As school year reaches midpoint, UNICEF says Iraq needs urgent help to keep school doors openAMMAN, 14 February 2007 – Millions of school bags, books, pencils and other essential learning materials are now being delivered to Iraq’s primary schoolchildren, thanks to a national school supply drive organized by Iraq’s Ministry of Education and UNICEF with vital support from the European Commission.
The drive aims to reach all Iraqi primary schools, bringing basic learning tools to millions of children aged 6-11. Materials will be distributed both centrally from Baghdad and directly to local governorates, reaching even the most remote schools. Supplies will arrive in classrooms in advance of the second half of the school year.
But UNICEF stresses that children need more protection, both within and outside of school walls. Iraq’s education system is now dangerously vulnerable, with many schools not operating normally. Violence is compounding the corrosive effects of years of under-investment throughout the 1990s, depleting teaching staff and eroding school infrastructure.
The current insecurity is making the choice for families to send their children to school a life-threatening one in some areas. Over 800,000 children may now be out of school according to a recent estimate by Save the Children UK - up from 600,000 in 2004. These children are likely to miss out on their right to education altogether unless they receive urgent support and protection, said Roger Wright, UNICEF Representative for Iraq.
“Iraq’s parents and teachers have shown unshaken determination to educate their children through years of deprivation, but the current terrible insecurity is testing many to the limit,” Wright said. “Iraq’s education system needs a great deal more investment and attention to survive this time of crisis.”
Wright acknowledged the great commitment on the part of Iraq’s government to prioritize education even under the most difficult circumstances. In the last two years alone more than 159 damaged school buildings and 800 school water and sanitation facilities have been restored, 30,000 teachers retrained and basic school materials delivered directly to Iraq’s children with the support of UNICEF and partners including UNESCO and the European Commission.
“We believe that education is the best way to conserve our children and our future through so much change and uncertainty,” said Dr. Khudhair Al-Khuzai’i, Iraqi Minister of Education. “It is extremely important to ensure that Iraq’s schools remain stimulating and pleasant environments for children to learn.”
But Dr. Al-Khuzai’i said that Iraq needs more support than the government can provide on its own – particularly in Baghdad and the surrounding governorates. With so many families now displaced inside the country (over 1.8 million people since 2003, with 640,000 displaced in 2006 alone), some schools are losing pupils while others are becoming overwhelmed.
UNICEF is calling on the international community to provide more support to protect Iraq’s education system during the current emergency, including non-traditional learning programmes which are already a lifeline for children who cannot access normal schooling.
Wright said that Iraq’s schools should be cherished, not just as centres of learning, but as a rich resource for Iraq’s recovery. A UNICEF-supported project to make schools a catalyst for the restoration of local social services such as water, sanitation and health care and speed community development is now ongoing in many parts of Iraq. Schools are also the best place to give psychological support to children affected by violence and displacement, providing a focus for stability and healing within Iraqi society.
“Schools are a symbol of hope to Iraq’s families,” Wright said. “We must do everything in our power to keep Iraq’s classroom doors open, welcoming and safe for children.”
About UNICEF in Iraq:
UNICEF has been on the ground in Iraq since 1983, working to bring all Iraqi women and children the essentials of a better life. Today UNICEF’s programmes are reaching millions of children across the breadth of Iraq with a package of critical care. UNICEF invests approximately $100 million each year to improve basic health services, ensure a quality education, rebuild water and sanitation systems and protect children from abuse, violence and exploitation. Every day, UNICEF’s national network of staff and partners is providing vital humanitarian assistance to families in crisis and supporting reconstruction and recovery efforts. Even in the most challenging conditions, Iraq’s children can still count on UNICEF to deliver for them.