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Guardian Article,3604,155448,00.html

Sanctions teach nothing to Iraqi children

Education Unlimited

Nadia Hijab
Tuesday April 4, 2000

Going to school in Iraq can be hazardous to your health: exposed cables,
broken window panes, unsafe drinking water and no sanitation. Unicef
estimates that no more than 45% of schools have even the basic
infrastructure needed for teaching to take place. The rest, according to
Anupama Rao Singh, the country director for Unicef, "are in appalling
physical condition. Some run two or three shifts a day to cope".

Teachers from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) visited al Bakr
boys school in Nasriya in April last year. They found 45 students crammed to
a classroom, many sitting on the floor and sharing a single textbook. A
battered tin can under a dripping tap was the only source of drinking water.

In 1990, says the principal of the neighbouring Jaffa elementary school for
girls, each student at al Bakr had a desk and his own textbooks. The
classrooms had stoves and fans. All the children received a simple but
nutritious meal each day - milk, biscuits, hummus and fresh fruit.

But after 10 years of the sanctions imposed by the UN after Iraq's invasion
of Kuwait, schools are able neither to renew their physical infrastructure
nor to invest in students' health or teachers' well-being.

"We met the al Bakr school head in the afternoon," recalls Peter Lems, an
AFSC programme assistant. "He had been out selling cigarettes in the morning
because his salary isn't enough".

In 1990 teachers earned around $450 (281) a month; now they earn as little
as $2-$5. Before 1990 Iraq invested heavily in education. According to the
UN Development Programme's 1991 human development report, Iraq's combined
primary and secondary enrollment ratio for 1989 stood at 75% - higher than
the 70% average for all developing countries.

Education was free to university level, and thousands travelled, at state
expense, to earn postgraduate degrees in the United States and Europe.
Education was perhaps even taken too seriously: during an early literacy
campaign, men and women could choose to attend classes or go to jail.

Now, fewer people see the point. "When doctors sell ice cream and teachers
drive taxis, people feel education doesn't get you far in the present
situation," says Ms Rao Singh.

Children are dropping out in droves to earn money for the family - or to
beg. There are higher drop-out rates for girls, who see marriage as offering
greater security in a country where once women had begun to achieve parity
with men.

In 1988 around 6% of Iraq's budget - $230m - went on education. "Your first
impression on visiting Iraq," says Peter Buckland, a Unicef education
expert,"is that this sophisticated system was designed on the assumption
that plentiful resources were available, and that it has been devastated by
the collapse of resources."

By contrast, under the UN oil for food programme established in 1995 to
mitigate the impact of sanctions, just $23m has been earmarked for
education, and it must all be spent on goods. It is a major constraint and,
says Ms Rao Singh, cash is needed for teacher training and physical

Unicef is using its own money for these purposes. "We've rehabilitated more
than 300 schools since 1997, with another 100 planned for this year," Ms Rao
Singh says.

"The impact on morale is amazing. Parents start sending their children back
to school."

There is a "tremendous sense of guilt" among the professional class, she
adds. "They are not able to provide their children with the kind of
education they had, and feel helpless to do anything about it."

Today, life-long education is needed to keep abreast of changes in science
and technology, and the sanctions have had a devastating effect on fields
such as medical science. An AFSC medical delegation which visited Iraq in
May last year reported: "Iraqi doctors got their first taste of the
intellectual boycott when delivery of their own medical journals and those
in their hospital libraries abruptly stopped at the time of the Gulf war."

The US post office manual states: "Due to United States government
sanctions, mail pieces sent to Iraq may contain only personal
communications". But it is hard to see what threatening military use could
be made of some of the categories which have been suspended, such as sheet

AFSC applied to the UN last summer for permission to send medical journals
to Iraq. The request was routed first to the US treasury and then the state
department, and AFSC has only just received the green light. It has now
launched a campaign against the "intellectual embargo" of Iraq, seeking
funds to send the 15 subscriptions to Iraq's 10 medical schools via Jordan.

Ms Rao Singh says: "Iraq can still manage because it has extremely qualified
professionals, but most are in their mid-30s and above. So where are the
human resources going to come from in 10 years time?"

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