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Published in Print: October 13, 2004, as Schools Open in Iraq, After Two-Week Delay

Schools Open in Iraq, After Two-Week Delay

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The Ministry of Education finally opened schools in Iraq on Oct. 2, after a two-week delay caused by security concerns.

“Of course, there are some concerns, but children have most definitely been back to school in great numbers,” David DeVoss, a public-affairs officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in an e-mail message from Baghdad. He said more than 5.7 million children are expected to attend primary and secondary schools in Iraq this school year, which is scheduled to end in May.

U.S. Embassy officials referred questions about the start of school to Iraq Ministry of Education officials, who did not respond to requests from a reporter.

Nor did officials at Creative Associates International Inc., the Washington-based company that has more than $100 million riding on its work to help the Education Ministry, have much to say while the company is still in what it calls the “mobilization phase.” Its current two-year contract for work in Iraq began in July. ( "Creative Associates Gets New Iraq Contract," July 14, 2004.)

Money Wasted?

The Education Ministry has identified the renovation and construction of school buildings as a high priority for getting the school system back on track as Iraq undergoes a volatile transition following the American-led invasion last year.

Results of a ministry survey of schools released this fall show that more than 7,000 of Iraq’s 11,000 primary schools either don’t have a sewage system at all or don’t have one that is operating properly, and that more than 4,000 primary schools have leaking roofs. The survey also estimates that 32,000 additional classrooms are needed.

John O. Procter, a spokesman for the Washington-based Iraq project and contracting office, said that through the U.S. Department of Defense and the USAID, the federal government has refurbished 3,100 schools since U.S.-led forces routed former President Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party regime.

Mr. Procter added that 189 schools are under construction by the U.S. government. His office, part of the Defense Department, oversees the $18.4 billion Iraq Relief and Construction Fund. That sum includes the current $56.5 million USAID contract with Creative Associates.

So far, not much of the federal government’s money spent on reconstruction in Iraq has directly benefited the Iraqi people, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies released this month.

Only 27 cents of every dollar has filtered down to intended reconstruction projects, according to the analysis. The largest portion of the reconstruction funds—30 percent—has paid for security.

Farshad Rastegar, the chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based Relief International, which has repaired or built 76 schools in Iraq, believes the federal government has wasted a lot of money by channeling it through private firms rather than nonprofit organizations such as his own.

He noted that his organization spends about 1 percent of its funding in Iraq on security. Security costs are low, in part, because the group is employing Iraqi nationals to do the work, he said. “We’re not out there in big cars that say, ‘I’m an expat, come and attack me.’ We’re not mixing with the military side of the operation. We’re not identified with that.”

Meanwhile, the refurbishing of schools that the World Bank pledged last spring to underwrite has not yet begun.

The $59 million project was delayed so that, at the request of the ministry, it could be redesigned to include the building of new schools as well as the renovation of existing ones, said Sereen Juma, a communications officer for the World Bank, which is based in Washington.

Teacher Training Delayed

Her organization’s $40 million effort to print more textbooks for Iraqi schoolchildren has started, however, according to Ms. Juma. Printing is under way to provide 63 million textbooks that will be delivered to schools by the end of next month, she said.

Those textbooks, as was true of the ones printed for Iraq by two United Nations agencies last school year, contain the same content that was taught in schools before the ouster of Mr. Hussein, except that Iraqi educators have taken out any references to the Baathists.

The United Nations’ agency for children, UNICEF, has delayed its plans to train Iraqi teachers because of “poor security conditions on the ground in Iraq,” Sara Cameron, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, said in an e-mail message.

Ms. Cameron said that UNICEF has been able to procure and begin delivery of school supply kits to children in grades 1-9. The agency also is delivering blackboards and chalk to schools.

As was the case last school year, the U.S. government’s support for education reconstruction in Iraq is provided primarily through a USAID contract with Creative Associates. That contract, which Education Week received through a Freedom of Information Act request, estimates payment of $56.5 million to the firm for two years of work, with an additional payment of $52 million also possible for that time period. The firm also stands to earn $82.6 million more from the USAID if the contract is extended beyond two years.

The contract says the purpose of education reconstruction last school year was “to normalize basic education in Iraq following a conflict,” but the new contract “focuses on quality and access.” To provide that “quality,” the contract says, schools will incorporate “democratic practices in the classroom” and develop students’ learning and critical-thinking skills.

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

PHOTO: An Iraqi teacher welcomes students to a half-filled classroom in Baghdad’s al-Amil neighborhood, where more than 34 children were killed in a triple car-bomb attack during the first week of school.
—Awad Awad/AFP/Getty Images

Vol. 24, Issue 07, Page 6-7

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