In their efforts to provide quality education in Iraq, the country’s educators are calling on public authorities for support amid the growing threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Recent protests organised by the National Technical Sector of the Iraqi Teachers’ Union (ITU) voiced opposition to the government’s education policy that aims to restructure the sector without consulting the education unions.
The ITU, an Education International (EI) affiliate, says that the education sector is paying the price for the national budget deficit triggered by the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a steep drop in oil prices.
At stake is the challenge of striking a balance between education quality and safety. The unions are calling on the Iraqi government to properly fund the fight against ISIS, but do it without sacrificing education resources.
Interview referring to the protest led by the National Technical Sector of the ITU in central Baghdad on 20 February (in Arabic):
Even with the ever-present reality of war in Iraq and within the region, the ITU and the Kurdistan Teachers’ Union (KTU), another EI affiliate, have agreed to cooperate on improving teachers’ qualifications and working towards democracy.
Throughout November last year, trade unions, including the ITU, held a series of marches to protest against the restrictive labour laws which the Iraqi Government is determined to implement despite international pressure. There were high-profile demonstrations calling for justice, better conditions for workers, and an end to abuses of human rights.
Interviews of Iraqi education unions' leaders:
Iraq: the hidden crisis in education
The chaos engulfing Iraq has led to a ‘hidden crisis’, namely lack of access to education, according to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Access to education is a human right and a development and security imperative”, she said on a recent visit to a displaced camp in Kurdistan, adding that this is “essential to the future stability of Iraq”.
Depriving Iraqi children of education, Bokova argued, leaves them vulnerable to violence, abuse, or ideological manipulation.
In the UK, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has voiced its support for education unionists in Iraq. “There must be a genuine democratic future for the people of Iraq,” said NASUWT Deputy General Secretary Patrick Roach.
Refugee influx leading to overcrowding
Adding to the sentiments expressed by Bokova and Roach, ITU General Secretary Raheem Mohammed Abbas has identified a growing issue: refugees.
“Since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took over cities, there is the new problem of refugees, who fled ISIS with their families, their children,” he said during the Second EI Arab Cross-Countries Regional Structure (ACCRS) gathering in Amman, Jordan, in December last year. “Around 100,000 people left to join safe provinces, generating huge problems, as schools are already overloaded. So there is a true crisis, and major difficulties.”
According to the ministries responsible for education, two million of the estimated nine million students in all education sectors have fled to Baghdad, Kurdistan, and the South of Iraq.