Equity & Diversity

Iraqi Family Found Education Deteriorating

By Mary Ann Zehr & Yasmine Mousa — February 11, 2008 3 min read
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Unlike many of the other Iraqi children who enrolled in the Yaqob Hashem School here this school year, 11-year-old Hussain Majid Nassrat has not missed any full years of schooling.

Hussain arrived in Amman in June, and attended the Jawhar Bin Ebi Selma School in Baghdad all of the previous school year. But his father, Majid Nassrat, and Hussain say that because of the war in Iraq, the quality of the boy’s schooling increasingly worsened.

“The level of education in Iraq was nil and maybe below nil,” said Mr. Nassrat, who dropped by his son’s school Feb. 5 to give the headmaster a document about his son’s schooling in Iraq. “The militias were in control of schools. Cheating became normal,” he contended.

Mr. Nassrat said he saw no evidence whatsoever in his son’s school of the technical and financial aid that the U.S. Agency for International Development provided to Iraq’s schools in the first few years following the occupation of the country by a U.S.-led coalition.

One of the most serious dangers Hussain’s schooling posed was the common kidnapping of children by thugs seeking ransom money, according to Mr. Nassrat. He said that children of neighbors on either side of his house had been kidnapped. One paid $40,000 for the return of his son. Another paid $30,000.

Hussain said he routinely missed one or two days of school a week last school year. “Sometimes, I got sick physically or psychologically, and I didn’t go.” He took the bus to and from school. If he had walked, he would have been kidnapped, he said, sweeping his hand through the air in a snatching motion.

At times, the teacher was absent, but then another teacher would fill in, he said. Other students were frequently absent. Often, there was no electricity at school or home. Hussain is proud that he managed to keep up with his homework by candlelight when the electricity was cut off.

“Sometimes, they told us to go home from school without giving a reason,” the boy said.

Feeling Safe

Hussain’s father, a building contractor for sewage-treatment plants in Iraq, said he finally left the country after two assassination attempts and death threats by members of militias. Before he came to Jordan a year and a half ago (about a year before his son), he said he was sleeping at the front of the house, rather than in bed, with a rifle and two hand grenades at hand.

At the beginning of the war, nearly five years ago, Hussain was enrolled in Baghdad School. But his father moved him to Jawhar Bin Ebi Selma School after American missiles struck Baghdad School. Mr. Nassrat said that from the beginning of the war, “school was not as it should be,” but the quality of education gradually deteriorated as Baghdad increasingly lacked security.

Hussain, now in 5th grade at his new school in Amman, said it is much easier to learn than it was in Baghdad. “Naturally, it’s better,” he said. “There are no electricity cutoffs, the teaching is better, and most of all, I’m not under threat.”

Hussain says he feels safe in Jordan.

The boy has managed to make the adjustment to the academic program in Amman, he said. Of all his subjects, he says he’s weakest in English. This is a common problem for Iraqi students in Jordan because in Iraq, children begin studying English in the 5th grade; in Jordan, they start in 1st grade.

Mr. Nassrat says his family has a number of problems, one of the most serious being that his eldest son, who is 26, has not been permitted to enter Jordan from Iraq. The family has applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement in another country. And like most displaced Iraqis, Mr. Nassrat doesn’t have permission to work in Jordan.

Imran Riza, a representative in Jordan of the UNHCR, said in a Feb. 3 interview that only a small fraction of the 2.4 million displaced Iraqis in the Middle East region are likely to be resettled. He said he’s heard reports that some displaced Iraqis, who have been living in Syria, have been returning to Iraq. But he doesn’t believe any who are living in Jordan are doing so. And the UNHCR doesn’t recommend it.

Mr. Nassrat said, “It’s unbearable what’s going on in Iraq.”

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Yasmine Mousa is a freelance writer and an Arabic-English interpreter.

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