Islam and the Education System


Photo: rferl.org

The Iraqi education system has been one of the country’s most dynamic sectors over the past three decades. Prior to the mid-1980s, education in Iraq was considered of the best in the Middle East and North Africa. Under Saddam Hussein, highly successful literacy campaigns were introduced across the country. Education was free at all levels, and compulsory at the primary level. Nearly one hundred percent of the country’s students attended school, and the male-female ratio was nearly even. While these impressive gains earned Iraq a UNESCO Literacy Award in 1982, they could not be maintained in the wake the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War in 1991, and years of economic sanctions. As a result, one in five Iraqis over the age of 15 is currently illiterate. Illiteracy rates among women (28%) are over double those among men (12%).  Just 1% of those over the age of 15 are enrolled in literacy classes. Girls make up just a quarter of participants in accelerated learning courses aimed at out-of-school youth who cannot attend regular classes (See: Education in Iraq Fact Sheet).

Despite these setbacks, improving education has become one of the country’s main priorities. Moreover, American and international efforts to modernize Iraq’s educational system have contributed greatly to revitalization programs. In 2003 Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority undertook a comprehensive reform of the Iraqi education system. In addition to increasing the salaries of teachers and administrators and improving school and classroom facilities, a team of US and Iraqi education experts was assembled to modernize and improve Iraqi school curricula. The revision process has been ongoing in an attempt to meet the needs of a changing Iraqi society and help foster tolerance and understanding within it.  While the education improvement program has at times drawn criticism and highlighted the extent to which ongoing sectarian strife has affected the nation’s rebuilding efforts, it has nonetheless succeeded in providing some 6 million children and young adults with updated educational materials and improved educational facilities.

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