How has education in Iraq been affected over the last decade of US and international military involvement? According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), if Iraq had continued to progress at its previous rate of educational development, primary school enrollment for boys and girls would be at 100 percent today. Sadly, this is not the case.
Education in Iraq has suffered as a result of ongoing military conflict in the region. In the 1980s, thanks to oil revenues, Iraq had established what was accepted as the best educational system in the region. But the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and the Gulf War in 1991 began to chip away at the country’s public services. National resources were drained throughout the 1990s as a result of international sanctions. This resulted in higher teacher turnover, lower salaries, fewer educated teachers, and lack of access to adequate facilities and educational materials.
Primary school enrollment fell ten percent between 1990 and 2000, from 90 percent to 80 percent. And enrollment in technical and vocational schools fell by 50 percent. But the impact of the 2003 US invasion on education in Iraq is less clear because statistics are inconsistent.
Iraq’s net enrollment rate (children of primary school age who are enrolled in primary school) as of 2011 was found to be 90.4 percent, just under the 1990 net enrollment rate of 90.8 percent. More disturbing is the fact that just 44 percent of students now complete their primary education at the expected time.
Studies conducted by the Iraqi government and UNICEF show an increase in net enrollment from 68 percent in 2000 to 85 percent in 2006. But other sources show a decrease in enrollment over that same period.
Overall, school enrollment can be difficult to measure in Iraq, where statistics are often unreliable. Additionally, enrollment rates vary greatly depending on gender, social status, and geographic region.
The difference between enrollment and graduation is significant. According to the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Iraq, Sudipto Mukerjee, “Getting them to school is easy, but getting them to complete their studies is more difficult.” Even as secondary school enrollment has increased, fewer than half of students continue their education in Iraq beyond grade six.
Iraqi students have described corruption among teachers, some of whom force students to pay if they want to pass exams.
Systemic issues related to military conflict have also affected the state of education in Iraq. One example is the assassination of at least 280 Iraqi academics and medical professionals, and the exodus of many more. This travesty has resulted in a “brain drain,” wherein those most able to solve the country’s most challenging and complex issues have relocated elsewhere to escape the threat of violence.
Systems of education in Iraq at all levels have suffered due to prolonged military conflict. Iraq is not nearly as far along as it could or should be in its educational development.