Tuesday, September 15, 2009

WWB: destruction of educational systems

WHAT WAR BRINGS: destruction of educational systems

Like all other institutions in a country at war, education suffers greatly. This post is going to look at how much education has been impacted in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the US invasion and occupation has been a disaster all around. In Afghanistan, the picture is more complicated. Prior to the US and NATO troops arrival, education was in dismal shape, particularly education for girls. That has improved in Afghanistan, however many of the gains are now being lost.

Education in Afghanistan

Beginning with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, successive wars virtually destroyed the education system. Most teachers fled the country during the wars. By the middle of the 1990s, only about 650 schools were functioning. In 1996 the Taliban regime banned education for females, and the madrassa (mosque school) became the main source of primary and secondary education.

During the Taliban rule, the Revolutionary Association of Afghanistan Women (RAWA) did sometimes have home education of girls. They also ran schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. They are strong advocates of women’s rights and democracy and education. This is their website, and it is worth checking out.

Back in 2001, there was substantial international interest and aid to improve Afghanistan’s educational system. Wikipedia further reports:

By 2006, over 4 million male and female students were enrolled in schools throughout Afghanistan. At the same time school facilities or institutions were also being improved, with more modern-style schools being built each year.

Clearly, this is an improvement. But a lot of students are still studying in tents, there is a lack of teachers, and Afghanistan is dependent on foreign funding sources. Girls are often still not going to school. Basic infrastructure is not available, and some schools in Kabul have 30 classrooms and thousands of students. And, in the last year, the Taliban have destroyed 150 schools. They have attacked students and teachers, including horrific attacks where they threw acid on the faces of girls. In addition, many children cannot attend school, often because they need to work to support their families. These reports are from 2009:

Remote Communities Lack Schools

For families living in Afghanistan’s remote areas, access to education is anything but a given. There are currently 12,000 elementary, middle and high schools in Afghanistan. Fifty-percent have no permanent structure, with classes being held under tents or trees. Yet for many of the country’s smaller villages, access to a school, even a school with no permanent structure, is unavailable.

Attacks on Students and Teachers

The Ministry of Education is already seeing some frightening numbers for the current school term. Only three months into the year, a combined 103 students and faculty members have been killed or seriously injured. Last year a total of 203 were injured or killed over the course of the entire year. In addition to the 103 individual attacks, there have also been two schools gassed in the Paktian and Parwan provinces in the past few months. In each instance an unknown gas was used, causing vomiting, eye strain and general distress for dozens of students. Attacks on school children, particularly girls, is a recurring theme in Afghanistan, and the Ministry of Education anticipates an increase in such attacks in the run up to the August Presidential election, not just from the Taliban, but from political interests attempting to cause unrest.

Education and the Legacy of War

Decades of war have left an indelible mark on Afghan society. All around Kabul and Afghanistan’s rural areas one can find the rubble of bombed buildings, and Soviet era armored personnel carriers rusting away. Other stark reminders are the thousands of adolescent boys working to provide for their families.

There are so many problems facing Afghanistan in the area of education, it is difficult to say what the biggest issue is. This report is from 2008:

Attacks deprive 300,000 students of education

Zulaikha, 14, was the top student in her class last year but has been unable to attend school this year because of increased attacks on schools, rampant insecurity and threats to students and their families.

….. "We don't object to our daughter's education but we also don't want her to be killed on the way to school or her family members killed because of her going to school," said Zulaikha's father, Abdul Rahman.

The above article points out that more than six million students were enrolled in 11,000 schools across Afghanistan in 2008. That compares to about one million students (all boys) back in 2000. (The article below says that 1.2 million girls still do not attend school.) In 2008, more than 600 schools were closed due to insecurity. The Taliban claim that they are not behind the attacks on schools, and pin the blame on criminals. The situation has only gotten worse since 2008.

Taliban forces students out of schools into madrasas

The closure of schools and continuing attacks on students in the southern Helmand Province forced Abdul Wakil’s parents to send him to a madrasa (Islamic school) in neighbouring Pakistan. Almost two months later, Abdul Wakil [not his real name] quit the school outside Quetta, capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, and returned home. "In the madrasa we were taught to sacrifice ourselves for Jihad in Afghanistan and were told to do suicide attacks," the 14-year-old told IRIN in Lashkargah, centre of Afghanistan's insurgency-torn Helmand Province.

…… Madrasas not only offer immunity from Taliban attacks but also provide free board and lodging to students and are thus more attractive to poor families than modern schools. Tens of thousands of Afghan citizens are enrolled in Pakistani madrasas, MoE officials estimate.

It is clear that education has improved since the US and NATO forces have shown up, but it is also clear that the gains made are very much in jeopardy. A recent Kos diary detailed how the presence of the Taliban is spreading. And, if this is true after eight years, it is difficult to imagine another eight years will bring any improvement.


In Iraq, the situation is very clear-cut.

The US invasion and occupation has brought a tsunami of destruction to Iraq’s educational system.

Once seen as a model, Iraq struggles to rebuild its educational system

Iraq was once seen as a model of education in the Arab world. The country boasted some of the region’s highest literacy rates, justifying the Arabic saying, “The Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish, the Iraqis read.” Today, up to one-quarter of Iraq's adults are illiterate. Years of war and instability have left their mark. Rather than focus on education, many Iraqis give priority to basic survival, while a decline in the skills of the country’s teachers has taken its toll on those students who do seek to learn.

That article details obstacles standing in the way of sending children to school, including internally displaced refugees, children needing to work to support their families, security problems, and a lack of schools. Teaching standards have deteriorated since the US invasion. The article points out that the children who are refugees in Syria and Jordan are also denied an education.

Many children are no longer attending school, instead trying to find work so that they and their family can eat. Poverty is rampant, and families cannot afford school books or supplies for their children. Violence in Iraq had a tremendous effect on education. Professors have been targeted, with hundreds assassinated. This is a report from October 2008:

Iraq’s unschooled children evidence of devastation’s depth

This is the way many Iraqi children live, working for meager wages or staying at home instead of going to school. Though Iraq's Education Ministry disputes their statistics, the United Nations and aid organizations estimate that about a fifth of school-aged children here don't attend. Girls and children who live in rural areas are particularly affected. Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq in recent months, but fallout from the bloodshed — lost livelihoods, broken families and disrupted institutions — will linger for a long time. Children begging for money or selling cold sodas from the side of the road are everywhere in Baghdad, even during school hours.

….. By late 2006, many parents had decided it was too dangerous to send their children to school. Other children stopped attending when their families were forced by sectarian violence to flee their neighborhoods. Some have re-enrolled and some haven't.

And the devastation is from primary school to university, and every step in between. The attacks on academics come from all sides.

Iraq: A cradle of civilization in ruins

But now Iraq's educational system is in ruins. On May 18, 2007, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a major story on Iraq 's universities under this headline: "Iraq 's Universities Near Collapse: Hundreds of professors and students have been killed or kidnapped, hundreds more have fled, and those who remain face daily threats of violence." Students in Iraq are without teachers, without books and computers, without university structures. And years are going by. Those who have taken refuge in Syria and Jordan (estimated at more than 2.2 million Iraqis by summer of 2007) are often unable to avail themselves of the higher education of those countries. Only a few succeed in being resettled elsewhere.

Iraq's academics targeted by militias

These assassinations have hit nearly every academic discipline and every university in Iraq - except perhaps those in Kurdistan. The abduction and murder of Iraqi academics has become a common event. It is disrupting university life and forcing Iraqi talent to flee the country. Those behind the attacks can be from all sides. They include people from the former regime who have lost their position and influence. They also include people who seek to "cleanse" universities of those who collaborated with the former regime. They include sectarian forces who want to get rid of academics who don't belong to the majority sect of the area. Some political and religious groups want universities to reflect their own version of Islam.

Hundreds of them have been murdered or disappeared. Many more have become refugees either inside Iraq or in another country. It is not only a destruction of Iraq’s institutions of higher learning; it is a destruction of their culture, civilization and future. It is designed to make sure that Iraq is very weak for decades to come.

The WHO issued a report on the conditions of Iraq’s schools earlier this year.

Schools in Iraq

The report came as a result of a study that was conducted by health ministry and World Health Organization. The report said 50 percent of the schools are not clean and 70 percent of these schools are suffering a lack of drink water. The Minister of Education denied this report although his ministry was participating in the writing of this report. The minister said those who wrote the report have political agenda and they are not academics or professionals. He described the numbers that came in the report as imprecise. Everyone in Iraq knows about the bad conditions in most Iraqi schools. They have been here since Saddam's time.

There is now widespread corruption inside the educational system, just like there is widespread corruption inside all of Iraq, another result of the war and occupation.

The destruction is so deep

I saw one of my friends who teaches English language in of the high schools. After few minutes of talking about the main issue that all Iraqis talk about, I mean security situation and life troubles, I asked him about his work and thought to hear some complains because of the lazy students but the story he told me was something completely new for me and killed any hope to have a new good life in this country.

He told me that one of his students is the son of his educational inspector. My friend told me that this student could not pass the exams because he knows nothing about English language. The educational inspector duty is to check whether the teacher is doing his duty correctly and to help him in passing over any problems to improve the level of the students but this one is completely different. In addition to neglecting his own son, he threatened to send my friend to jail because he did not give the success mark for his son. The educational inspector said "I will send this teacher to jail and if he believes that anyone can help him then he is wrong"

In Iraq, high school students have to take a comprehensive exam that will determine the future course of their lives. It is very important to do well on the exam, and students are out of school for weeks so that they can study full time. An Iraqi student in Mosul (who goes by the blogger name of Sunshine) took the exam this year and wrote about it in her blog. It was a very stressful time for her, because she knew that the exam would determine her future. The end result seems to be that the Ministry of Education used differing standards to grade these exams, depending on where the student lived (which is dependent on sect these days in Iraq).

Here is a bit of her report:

The huge difference between the students' marks in different Iraqi cities made the iniquitousness so evident.

…… For our government I'd like to say something: I studied and prepared for the 6th grade so well, 16 months, at least 5860 hours of studying (12 hours per day, I usually study from 11 to 14 hours everyday) I tried to concentrate in spite of the hard situation, losing dear people, explosions and shooting, I did everything I could, I studied under the stairs during fights, my house was damaged for SEVEN times but I didn't give up ,I studied with chaos around me, I remember all the times I studied in the darkness till late time at night and used candles' light or torches, I walked for hours to reach the lectures at 2 pm while the temperature was more than 50 degrees, I didn't complain about carrying my books and searching for a room to study, as we closed all of the windows with wood because of the continuous explosions, I didn't care about the cold weather when the temperature in under zero degrees, or the hot weather in summer, I said, impossible in nothing for me, after all the suffering all I am asking you is to give us the result we deserve, based on our efforts and cleverness, not our cast or religions ..

That gives us some idea just how difficult it is to get an education in Iraq, even when you really want to learn and your parents really want you to go to school – and they have the financial resources to pursue this goal.

Here is a report from McClatchy’s on this scandal:

Protests broke out this summer in three Sunni Muslim cities in which conspicuously low numbers of students passed their national exams, fueling suspicions that Iraq's Shiite Muslim-led government is discriminating against Sunnis and others.

Alaa Makki, a lawmaker who heads the parliament's education committee, said he was troubled by allegations that the Ministry of Education discriminated against minorities, noting that students failed their exams at disproportionately high rates in Sunni Anbar province, in the Sunni city of Tikrit and in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad. Education Minister Khudhayir al Khuzai is a Shiite. Just 27 percent of the students passed their 12th-grade national examinations in Fallujah, a city in Anbar. "These people can't suddenly have lost their ability to study and all failed," Makki said. "There is an error, and we hope to correct it."

Sunshine lives in Mosul. The Ministry of Education is looking into the allegations. This corruption, and the overall neglect and decay of the educational system, are inspiring some Iraqi parents to send their children to private schools – which were forbidden under the Saddam regime. There are now 175 private schools in Iraq.

There are women who were elected to provincial council of Baghdad who are working for better schools and education. This is a report from September 2009. Maybe there is hope that Iraq will once again return to the status it had years ago, when it was one of the best educational systems in the Middle East.

Baghdad’s women leaders fight for education

Mahdia Abdulhussein’s frustration with the Baghdad school system drove her to stand for the provincial council, where she is fighting alongside other women members to advance education and children’s issues. Abdulhussein, whose background is in education, said her primary mission is to improve the quality of schools devastated by war and provide more support for students and teachers. “There are many failures in curricula that impact education and students,” she said. Her passion for education reform is shared by many of the 11 women on Baghdad’s 57-member provincial council. Many of the women served as teachers before moving into politics.


And over in Pakistan, the refugee crisis and violence is having a major negative effect on education. Part of the problem is that the displaced people may not be able to return home until the end of the year, and another major problem is the Taliban destruction of schools.

Schooling, food security worry returnees

Arsenault said about a million children were at risk of not starting school in September, mainly due to the widespread destruction of school buildings by the Taliban in Swat and the fact that 4,000 schools continue to shelter IDPs.

According to media reports, between 170 and 200 schools for girls were destroyed by militants in Swat.

QUOTE: But the words of the vanquished come later, sometimes long after the war, when grown men and women unpack the suffering they endured as children: what it was like to see their mother or father killed or taken away, or what it was like to lose their homes, their community, their security, and to be discarded as human refuse. But by then few listen. The truth about war comes out, but usually too late. We are assured by the war-makers that these stories have no bearing on the glorious violent enterprise the nation is about to inaugurate. And, lapping up the myth of war and its sense of empowerment, we prefer not to look. ~ Chris Hedges

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: destruction of education. (Jury is still out on Afghanistan, but it is not looking good.)

Iraqis before the invasion in 2003

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