In 2003/2004 UNICEF and the Ministry of Education (MOE) conducted a school survey which revealed high or increasing ratio of out-of-school students and in particular among girls. The purpose was to identify their reasons for leaving or not attending school, assess their desire to go back to school and estimate the population of working children. The survey revealed that 50 per cent of these young people had left school for economic reasons, another 18 per cent due to poor academic achievement, and 11 per cent because of social obstacles. (The remainder gave several other reasons for not attending or leaving school.) Approximately 30 per cent of the children were involved in some form of employment. The majority, 92 per cent, expressed their wish to go back to school.
Strategy used and actions taken
To meet the needs of these young people, the MoE and UNICEF launched the Alternative Learning Project (ALP) in 10 of Iraq’s 18 governorates in 2005. This alternative avenue of learning for out-of-school children and adolescents who have either never had any regular schooling or who dropped out at an early stage condenses the primary school curriculum, ordinarily six years of school, into a three-year period. The ALP is particularly important for girls, many of whom have missed several years of education and who, upon resumption of their studies, have to enrol in classes below their age group.
In order to carry out such a project, UNICEF and partners worked hand-in-hand with the MoE, resulting in the development of the first agreed national strategy on ALP. This covered all the important issues, from the mode of teacher training and the role of the community, to eventual expansion of the pilot project to national scale and MoE ownership of the accelerated learning modality. Trained lead teachers began teacher training, familiarizing them with the compressed curriculum and adapting teaching methods to the needs of the specific age group. Special ALP textbooks were printed and distributed, and the programme was launched, using classrooms in existing primary and intermediate schools.
In the scholastic year 2004/2005, 800 ALP teachers were trained in the selected 10 governorates and some 4000 students sat for their exams at end of last school year where 75% of them successfully passed.
In 2005, UNICEF developed a draft Non Formal E ducation strategy paper and manuals and guidelines for ALP master trainers. Thirty-six master trainers were then trained on several concepts including child rights, good citizenship, dealing with violence inside the classroom and the importance of teaching life skills. In 2006/2007, these master trainers are currently training an additional 1000 teachers in an expanded programme that targets 16 governorates and an additional 20,000 students. UNICEF is also supporting the printing and distribution of 30,000 ALP text book sets in Center/South governorates and 10,000 textbook sets in two northern governorates.
Initial experience has provided the following lessons, which will help refine the ALP strategy: (1) the demand to participate in the project considerably exceeded the available capacity of schools able to provide ALP; (2) communities quickly took up the challenge to provide alternative venues in which to conduct ALP classes and some built extra classrooms, even from mud bricks; and (3) the importance the Iraqi people ascribe to education, even under the most difficult circumstances, is still very high.
Given recent increases in the number of out-of-school children, especially girls, caused by the insecurity on the ground, there is a need to expand the accelerated learning modality. Negotiations are ongoing with the MoE to do so, with advocacy for greater community ownership. Meanwhile, it is also necessary to mainstream youths who have already participated in ALP into formal secondary and vocational education. UNICEF, UNESCO and MoE are working closely together to develop a broader non-formal education policy, with ALP as an integral component.
More and more participants and people in authority are recognising the importance of giving out-of-school youth an opportunity to be constructively engaged in learning, at a time when they otherwise might despair and fall victim to the destructive violence sweeping Iraq.
One of the major challenges is the development of sufficient community-based support for ALP to promote ownership and ensure its future sustainability. Local initiatives are therefore needed to further foster learning opportunities for out-of-school children. In 2007, an additional 1,200 ALP teachers are being trained to cover such expansion. Major efforts will be made to develop a comprehensive policy on non-formal education and build the capacity of the Ministry of Education department in charge of it. Advocacy to increase the MoE’s ownership and financial inputs will be ongoing.