Parents and Teachers Can Save Iraq’s Ailing Education System, So Let Them

Education system in Iraq

Hamida Lasseko
A girl is solving school exercises
UNICEF Iraq/2019/Anmar
20 May 2019

Iraq used to have one of the best education systems in the region, but decades of conflict and under investments have severely curtailed learning outcomes for children.  One out of every two public schools require rehabilitation, classrooms are overcrowded, and teachers are in short supply, particularly in areas affected by conflicts like Mosul and Sinjar. 

The average size of classroom in most public schools is 60 students per 1 teacher and the multiple shifts means the school day is reduced to three hours of learning before students vacate the premise. It’s clear that under these conditions, children are struggling to learn, and many drop out. A recent UNICEF-supported survey showed that 54% of children from poorer background do not complete secondary education and many of them end up in the informal job market, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The Iraqi government’s move towards decentralization with the aim of shifting political and administrative powers from the Central Government to the Governorates offers an opportunity for local communities to participate in solving local issues, including improving the quality of education for their children.

In partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF is supporting the rollout of School-Based Management (SBM) to empower local communities to create child-friendly schools and improve learning outcomes.

By transferring the financial and decision-making process to schools, SBM enables head teachers, teachers, parents, and community members to work together to take day-to-day decisions that will improve school governance as well as children’s performance.

Participating schools establish a Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) or School Management Committee (SMC). Membership of which includes school principals or head teachers, teachers, parents and community members who are committed to invest their time and skills to improve the school. 

To date, over 1,000 schools across Iraq have signed up for SBM with amazing results. Al-Iman school in Baghdad Al-Alawy is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Baghdad. It was built in 1956 and lack of repairs over the years meant the building was in a bad condition and earmarked for demolition by the Department of Education.

Al Iman’s 800 or so students would have been transferred to other schools in the area; further compounding the issue of overcrowded classrooms. When the school adopted the SBM model, parents, teachers and students worked together to rehabilitate and save the school.  UNICEF provided financial support to buy building materials and parents contracted the laborers to do the work. The dilapidated building is now a child-friendly school that provides an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.

The success of SBM schools in Iraq shows parental involvement has a very significant impact on a child's achievement and attainment at school. Under the guidance of the national and the regional SBM steering committee, the success we have seen in Al Iman and the other SBM schools can be replicated across Iraq.