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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Iraq struggles to educate children
By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

Children walk to school in the Sadr City district of Baghdad
School attendance remains high but facilities and resources are poor
One of the priorities for the fledgling Iraqi government is reviving the country's education system.

Iraq used to have one of the highest levels of literacy in the Arab world and one of its best education systems, but two decades of war, sanctions and funding shortages under Saddam Hussein have turned it into one of the region's worst.

One of the positives is the number of children going to school.

Iraq has one of the highest percentages of children attending classes in the Middle East, according to the United Nations.

But few of these children are getting a decent education.

Many of the best teachers fled abroad during Saddam Hussein's rule and have not returned.

Many schools lack basics such as books and desks and even buildings.

At least a quarter share premises with other schools, according to the Ministry of Education.

Security obstacle

A senior official there, Hasanien Muallah, says large sums of money are now going into repairs and the construction of new schools, but only where the security situation allows it.

"In some places you cannot rehabilitate or build a new school because of the terrorists," he says.

"They are making many problems for the contractors, for the engineers, for the workers there. They beat them, and when they explain they are building a school [the militants] do not accept it, and they try to shoot them."

Just how bad things are shows up clearly in the few education statistics available.

An Iraqi man cleans a flooded street in the impoverished Sadr city neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq

The most recent UN figures show Iraq has one of the worst levels of literacy in the region.

In the 1980s it had one of the highest.

One thing has improved since the US invasion though, says Hasanien Muallah.

"The condition of our ministry now is better than before during Saddam's regime," he says.

"Now we have all the freedom to say whatever we want in a democratic way. Also, the students can follow whatever they want, not only the Baathists."

There is another aspect to this new era, something Iraq has not seen before - private education.

As the state system struggles, growing numbers of fee-paying schools are being set up in Baghdad and other cities and they are finding a ready demand from wealthier parents.


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