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Iraqi sanctions tell on children.

>From today's Financial Times (19th August):

Iraqi sanctions tell on children

The Zarkaa school for girls in Saddam City is only five years old, but
walls are crumbling, and the desks have fallen apart.

Cardboard covers the broken glass in the windows, the library shelves are
mostly bare and children sit on cracked floors to read.

The teachers, earning 3,300 dinars a month - just over $2 - give lessons
unenthusiastically in sweltering heat. Zarkaa - Arabic for "blue" - is
colourless, except for the pictures of President Saddam Hussein and his
sayings on the school's walls. "The pen and the rifle have the same ends,"
reads one.

No wonder then, that about 100 of the school's 600 girls do not show up
for class, and the teachers, whose salary barely covers their travel
costs, have little appetite for teaching.

Saddam City is an overcrowded Baghdad neighbourhood where the countryside
seems to have invaded the city. Sheep graze beside roads carrying donkeys
and carts as well as cars.

After a decade of war and nearly eight years of United Nations sanctions,
Zarkaa school is no worse than schools across the country.

According to a 1995 survey by the United Nations Children's fund (Unicef),
only 87 per cent of Iraqi children enroll in primary schools - down from
100 per cent before the Gulf war. And, of those who enroll, only 58 per
cent finish primary school. Many are sent to work or beg on the streets.
Teachers are also dropping out, especially in poor neighbourhoods where
they cannot supplement their incomes with private lessons.

"The wastage in primary education is enormous," says Gloria Fernandez,
education project officer for Unicef in Baghdad. "Combine two wars and an
embargo and one day you wake up and six years have gone by - that's a
whole primary cycle - and then you realise that the education system has

It might not be so dramatic if Iraq had been a poor country and had given
little attention to education. But in the late 1970s, an oil-rich
authoritarian system with aggressive ambitions had put emphasis on
education, pushing literacy rates by the end of the 1980s to as high as 95
per cent. Now, enrolment and drop-out rates put Iraq almost at the bottom
of the scale in the region, with only Yemen lower.

The deterioration started with the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Improvements
slowed down, maintenance was halted, and teenagers in rural areas, for
example, were called up by the army and never finished school. Girls, too,
were being pulled out of school by the time they reached the age of 10.

Shortly after the the 1990-1991 Gulf war, many schools, like Zarkaa, were
built, in spite of the UN sanctions. But none has been maintained, as the
education ministry's budget dried up. Because education depended totally
on the state, which also imported everything from books to teachers' aids,
the sector found few mechanisms to adapt to UN sanctions.

A totalitarian attitude toward education had also made it heavily geared
towards high technology, with little attention to personal initiative or
teaching methods. "The technology collapsed and left nothing behind," says
Ms Fernandez.

Higher education is also suffering. A country which used to teach
university students from all over the Arab world has been starved of books
and research materials for eight years, in addition to the collapse of the

At the Mustansiria University, Qaus Jamil, a physics professor, says his
greatest need is for a working photocopier as the university cannot obtain
spare parts for its copiers. "You do not realise how important a photocopy
machine is, it is essential, when books are lacking," he says.

Professors are stuck in the 1980s, having no contact with the outside
world and know little of research and developments in overseas
universities. The regime, afraid that Iraqis who leave would not return,
prevents experts from travelling. Not that many can afford a trip, having
to pay up to 400,000 dinars - a fortune by Iraqi standards - to cross the

The only pocket of private initiative in education has been the
establishment of a dozen private colleges, most of them set up under
sanctions by unions or professional associations to cater to students
whose grades do not allow them to enter state universities.

At the college for higher economic studies in Baghdad, the desks are new
and more classrooms are being built. But only a fraction of Iraqis can
afford to pay the 35,000 dinars a year tuition fees. And only business
students have access to the ancient computers. "Could it be possible that
I have heard about the internet but I haven't ever seen it? Is it fair
that I'm not sure what it is?" complains Mohamed Taqa, the college dean.

UN officials say there is some hope that the deterioration in education
can be halted. Under the current phase of the oil-for-food deal under
which Iraq is allowed to sell up to $5.3bn of oil every six months to buy
humanitarian supplies, $100m has been allocated to education. Unicef says
it is a far cry from what is required to meet basic needs.

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