Private schools normalize as public sector stagnates

Iraq’s state-funded education system was once known as the best in the region, but 19 years after the US-led invasion, that legacy is in tatters. Today, the country is experiencing the rise of private education, although many struggle to afford it.

The private school sector in Iraq is growing rapidly, despite the fact that many families struggle to pay fees. Indeed, private schools are increasingly seen as necessary in light of the huge decline in the quality of education offered in Iraqi public schools.

These suffer from many problems – including a lack of qualified teachers, dilapidated school buildings and sometimes even abusive treatment of students. On top of these issues, many parents feel pressured to pay for extra tutoring, anyway, to make sure their kids don’t miss certain parts of the curriculum.

For these reasons, families are forced to resort to financing private education for their children. This phenomenon has been gaining momentum over the past ten years, which explains the many advertisements for private schools plastered all over the streets and intersections of Baghdad.

“The private school sector in Iraq is growing rapidly, despite many families struggling to afford fees. Indeed, private schools are increasingly seen as necessary in light of the huge decline in quality of education offered by Iraqi state schools”

Education for sale in war-ravaged Iraq

The prominence of posters in public spaces shows that the target audience for these schools is no longer limited to wealthy families – they are now seen as an essential investment by many. This forces parents to set aside money from often tight budgets to send their children to private schools.

Linda Hassan works in Baghdad. She says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arabs Arabic-language sister publication, that she was forced to enroll her daughter in a private school, even though her salary is modest and private tuition is felt to be an unaffordable luxury.

She says, “School is safer for my daughter and will give her better opportunities. I want a positive future for my daughter and for her to get the grades she needs to qualify for a good university. We have decided to choose a private school because we know that the quality of education in public schools is extremely low.”

The public education sector in Iraq was once considered one of the best in the region. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, it has been decimated, leading to the rise of private schools [Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP via Getty]

A history teacher at Al-Hadara School on Falastin Street in eastern Baghdad, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained: “Private schools use a more modern approach in the way they deal with This reflects positively on the educational experience of students and the way exams are conducted, even though the curricula taught are broadly similar to those in public schools.Similarly, private schools are considered cleaner and provide snacks for breaks.

He pointed out that “legally registered private schools have the same entry requirements as public schools and are subject to the same labor laws and regulations. […]. Fees vary between schools, regions and provinces, however, they generally fluctuate between one and a half million Iraqi dinars ($1,000) and three million dinars ($2,100) per year. »

Government-funded public schools in decline

Lina Hamid Washah teaches at Al-Qahtaniyyeh Public School in Babel. She says, “Private schools are a factor that has led to the destruction of education in Iraq and the decline of government interest in public schools.

“Private schools are a factor that has led to the destruction of education in Iraq and the decline of government interest in public schools”

Instead, she says, the Department of Education is now much more interested in handing out licenses to those who want to set up private schools, in an unplanned way that has decimated government-funded schools. who have sunk into a second-class lower class. status. This puts the whole education sector at risk and we may only see its real results in ten years, she says.

She continues: “Most private school buildings only have five or six rooms. Sometimes they don’t even have an office for the director. Moreover, they do not properly fulfill their entire educational role – they should be seen more as classroom spaces. be retained. »

If Lina thinks that “the opening of education is a good thing”, she believes that it should not be done at the expense of academic rigor or a real interest in the school curriculum. She also points out that although students get high grades for the non-terminal years in these schools, the pass rate in the final exams (baccalaureate) is low.

“It shows that private schools, many of which are branded as commercial enterprises, are suffering from a crisis of low standards in education and teaching,” she says. She thinks the main reason many families resort to it is because they fear for their children’s safety in crumbling and dilapidated public school buildings. But she also suggests that some families choose private schools because they see them as representing social progress.

“Anyway, public schools are the mother [of education] in Iraq, and the Ministry of Education must invest in these schools and curb the growth of the phenomenon of private schools,” she says.

Hassan al-Rihani, an activist and teacher from Dhi Qar province, believes that the “experiment” with private schools in Iraq has been a success. He says that the competition that occurs between them to offer educational services is beneficial and has led to an increased focus on primary and secondary education.

“There are reports suggesting that politically linked interest groups and capital have invested funds in private schools, which is unacceptable, illegal and harmful to the education sector”

“They also provide jobs for many college graduates and those with higher education qualifications,” he says. However, he also acknowledges the commercial nature of many of these schools, saying that at least 50% of them are primarily focused on financial profit.

He continues: “The development of education can only come from strengthening the skills and capacities of teachers in public schools. Without this, all attempts will be patchwork initiatives, including private schools, which will not benefit the country in the long term. .”

Funding linked to the “unacceptable” policy

With regard to the Iraqi parliament, the independent deputy Yaser Witwit explains to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that “private schools are an excellent addition to the education sector, as long as politicians are kept out of it – there are reports suggesting that interest groups and politically linked capital have poured funds into private schools , which is unacceptable, illegal and harms the education sector.We must strengthen the pedagogical and administrative control of these schools by the competent commissions to evaluate their rules of procedure, their application and their respect.

In 2020, there were over 3,300 private schools in Iraq (not counting the Kurdistan region). In February 2021, the Ministry of Planning announced plans to build over 1,800 schools across the country that year to ease the crisis of lack of school buildings.

They aimed to address the issues of crowded classrooms and reduce the use of the dual-shift system (where there are separate morning and afternoon cohorts of students due to lack of space). The ministry said “the completed buildings include nurseries, primary, middle and preparatory schools, in addition to classrooms and administrative spaces.”

He pointed out that the completed schools were spread across different provinces, most in Basra where 444 schools were built, then Nineveh (346), Baghdad (214) and Anbar (176).

In 2020, there were over 3,300 private schools in Iraq [Getty]

A staff member of the Ministry of Education (who wished to remain anonymous) said: “Over the last ten years, the Ministry has granted at least two thousand licenses approving the establishment of private schools in different cities of Iraq The number is increasing in light of new conditions, such as capping the number of students per school.

The ministry staff member pointed out that there are problems in private schools, mentioning that some of them have started to basically poach the best performing students from public schools, offering them free transportation and exemptions. fees, with the aim of then taking credit for their grades.

He admits that previous governments erred in failing to allocate appropriate budgets to the Ministry of Education, which could have enabled it to rehabilitate public schools and raise the standard of education in them. Failure to do so has caused an exodus of students, he says.

This is an edited translation of our Arabic edition. To read the original article, click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and reflects the original editorial guidelines and reporting policies of the source. Any requests for corrections or comments will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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