Do not wonder at generations of the simple-minded and poorly-educated in a country lacking basic principles of respect for knowledge, granting students their rights, or overlooking the energies and talents they hold within them only in need of a chance to be unleashed. In this, there is no need for wonder. In Greater Iraq, government universities are dying slowly but surely, and with them the dreams of entire generations.
A tale of educational environments
My writing on this subject was triggered by a revolting incident that occurred during one of my years in university during a lecture delivered by a dear professor. All of a sudden, amid our focus on his teachings, droplets of rain began to fall from the hall’s ceiling, quickly flooding the room’s floor, pooling with the accrued detritus of paper, tissues, and pencil shavings already there.
It was here, in the center of sciences, culture and civilizational thought that we studied in a classroom as it calmly rained on us, soaking the clothes of some of our female classmates. The professor, having returned from the United Kingdom to gift his people and nation with the knowledge and ideas he had carried so far in hopes of applying it here was suffice it to say, surprised. He stops the lecture temporarily for a few minutes and looks at the drops of water, and gently shakes his head in astonishment. In the ‘Fallen World’ outside the campus, buildings and large commercial markets are built, and their pillars and floors increase at a remarkable speed, until dangerous contradictions rain down on its very source, leading to a decline of science in all levels and types, as well as the outputs of those requesting it.
I did not mention the continued farce and failure of that specific pedagogical instruction (Data show). As for the broken, insufficient seats, they forced students to abide by morality of necessity, taking turns to sit due to their large numbers, and the lack of additional halls that could allow them to learn in a civilized manner. How high could their level of retention possibly be then, with classrooms exceeding 60 students in one instance?
Education and illiteracy in the past
The Iraqi Interim Constitution of 1970 stipulates that the State guarantees the right to free education at all primary, intermediate, secondary and university levels and for all citizens. Primary education is compulsory, and comprehensive literacy is a fundamental objective. The state is responsible for the formulation and supervision of educational policies, as well as the financing of education and development and implementation of educational programs.
The educational system in Iraq is run from two distinct levels, namely from primary school to the end of secondary school, managed by the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, Undergraduate, Graduate and Postgraduate Studies are run by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. The catastrophe here is that education is undergoing an unprecedented degree of backwardness, according to one UNESCO report, which states prior to the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraq had one of the best education systems in the region.
Curricula under sectarian attack
It is worth noting that the current government in Iraq has exhibited the worst collection of policies and behaviours towards education in recorded history. Previous governments also adopted sectarian policies that manipulated the contents curricula, incorporating sectarian and political information. To this end, the Sunnis impose their own themes, with the same done by their Shia and Kurdish counterparts, with each side spreading its ideas, and excluding the other.
Violence and Terrorism are leading cause of regression
Schools are increasingly empty due to ceaseless sectarian and criminal attacks. Parents are increasingly concerned about the safety of their children, especially girls who are routinely subjected to sexual harassment and abduction. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, more than 300 teachers were killed and 1,158 injured in 2006 alone, while many schools closed as a result of violence and threats.
In one instance, the governor of Diyala announced that 90% of schools were closed due to terrorist threats and acts. Human rights offices regularly receive information on the trend of mass migration by qualified Iraqis from conflict-ridden areas to safer regions. The Ministry of Higher Education also recorded the assassination of 154 university professors from 2003 to 2006.
Baghdad itself has seen the highest rate of assassinations, amounting to nearly 44% of all academic assassinations in Iraq. In truth, the rate of student assassinations has risen to more than 5% of total assassinations. Nearly 400 cases of assassinations of academics have been recorded overall, with multitudes received threatening letters that trouble both teachers and students.
In 2017, during the operations to liberate Mosul from the grip of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), 11 faculties at Mosul University were bombed by the international coalition against ISIL under the cover of military operations pursuing a scorched earth policy. In addition, 300 primary and secondary schools were blown up due to the military actions of various Iraqi factions that took part in the liberation operations.
Iraq’s ranking in the world
It is a shame that the leaders and officials in charge of the educational portfolio maintain such simplistic thinking, which only adds to a chaotic outcome that wastes potential and opportunities for progress and cultural and scientific construction. It was therefore inevitable that Iraq experience further regression, falling to the 151st ranking according to the World Bank’s index on doing business globally of 189 countries. This is in spite of a report published by the Wall Street Journal which ranks Iraq 9th among countries with the most natural resources in the world.
The World Education Quality Index, issued by the Davos World Economic Forum, shows that Iraq and five other Arab countries were not evaluated for this year given they lack the basic quality standards qualifying them for admission.
A report on 2015-2016 declared Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia as countries lacking the most basic quality standards in education, making them ineligible for an assessment spanning 140 countries.
The index’s assessment of the quality of education and country rankings is based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. The index’s scores are calculated by collecting public and private data on 12 basic categories, including institutions, macroeconomic environment, health and basic education, university education and training, the efficiency of commodity markets, efficiency of labor markets, technological development, sizes of the market, and development of business and innovation, all of which are unduly degraded in Iraq.
These figures are dangerous in terms of contradiction centering on the extent of the state’s capabilities in spite of its achievements and efforts at development. More critically, it points to the extent of the Arab governments’ neglect of sensitive issues of education that will determine the progress or decline of entire peoples.
Immediate intervention for governments
It is necessary to reconsider the conditions of government universities and to focus on providing an organized scientific environment. The most critical priority is to educate people about the importance of science and a culture of achievement in a correct and systematic way; to effectively liberate their fascinated minds from these temporary stone-age developments, while pushing them to overcome satisfaction with low levels of ambition, and furthermore send an urgent message to unify efforts by higher educational authorities and dedicate further efforts and energies to this field. Moreover, it also necessitates a call for the reform of the internal environment, which is key to activating a dynamic engine that contributes greatly to developing the country and ranking it in a distinguished cultural and historical classification.
The education crisis in Iraq remains an important issue in need of urgent reform, amidst widespread political chaos and corruption in government bureaus, as well as the brain drain of its top minds, scientists, and teachers due to extortion and threats. This is a call for United Nations and international organizations to intervene immediately to find logical and systematic solutions to save the reality of education in the country.