This website has received the following article from a reader in Iraq, `Muhamed Hassan, setting out how the Iraqi education system - once one of the best in the Middle East - has been systematically run down. As a result, private investors are seeing their chance to make more profit out of that beleaguered country. We think the article repays printing in full: 

A few youngsters were noisily chatting in the bus when suddenly one item caught my attention. One of the boys glaringly revealed the exam paper for next week’s English test. When I enquired about the validity of the paper, he emphasised that his teacher had given the class the questions in advance so that they could pass the test.

And that’s where the tragedy lies: it is a sign of how the Iraqi education system is losing its credibility and respectability.

In an interview with the leader of the local Union of Iraqi Teachers in Basra, Jawad Al-Maryoosh, I got to know the many hardships that grind the wheels of educational progress to a halt.

In the 1970s & 80s the country boasted some of the region’s highest literacy rates, justifying the Arabic saying: ‘The Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish, the Iraqis read.’ Not anymore, alas.

The Iraqis are busy lamenting their glorious bygone days when even their neighbourly Arab folks used to get free scholarships to study in this country’s flourishing colleges and universities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Iraqis wonder what is happening to the $1.9 billion which the government has allocated to the education sector for 2017, at a time when standards are falling at a rapid rate.

How much of it has been siphoned off or bargained for or pocketed in? This is the land where accountability is mythical or fanciful.

Since 2003 the political class has gradually washed its hands of seeing the state sector investing properly in education, in favour of private investors taking the lead, though not necessarily efficiently.

State Schools

It is not unusual for the majority of governmental schools to be cursed with such characteristics: 
dilapidated buildings; 
poor hygiene and sanitation; 
running three or four shifts on the same day for three or four cohorts, thus shortening the school day to only three hours; 
poor discipline; 
widespread cheating; 
acute shortage of books; 
no lab work; 
no sports or arts classes; 
broken desks and filthy classes; 
uninterested learners; 
dispirited and poorly qualified teachers; 
poor attendance; 
no provision or diagnosis of children with learning disabilities; 
short academic year due to ubiquitous holidays; 
not enough textbooks or poor copying of existing books; 
unsuitable curriculum: a curriculum that is either disjointed or soulless; 
learning is usually by rote; 
GCSE or A level equivalent exam content is repeated from one year to the next with no challenge at all; 
unprofessional marking so that the majority of students could pass their exams: in fact marks are granted willy-nilly; 
training for existing teachers is superficial or unavailable;
supervision by the ministry of education is meaningless and toothless; 
corruption or corruptness is widespread even in the ministry itself, and parents rarely check their children’s progress as confidence in the system is at rock bottom.

According to the 2015-16 statistics, state schools are distributed as: 66 nurseries, 1229 primaries, 533 secondaries, 7 vocational institutions, and 14 technologies, in the city of Basra with an estimated population of 4 million.

Private Sector

As the influential ruling parties are proving to be inept at running Iraq, and to continue with the drive for the sweeping privatisation of the country’s infrastructure, investors have found their golden opportunity in the education domain which has resulted in a big leap of private schools at all costs.

With a few exceptions, these schools do not offer value for money. From the outside, they might appear glossy, but from the inside the majority are simply crumbling walls, with no real academic acclaim.

Like all things private, these schools play the game: they award certificates to guarantee that the same students are enrolled with them each year. They might slightly offer a better environment, better desks, more responsible teachers, but generally speaking, they do not deliver a worthy academic outcome in comparison to how much they charge. As the saying goes: ‘They are in it for the money.’

According to the 2015-16 statistics, there are (privately owned): 41 nursery schools, 164 primaries and 156 secondaries, in Basra again.   

Issues of Concern

As the divide between the rich and the poor intensifies, families are opting to choose work over education. Young boys are thrown to the woes of the market forces, pushed to bring themselves up in a tough and merciless environment full of disease, drugs and dog-eat-dog mentality.

Al Maryoosh said: ‘One regrettable reality in Iraqi society nowadays is that girls as young as 10 are coerced into leaving school and opt for marriage.

Some young girls (13-15 years old) are obliged by their families to marry rich old men or their young sons, only to give them up a few months or years later to search for another 13-15 year old girl.’

The result is humiliating and sometimes ends up in these young girls committing suicide, whereby they lost it all: their education, their families, and above all their precious tender lives.