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Iraq’s Schools Suffering From Neglect and War

© UNICEF Iraq/2004
Iraq’s children overcome major difficulties to stay in school. This girl is crossing an open sewer on her way to the classroom.

UNICEF-Supported Survey Finds Enrolment Is Up But Facilities Not Keeping Pace; One-Quarter of Schools Need Major Repairs

AMMAN / GENEVA, 15 October 2004  –  The first comprehensive study on the condition of schools in post-conflict Iraq has confirmed that thousands of school facilities lack the basics necessary to provide children with a decent education. 

The school survey, released this week by the Iraq Ministry of Education, shows that one-third of all primary schools in Iraq lack any water supply and almost half are without any sanitation facilities.

The worst affected governorates are Thiqar, Salaheldin and Diala, where more than 70 per cent of primary school buildings either lack water service altogether or the existing water system is not working. 

The survey reveals that despite the difficulties, overall enrolment surged in the 2003/2004 school year.  But it also shows that the number of suitable school facilities has failed to keep pace with demand. 

Some 4.3 million children are currently enrolled in primary schools, up from 3.6 million in 2000, the most recent year for which data were available prior to this survey.  However, there are not enough desks, chairs, or classrooms. Many schools have had to double up, with a quarter of all primary schools in Iraq running two or three shifts per day – meaning reduced classroom time for each shift of students. 

In fact, while there are more than 14,000 named primary schools in Iraq, there are only 11,368 actual schools buildings available to house them.  Some 2,700 of these need major rehabilitation. 

“Iraq used to have one of the finest school systems in the Middle East,” said UNICEF Iraq Representative Roger Wright.  “Now we have clear evidence of how far the system has deteriorated.  Today millions of children in Iraq are attending schools that lack even basic water or sanitation facilities, have crumbling walls, broken windows and leaking roofs.  The system is overwhelmed.”  

Wright said that the decay is the result of over a decade of neglect and under-funding during the sanctions era, as well as the impact of three wars, starting with the Iran-Iraq war. 

The survey states that since March 2003, over 700 primary schools had been damaged by bombing – a third of those in Baghdad – with more than 200 burned and over 3,000 looted. 

“The current system is effectively denying children a decent education,” said Wright.  “The poor quality of the learning environment delivers a major blow to children, and the shortened school day delivers another.”   According to the survey, primary schools are most overcrowded in Basra governorate, where over 600 primary schools are sharing buildings.

In a statement earlier this week, Iraqi Minister for Education Dr. Sami Al-Mudaffar said that the survey “constitutes the most thorough and reliable source of educational data for Iraq,” and will contribute significantly to planning, managing and monitoring of the ongoing reconstruction efforts of the Ministry.

Lower Enrolment for Girls

The survey, which was conducted by the Iraq Ministry of Education with the help of UNICEF, collected data on students, teachers, and the condition of buildings for every kindergarten, primary, secondary, Yafi'een (Alternative), and vocational schools and higher education institutes in the country.  In all, the survey covered over 20,000 schools and institutes.

It revealed that of the 4.3 million children registered in Iraq’s primary schools, 2.4 million are boys and 1.9 million are girls, similar to pre-war ratios. The enrolment of girls was lower than boys in every grade and in every governorate.  In Wasit governorate, girls accounted for only 39% of registered students.  Enrolment of girls was highest in the governorates of Baghdad and Sulaimaniya, where they accounted for more than 46% of registered students.  “Gender equity must be urgently promoted,” said Wright.

Overcrowding, insecurity and the lack of water and sanitation facilities in schools are the three main causes of lower enrolment of girls.  On a daily basis, teachers, children and their families in Baghdad, and other flash-points of conflict and criminality, have to overcome the fear of bombings, explosions and kidnapping.   

Rehabilitation work carried out by private sector companies, UN agencies and NGOs on schools since March 2003 has only partially reduced the challenges.  Since the survey was carried out in January 2004, the worsening security situation has slowed down work on improving education facilities.

“The problem is not just delays in improving school buildings,” Wright observed.  “More importantly, poor security is also holding back improvements in the quality of teaching and learning that is going on inside the classroom.” 

He added that despite difficulties inside Iraq, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education, and many other partners continue to work to rehabilitate schools and conduct trainings to help ensure Iraqi children get the quality education they deserve.  


The Iraq Education Survey was carried out by the Iraqi government in January and February of 2004, and covered every educational institution in the country.  The findings are being released in three separate reports, the first covering statistics, the second qualitative analysis, and the third a detailed school-by-school mapping of findings.  UNICEF supported the Education Ministry in carrying out the survey as part of its standing brief as lead UN agency for education in Iraq. 


For further information, contact:

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York (1-212) 326-7426
Oliver Phillips, UNICEF Media, New York (1-212) 326-7583
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva (41-22) 909-5716

The report, fresh video from Iraq, and further information available now at https://www.unicef.org/





15 October 2004: More children are going to school – but facilities are badly lacking

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