UN Office for the Coordination
IRAQ: Education hampered by sectarian violence, say officials
BAGHDAD, 3 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - Children’s education is being severely affected by ongoing sectarian violence, say officials at the Ministry of Education.
“Teachers have informed us that a high percentage of students aren’t attending class, especially primary schools students,” said senior ministry official Sarah Obeid. “The main reason for this is their families’ fears due to the increase of sectarian violence.”
According to Obeid, at least 30 percent of Iraqi students are not attending school, with the situation much worse in districts of the capital, Baghdad, where violence has been most in evidence. “The violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites is affecting innocent children,” Obeid added.
Some parents have also noted growing discrimination in schools along sectarian lines. “Some teachers were treating my two sons very badly,” said Abu Muhammad, a father of two, who recently removed his children from the school in question.
Others claim that some teachers are biased against students from certain ethnic or religious backgrounds. “My daughter’s been the best student in her school for seven years,” said Um Kareem, the mother of a primary school student in Baghdad. “But a month ago, two teachers began giving her very bad marks and complaining she wasn’t studying. But when she brings her exams home, I see they’re correct.”
Teachers from some primary schools in the capital agreed that sectarian issues had begun affecting relationships among faculty members. “I’ve been teaching for years and never saw this before,” said Mariam Salah, a teacher at Mansour Primary school in the capital. “We never use to discuss religious beliefs at school, but now some teachers are doing this and tarnishing the image of educators.”
Education ministry officials, meanwhile, have announced a plan to establish a special commission to investigate charges of discrimination in schools. Officials have also requested increased security in and around educational institutions.
“We’ll do whatever is needed to guarantee the safety of children in school,” said Obeid.
More than 40,000 Iraqis have been displaced in the current wave of sectarian violence, nearly half of whom are children, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration.
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