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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Sweeping changes in Iraqi schools
Things have changed dramatically for Iraqi students and teachers alike since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

For some teachers, the nightmare of having colleagues who work for the country's dreaded intelligence services is over. And students have expressed relief at a rise in teaching standards.

Violence, however, has continued unabated, casting a dark shadow over all aspects of the "new Iraq". Education is no exception.

BBC Arabic spoke to a student, a teacher and a university lecturer about their experiences of life in the new Iraq.

"Omar Mohammad" is a student preparing for the 2004-2005 exams in the preparatory or pre-secondary stage. For Omar, security is a main concern when discussing education before and after Saddam Hussein.

Students sit an exam in a Baghdad school
New threats replace the old perils of studying under Saddam
"Well before my normal waking hour, the blast at dawn has awoken more people in our neighbourhood and the next than the sun's bright rays or the sound of prayer from the mosque's minaret," he says.

Omar says that chaos and lack of security have made many people think that life under the previous regime "appears to have been safer despite the wars and air strikes".

Yet "nothing was right in the previous regime", he says.

"There were bribes and training camps during summer and low wages for teachers and bad teaching because of the phenomenon of private lessons and lack of any nutrition and many other things."

Now, he says, "teachers have become more active and concerned, somewhat, because of the rise in their salaries and the decline in bribery".

Omar is also glad that they now have some meals at school.

Still, lack of electricity and drinking water and "the terror wrought by armed groups all mean that I am having a bad school year and it is getting worse, which makes me say that education is not much better."

Pay rise

Teacher Ahlam Taleb is more optimistic. She finds that education is much better than it used to be following the large rise in her salary, which rose from 8,000 dinars to 375,000 (now worth about $250).

Ahlam expresses relief that, with the terror of secret reports and undercover teachers among staff over, the relationship between teachers themselves is more easy-going. She adds that the education authorities are no longer repressive and have become tolerant and co-operative.

Still, she admits that corruption has harmed the educational system. Unknown militants forcing portraits of their leaders to be plastered on school walls are also a problem. Coupled with the dangers on the streets, these are problems not experienced before, she says.

Ahlam concludes that education under Saddam Hussein was bad, and now it is all relative.

"Some see it is better and some think it is bad, especially those who think their interests are gone, or those whose religious identity makes them take an opposing view."

Things are even harder when it comes to university education.

Death threats

Most university professors feel their lives are in danger because of multiple incidents involving the murder of lecturers.

Some reports have placed the number of teachers killed so far at 50, while others estimated 100 had been killed.

In addition, the massive proliferation of influential religious groups inside campuses has created trouble, especially when they try to force female students to adhere to a strict dress code.

Iraq currently has approximately 20 universities and 70 institutes, with more than 250,000 students.

While budgets for these have risen from $40m to $70m, the salaries of professors are still below half the international average.

Mazen al-Shamry, who has a master's degree in physics and teaches in the education faculty in Baghdad University, says that the financial situation is much better now and there is more co-operation with research centres and universities abroad through the internet.

But, he says, "the risks and threats to our lives and the proliferation of parties inside universities" are major problems.

Asked whether education is better now than it was before, he smiles hesitantly and says: "I think it is better now... somewhat."



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