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Carol Bellamy remarks on Iraq School Survey

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, Geneva, 15 October 2004:

Good morning.

Happy again to be in Geneva.  I wanted to seize on my presence here to talk about this remarkable education survey from Iraq.  We think this survey is fascinating in its detail and in what it represents.  It’s a major milestone for Iraq because it is the new government’s first comprehensive look at what’s happening in a key social sector.

I’ll make a few general observations and then I’d be happy to take questions.

  • First, this is an Iraq government survey.  UNICEF actively encouraged it and helped fund it, and we welcome it because it reflects a real commitment by the new government to improve the lives of Iraqi children.  The Ministry released the findings to the Iraqi public on Monday in Baghdad.
  • The survey covers every learning facility in Iraq – some 20,000 institutions, from kindergartens through universities.  It was carried out in the first two months of this year. 
  • Clearly it does not reflect school improvements that have happened since February of this year.  But it does reflect accomplishments by government, UN agencies, and private companies achieved prior to February of this year.

Some key findings:

  • Total enrolment is up. At the primary level 4.3 million children are registered – up from 3.6 million in 2000, the most recent year for which reliable data are available.  Clearly this reflects a real desire by Iraqi families to have their children in school.
  • But the present school infrastructure doesn’t come close to satisfying demand.  The survey finds all kinds of school overcrowding, schools hosting up to three shifts a day, many schools operating in damaged buildings.  More than one-quarter of all school buildings are still in need of serious repair or reconstruction.  (About 2700 schools.)
  • Inadequate water and sanitation facilities are particularly troubling. 
    One-third of schools don’t have any running water.  Half lack working sanitation facilities.  Among other things this discourages attendance by girls – and that is reflected in the gender gap in enrolment.
  • The infrastructure challenges have a serious impact on the quality of learning by children – they face overcrowding, lack of materials, and they’re being short-changed on time to learn because the next shift is coming.  Quality of learning is a real issue.
  • Finally, the survey found that thousands of schools were damaged by the war and its aftermath.  Some 700 school buildings had been damaged by bombs, and 3,000 suffered from looting.  Looting led to a lack of chairs, desks, and other basics in many schools across the country.

I must emphasize that the problems this survey identifies are only partly attributable to the most recent conflict.  In fact, Iraq’s schools have been in a general state of decay for years, going back to the Iraq-Iraq war. 

That war, the Gulf War, this recent conflict, and the impact of years of sanctions, isolation, and mismanagement under the old regime have all taken their toll.

So while the survey makes clear that Iraq’s schools have a long way to go, it’s important to recognize that these problems were years in the making.

What can be done to fix the problems?  You are all aware that humanitarian and development efforts are severely hampered by lack of security.  This is not just a problem for the UN, but for NGOs, private contractors, and the Iraqi government itself. 

Major donors like USAID, the UK Department for International Development, the Japanese government and others have invested significant resources into the education sector.  Just yesterday the World Bank agreed to provide the Iraqi government with funds to repair 140 schools and build 100 new ones.

But the security situation makes it difficult to make real progress.  This is the crux of the problem.  I believe there are plenty of resources, and plenty of will to improve the schools.  Security hazards are the main obstacle at this point.

I wanted to call attention to this survey for two main reasons.  One, because UNICEF believes the Iraqi government deserves real praise for carrying out this type of comprehensive and serious look at schools in the midst of very difficult conditions.  This is the first nation-wide survey of learning conditions for children, and we congratulate the government for doing it.

More importantly, a quality basic education for every child is the portal to a better future for Iraq.  The increase in enrolment shows that Iraqis want their children to learn.  Education equals hope. 

But this survey makes clear that the situation in the schools is far short of what it should be.  To build a peaceful, hopeful Iraq we have to help the Iraq people build a strong, healthy school system.  At the moment we’re far short of that.



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