[Homestead] Six million Iraqi children start public school

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 28 20:54:37 EDT 2004

The Jihadists better not mess with Iraqi schoolchildren or they're all 
dead, with a lot of torture preceeding death.  No nonsense about a fair 
trial and a prison sentence.


	The Christian Science Monitor - csmonitor.com 

from the September 28, 2004 edition - 

    Iraqis wary as school year starts

*Six million students are expected to begin school Saturday in a key 
test of security.*

*By Howard LaFranchi* | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

*BAGHDAD* - Khadija Ali Mijaual plans to greet children and parents at 
the front gate of the Nejib Pasha elementary school this Saturday, just 
as she has done every first day of school for the past 17 years she's 
been principal.

Along with her optimism for the learning she anticipates in the school's 
whitewashed classrooms, this year she'll be holding her breath: How many 
parents, given Baghdad's uncertain climate, will keep their children at 

"I've worked hard to make the school extra inviting and attractive this 
year, and the teachers will be here ready to teach," says Mrs. Mijaual. 
"But the reports I'm getting tell me maybe half the children won't come, 
at least not in the beginning. Parents are just too afraid."

Much is being made of January elections as the critical hurdle the new 
regime must clear to prove its utility. But this week another crucial 
test confronts the interim government, as it opens schools Saturday to 6 
million students.

In a country where more than two-thirds of the population is under 25, 
the question on parents' minds is whether the government of Prime 
Minister Iyad Allawi - which many believe is so far failing to assure 
general security - can keep the children safe.

"It's really like an early trial of what the elections will be," says 
Sadoun Al-Dulame, executive director of the Iraq Center for Research and 
Strategic Studies. "If the government can't protect the schools from the 
violent groups, how can they hope to guarantee elections?"

Citing heightened security concerns, the three-month-old interim 
government already put off the traditional early September opening of 
schools. But if anything, the past month, with its increased bombings, 
kidnappings, and insurgent activity, only heightened the public's doubts 
and placed an even heavier burden on the government.

*Barometer for a new Iraq*

The role of elections and "the demo- cratic process" in building a new 
Iraq is important, but for many Iraqis it's the more tangible daily 
measures of well-being that determine their feelings about this new 
political direction, some experts say. Chief among those 
close-to-the-heart barometers are schools.

"Not everyone thinks about democracy when they evaluate whether this 
dramatic change we've undergone is worth it," says Riyadh Aziz Hadi, 
dean of the College of Political Sciences at Baghdad University. "I 
might put it at the top of my list, but for many people it's jobs and 
the schools that count," he says.

The terrible events in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month - where 
Chechen separatist terrorists attacked a primary school, killing 
hundreds of children - are also in the back of people's minds, if not on 
the tip of their tongues. "How can I send my children to school when our 
situation is not so different from what struck those poor Russian 
people?" asked a mother recently on a Baghdad call-in radio show.

Most Iraqis say they are confident such a tragedy could never occur 
here, but some add that they never thought such tactics as suicide 
bombings would ever be used here, either.

*Parents on edge*

The nervousness has one man, who is building a new house near the Nejib 
Pasha school, insisting he will keep his children home this year. 
"Better to lose a year of school than lose their life," says the father 
of three school-aged children, who requested that his name not be used.

Other parents say that even with the turmoil they will send their 
children to school for a simple reason. "Without it they can't have a 
good life," says Ali Hussain Mohamed, as he makes last-minute 
arrangements for son Yassir and daughter Hiba at the Al Waziriyah 
elementary school.

"Their 12-year-old brother will walk with them and God willing they will 
be safe," says Mr. Mohamed, a guard who works at a house opposite the 
nearby Italian Embassy. "But I do know the dangers," he adds, "because I 
myself have been shot at in attacks on the embassy."

*Better schools*

Still, Mohamed says he is more interested in questions he has about the 
schools: Are there sufficient materials to help the children learn, do 
the schools have modern equipment like computers to help his children 
prepare successfully for the future?

"Their education already improved last year because teachers received 
higher salaries," he says. "There were fewer bribes and teachers were 
able to focus more on teaching."

Indeed, education officials cite dramatically improved teacher salaries 
as one of the major accomplishments of the postwar period. A primary 
school teacher who made 3,000 dinars a month before the war now makes 
240,000 - about $165.

Other improvements include new textbooks in some subjects and grade 
levels, new teacher-training programs, dropout outreach, and accelerated 
learning for gifted students - some of which are programs either 
initiated or partly funded by the US Agency for International Development.

"The new atmosphere in our schools can be seen in the reform of religion 
classes," says Majeed al-Alaq, director general of education for the 
Education Ministry. "Before there was only mention of Islam, but now 
these classes include learning respect for other religions."

All schools will have sufficient guards to ensure security, Dr. Alaq 
says, but clearly his preference is to focus on the new direction of 
Iraq's schools. "We are doing new things to retain children who are 
falling behind, and we are trying new ideas to bring back small children 
who have left school."

Every city in Iraq is under orders to open at least one center to teach 
reading and math to 10 to 14 year olds who have dropped out of school. 
This program alone could bring as many as 500,000 children back to 
school. "Many of these children are the breadwinners of their families, 
so we have to come up with ideas like evening classes to reach as many 
children as possible," Alaq says.

*Toward a stable Iraq*

As important as all these new programs are, Alaq says the schools have a 
function that transcends textbooks and test scores - they are a crucial 
building block in a stable and just Iraq. "When people see children 
going to school, they will be relieved and feel more confident that we 
as Iraqis are moving forward," he says. "People will see better schools 
and feel we are building a better country."

That view is echoed by many of Iraq's teachers. Shaimaa Said, an English 
teacher at a Baghdad commercial high school for girls, talks 
enthusiastically about a new program she and other teachers developed - 
and which the ministry approved - that will involve a longer school day 
and more classroom time.

"Before if you had an idea no one would take it under consideration, but 
now we feel there are people higher up who are listening and who want to 
get new ideas," says the young woman beginning her sixth year of teaching.

With Iraq's coed universities under threat from Islamic extremists 
promising attacks if the sexes aren't separated, Ms. Said says that at 
least single-sex high schools don't have to worry about that. But she 
doubts her students would be put off by the uncertain security climate 
anyway, she says. "They see a diploma as a ticket to a better future."

*Faith in education*

It's that faith in education that has Aruba Aziz Jassim predicting a 
successful opening day of school. "People know things are changing, and 
they don't want their children missing out," says the elementary school 
teacher from the Shiite city of Karbala, who is one of about 12,000 
teachers back in the classrooms after being dismissed under Saddam 
Hussein for religious or political reasons.

Reviewing her new Baghdad teaching assignment, Mrs. Jassim - herself 
veiled in black, but with a young daughter in a Queen Barbie T-shirt in 
tow - says positive changes in the schools are an encouraging sign to 

"People won't give up their schools, no matter what they are facing," 
she says. "Security is one thing, but when it concerns children Iraqis 
are a strong people."

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