8 October 2007 Nearly six million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week in what the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) calls a “remarkable achievement” while cautioning that more needs to be done to support the effort.
The damaging toll of displacement and the pervasive insecurity in Iraq have cost many of the country’s schoolchildren their education: according to figures released by Iraq’s Ministry of Education, only 40 per cent of final year students in Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region) passed their high school exams during the first examination session of 2007, compared to last year’s pass rate of 60 per cent, UNICEF said.
The same figures showed that just 28 per cent of Iraq’s graduation-age population took their exams at all – 152,000 out of approximately 642,000 children aged 17 – although a supplementary exam session currently under way should increase the rate.
UNICEF Representative for Iraq Roger Wright stressed that, despite the low numbers, each and every completed test must be viewed as a success for Iraqi children – many of whom braved severe risks to reach exam centres.
“Iraq’s schools are in urgent need of support, both in terms of access to schooling and the quality of learning children receive,” Mr. Wright said. “Well-educated children represent a chance to lift Iraq into a future of security and hope.”
A 2006 survey by the Iraqi Government, supported by UNICEF, showed that in the previous year, even before the intensification of violence and displacement, one in six Iraqi children did not attend primary school. Reports from communities suggest attendance has since declined further in many areas, due to increased insecurity, clampdowns on security, and the threat of direct attacks on schools and teachers.
Displacement has placed an additional burden on Iraq’s school system, UNICEF said, pointing out that more than 220,000 school-aged children have had to flee their homes since early 2006. Many were initially unable to attend schools in their new areas for lack of clear policies on mid-year re-enrolment and may have missed months of schooling.
Throughout the summer, UNICEF has been supporting Iraq’s Ministry of Education to enhance children’s education prospects for this coming year. The agency and its partners are helping to restore damaged school infrastructure and add extra classrooms and water/sanitation facilities. Teachers are also being trained to provide psycho-social care for the many children affected by anxiety and loss.
For the first time in Iraq, UNICEF is promoting, together with local communities, a home learning curriculum for children forced to stay at home because of displacement or insecurity, while 20,000 out-of-school children are now enrolled in a special Accelerated Learning Programme to help them finish their education.