budget allocation.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education should also keep working with local and International NGOs to focus on training of teachers in school management, child-friendly teaching methods, and psychological care for traumatized children. This is a second priority after curricula reform. Teachers’ training is a very important issue in the process of education reform. This step will increase the qualification of teachers and their performance and will reduce the phenomenon of private lessons which is currently another burden on parents’ budgets.
Parents can play an effective role in the education system, not only by watching and heloing their children study, but also being decision makers in the process of evaluating the new curricula and teaching methods. A dialogue should be opened with the school staff during periodic meetings along the academic year.
Private sector can suggest specific skills to be included in education system like studying economics from early stages in schools and continuous training for graduated students who have either pre-university education or have graduated from Iraqi universities. This process will prepare the student for wider knowledge about local and global markets, industries, agriculture and about what kind of skills they need to know before getting any job in the local markets. It will also prepare students to be active actors in the economy of their country in the future. Workshops about different careers and guidance councillors in secondary schools should help students plan for their future and decide which careers they are interested in. This will make it easier for them to focus their studies and decide which post-secondary institutions to apply for.
Local civil society organizations can take a positive role in reducing illiteracy rates especially in rural area when they can share with international NGOs or governmental campaigns to provide literacy classes for men and women in their communities. Also they can provide capacity building training courses for youth, to prepare them with needed skills in the markets to help them gain jobs and reduce unemployment rates.
The government should work seriously to reduce corruption in education institutions and stop the intervention of political parties in the process of recruiting teachers.
The government can keep working with international NGOs in the process of rehabilitating the infrastructure of more schools. The process should be transparent and accountable to ensure it is implemented in the right way and within the estimated budget. Documentation will be the best way to keep high credibility for all partners. The people of Iraq are tired of corruption, and hearing about millions of dollars being spent by the government and international donors while seeing few changes on ground. If the Iraqi Ministry of Education or any education international NGO such as UNESCO or UNICEF would publish the list of schools which have been rehabilitated, or the names of teachers which have been trained, people would feel comfortable. It would give credibility to all the partners who have been working in this process to go forward in their successful partnership and make more positive changes on the ground.
The government should support schools with more audio/video supplies, and laboratories (for science lessons or language) to strengthen the practical knowledge of the students.
Computer learning is another hot issue in modern learning methods; it should be available in all Iraqi schools to keep the students updated about the new technologies and keep them aware about how to use it to enrich their knowledge and skills. Also it will increase the ability of students to be more independent and seek knowledge through individual efforts.
Teachers’ training should remain as a priority in the reform process, to increase their effectives and improve their performance. Also this will ensure high standards in the education system of Iraq.
The budget for Ministry of Education should be increased in the coming years so that the government can build more schools and purchase modern equipments to be used in the learning and teaching process.
Private sector and civil society should play more effective role in the process of education reform, they can have partnership with the government to impellent many projects which are relevant such as be a part of monitoring and evaluation of the education system, being an active part in reducing corruption in the system, implementing programs to reduce illiteracy in the country or capacity building programs to promote the skills of graduate students to be qualified work force in the future.
Education reform is a critical issue in the process of development and strategic planning in any country. The goal of the educational process is not only to put the children in schools; strategic planning is needed with regards to the outcome of this process and its benefits and impact on the future of any country.
The government is not the only actor in making reform. Many stakeholders have to work together to implement the changes, it cannot be done single-handedly. The process will require cooperation of stakeholders, national and international, internal and external. On all sides a great effort must be made to control corruption, as it is the biggest challenge and threat to positive change. It is an obstacle on the way to achieve goals such as reducing illiteracy rates, building new schools or training more teachers around the country.
Despite the limited reforms which were made in Iraq after 2003 - whereby the government increased the salaries of all teachers and modified the curricula - the problems remain, as does the public discontent regarding the performance of the education system.
This proves that limited reforms cannot bring about a real and positive impact on the ground; Planning is needed for long term progress. Evaluation and monitoring must always be done on any reform in order to ensure that the decision makers stay on the right track while implementing long-term reform and to cultivate the positive outcomes of all stakeholders’ efforts.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Iraq was one of the best countries in the region in terms of its education system, due to UNESCO reports. After the 1990 war and thirteen years of sanctions, followed by the American occupation since 2003, the education system has deteriorated to be one of the worst in the region. This situation demonstrates that a stable political environment can be the key to success for any sustainable development in public sector services.
In a country which is passing through hard conditions such as Iraq, there are many obstacles to successful reform. There is violence and corruption at large. Many stakeholders, such as the private sector and the civil society organizations, are not effectively fulfilling their roles. The parents do not actively participate in the education system, and their feedback has not been taken into consideration. International organizations are not being monitored. All of these obstacles make it very difficult to create positive changes in Iraqi education, despite all available resources. Millions of oil barrels are produced every day. However, the government’s bad management and lack of cooperation between all stakeholders has kept the country weak, and has affected the outcome of the education system. The Iraqi people are eager to see successful development of their children through education, and any improvement of the education system will be an investment for the future of prosperity in Iraq.
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