Despite an attack on a primary school in Iraq last week in which intruders shot and killed six school workers, UNICEF’s education chief for Iraq predicts that parents there will continue to take extraordinary risks to send their children to school.
The attack “will always have a negative effect, but the Iraqi people value education so much that they are prepared to take the risk and make sure that their children go to school,” Maman Sidikou, the education section chief for Iraq for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a Sept. 28 e-mail message from Amman, Jordan.
“Three wars, a decade of sanctions, schools in need of repair, and a lack of trained teachers have not discouraged parents from ensuring that their children attend school and take their final exams,” he wrote.
A group of nine men wearing Iraqi police uniforms barged into the Jazeerah Primary School in a village near Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, on Sept. 26. They ordered the five male teachers and the school bus driver—all Shiite Muslims—into a room and then shot at them, killing the six men. Mr. Sidikou said those facts, published in news reports, were confirmed by Iraqi authorities.
“The United Nations condemns this heinous act, which is absolutely unacceptable by any standard anywhere,” Mr. Sidikou said.
The incident is not the first time that Iraqi educators have been murdered, he said, but so far, university professors have been the prime targets. Mr. Sidikou said that the teaching capacity at universities in Iraq has been decreasing because professors are wary of appearing on campuses.
The attack on the Jazeerah school could represent a new tactic of violence, Mr. Sidikou said. “While we hope this is an isolated case, we are also not aware of the motives behind the attack—so who can say?” he wrote.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad referred an inquiry about the school attack to the Iraqi Ministry of Education, which did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Department of State did not respond to requests for comment as of press time last week. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has a contract with the Washington-based Creative Associates International to assist the ministry, said it wasn’t the role of the agency to comment on the security of schoolchildren in Iraq.
Mr. Sidikou said the new school year opened in Iraq on Sept. 11. With support from the United Nations, the Ministry of Education made sure that the 4.5 million Iraqi children in primary schools received school kits containing notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, and rulers, among other supplies, he said.
Most Iraqi children are attending school, the UNICEF official said, but an enrollment survey hasn’t been completed yet for the 2005-06 school year. The proportion of primary-age children enrolled in school last school year was an estimated 86 percent, compared with an average of 81 percent in the Middle East, he noted.
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Teachers, Bus Driver Slain in Iraq