Education Funding

USAID Briefs Public On ‘To Do’ List for Education in Iraq

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 17, 2003 3 min read
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In helping rebuild Iraq’s education system, the U.S. government will not rewrite the curricula for primary and secondary schools, an official of the United States Agency for International Development said at a conference here last week.

At the Sept. 11 gathering, held to update the public on the USAID’s education work in Iraq, Norman Rifkin, an education specialist with the agency, cited several necessary tasks for rebuilding Iraqi education that the U. S. government will not get involved with.

“Although a new curriculum is needed, USAID is not writing the curriculum,” Mr. Rifkin said. He added that the agency recognizes that designing a new curriculum takes many years, and that such work should be done by the Iraqi people.

In addition, Mr. Rifkin noted that while UNICEF, the United Nation’s agency for children, estimates that Iraq needs at least 5,000 new schools, the USAID will not build them. The agency is only refurbishing existing ones.

And while Iraq needs to train new teachers, the USAID will participate in training only in-service teachers, not preservice ones, he said.

Mr. Rifkin provided limited information at the conference on one person, Dr. Aladin A.S. Alwan, who may play a large role in carrying out some of the education work that won’t be carried out by the USAID. The Iraqi Governing Council, formed by officials of the U.S.-led postwar occupation of Iraq, this month appointed Dr. Alwan, a medical doctor and recent official of the U.N.'s World Health Organization, as the Iraqi minister of education.

He has headed the WHO’s department of noncommunicable diseases in Geneva and more recently served as the WHO representative in Jordan. Dr. Alwan, 54, was born in Baghdad and received medical training in Britain early in his career.

Accomplishments Cited

Mr. Rifkin also reviewed the work in Iraq that the USAID has accomplished.

Through its one-year, $63 million contract with Creative Associates International Inc., for example, the USAID has given $1.3 million to communities to refurbish schools and equip educational offices in some of Iraq’s 18 governing regions.

Also through Creative Associates, based in Washington, the agency has 1.5 million school-supply kits ready to be distributed to secondary students in Iraq.

And with $10 million provided to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, the U.S. development agency has supported the printing of thousands of copies each of 48 Arabic and 30 Kurdish math and science textbooks.

Frank Dall, who is directing education efforts in Iraq by Creative Associates, said that the logistics of planning for students to start school this fall have gone well, despite security concerns. However, the work of getting education institutions running has gone more slowly than expected, he said, adding that it has taken time to sort out which people to hire.

Mr. Dall said Creative Associates is carrying on with its original charge from the USAID to bring child-centered teaching methods to Iraq. (“U.S. to Remake School System in Postwar Iraq,” April 16, 2003.)

“By next April, we hope to reach 75,000 secondary school teachers with new ideas and methodologies for what they do,” he said.

A USAID official who is soon leaving his position in the agency, John R. Swallow, challenged that assumption during a question-and- answer period at the conference. “Is it possible to move away from rote memorization while this wholesale change is coming about?” he asked.

“It’s possible, but it’s going to take a lot longer than we thought,” Mr. Dall replied.

The work of providing textbooks for Iraqi children has been taken up primarily by UNICEF.

A U.N. Security Council committee last month approved the use of $72 million that had been part of the world organization’s Oil for Food Program in Iraq to pay for the printing of 66 million textbooks for Iraqi children. A UNICEF official who is a liaison to the Oil for Food Program declined last week to provide a detailed update of the textbook project.

Mr. Dall mentioned in an interview before last week’s session that after the Aug. 19 bombing of the U.N.'s headquarters in Baghdad, the U.N. withdrew many UNICEF personnel to Amman, Jordan. But he said he didn’t know the status of the textbook-printing project.

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