Education, civil society and the media
By Dr. Fuad Hussein (*)
It is not easy to deal with education, civil society and the media in Iraq since the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein, because one must compare the present situation to the past. Since April 2003, the changes that have taken place in these fields are so huge that each topic would need a complete study in order to clarify the developments. That is why today I will try to present the situation in a condensed but informative way.
One problem which one faces in dealing with these three topics is that they are separate subjects, although there are some links and a certain amount of interaction.
The questions which can be raised are: How does the educational system function and in which direction is it moving? Have civil society organizations been established in Iraq and what is their role in the period of transition? How have the Iraqi media developed since April 2003?
The educational system in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein can be characterized as follows:
- A substantial input of Ba’th ideology
- Militarization of the culture in all schools
- Marginalization of education
- Legalization of corruption
With regard to the input of Ba’th ideology, as early as the seventies the regime began to exclude students with a political background other than Ba’thist from the colleges and institutes that provide teachers for primary and secondary schools. Politicization of the curriculum followed, as a result of which some colleges and institutes produced more political cadres than students.
Concerning the militarization of the culture in the schools, one should know that the regime wanted the Iraqi people to be part of the military system which was also being implemented in every-day life. For that reason military training was introduced in the schools, thus creating a military culture in the school system. Every Thursday the school children were forced to watch one of their teachers shooting in the air with a sub-machine gun while raising the Iraqi flag.
As for the marginalization of education, the priorities of the regime went to the secret and intelligence services, the army and other security sectors. Especially during the last ten years, education was ignored. ‘No data is available on the education budget in the 1990s but information from the Oil for Food Programme (OFFP) reveals that just over US$ 700 million were provided for the education sector in the form of commodities, supplies and projects since the beginning of the programme in 1997. The resources obtained through the OFFP could not even meet the minimum requirements for maintenance of the sector and there was no cash component for southern and central Iraq to meet basic recurring expenditures.’ (1)
The salaries of the teachers were decreased to a bare $2 to $8 per month. As a result many teachers became beggars, struggling to survive. It is well known in Iraq that teachers began to ask their students for money so that they would obtain better results or pass their exams. Corruption began to effect the relation between teacher and student on the one side and between teacher and headmaster on the other. As a matter of fact, corruption gradually began to replace teaching. Headmasters would collect contributions from the students’ parents on the pretext of repairing the school building, yet the money disappeared most of the time.
When the regime was removed, most of the school buildings were not fit to be used. In fact, ‘about 80% of buildings require repair.’ (2) The problems that the Iraqis are facing with regard to education are huge, because the entire structure must be rebuilt. The curriculum must be revised. Thousands of teachers must be trained and retrained. The relationship between students and teachers and students and the school must be redefined. It is an absolute must to remove the Ba’th ideology from the educational system, because thousands of teachers have been trained on the basis of that ideology and Saddam’s thoughts.
After the collapse of the regime, the first step was to let the children return to school and finish the year with school exams. The supporters of the regime were doing everything, especially in Baghdad, to sabotage that process, but they failed. The second step was to review all the textbooks and remove all texts that had to do with the previous regime. This has been finished, about 60 million books have been printed and distributed at the beginning of this year. A very important step was an increase of the teachers’ salaries. The minimum wage now is about $60 and salaries of some employees are as much as $400 per month. It is true that at present the salaries are not high enough, but they are much better compared to what they were in the past.
The Ministry of Education is the largest ministry in Iraq. It has about 6 million students, some 15,000 school buildings and more than 18,500 schools. (3) The present Minister of Education, Dr. Alwan, formulated the strategy for the next four years as follows:
- ‘ Strengthening the performance and managerial capacity of the education sector particularly in areas like decentralization, training and capacity building of staff, evidence-based planning, modernizing administration and finance functions, establishing performance appraisal systems, and anti-corruption measures.
- Upgrading educational institutions to respond to the full range of Teaching/learning activities and to meet the minimum standards of health and sanitation.
- Reforming the education system and expanding it to ensure universal access particularly for the poor and the disadvantaged to ensure that school children and adults acquire the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the global economy and participate in national development.
- Establishing better quality and higher educational standards as well as accountability measures.
- Improving the basic preparation and in-service training of teachers and upgrading their skills.’ (4)
Civil Society Organizations
The developments in this field differ widely from those in education. There was no modern civil society organization during the regime of Saddam. The traditional civil society organization, such as the tribes, was either reshaped or monopolized by Saddam’s regime. Since the removal of Saddam and the ensuing new situation hundreds of organizations have been founded. Some of these organizations have roots in Iraqi society, others are just organizations which express the ideas and thoughts of a few people. One can characterize the structure and aims of these organizations as follows:
- They are new organizations and, therefore, lack experience
- Many of them are linked to political organizations
- They have little financial resources
- They have little or no contacts with NGOs outside Iraq
These weaknesses, however, can be considered normal, if we take the situation of the Iraqi society into account and the fact that the democratic process is yet to be started. The rules and regulations must still be formulated or clarified. The accumulation of experience will help to deal with issues in society in a better way.
Organizations representing different groups, such as women interests, students, teachers, writers, the unemployed, workers, farmers, tribes, local communities, etc. have emerged. Some of these organizations claim support on a nation-wide level, others have a regional or local structure.
To develop the civil society organizations in such a way that they can function properly, the following steps are needed:
- A law clarifying the role of NGOs in Iraqi society
- Financial support
- Training the leadership of these organizations
- Disentangling many of these organizations from political parties
- More attention to local community organizations and perhaps to start helping these rather than the ones pretending to be nation-wide organizations
- Helping to establish a network among them
- Helping to establish contacts and developing plans of co-operation with NGOs outside Iraq.
Iraq has no experience with free media. With the fall of the regime hundreds of newspapers were published and many radio stations went in the air.
Newspapers that come out today can be categorized as follows:
‘Exile’ newspapers that have been transferred to Iraq
Old newspapers belonging to the pre-Ba’th period were reborn
Newspapers that belong to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
Newspapers in various languages
The ‘exile’ newspapers generally belong to the various political parties, some of them being the official organ. They usually reflect the party policy and are supported financially by that party. These newspapers are published either daily or weekly. Many newspapers have been published for the first time, as political parties have founded most of them privately or indirectly. The CPA publishes newspapers in Arabic and English, some of these are nation-wide and others are local.
At the moment, television is the main source of information for the Iraqi people.
The CPA immediately founded a television station. Television broadcasting was hindered from the start by many challenges and shortages. The lack of cadres and experienced people was one of them. The competition from Arab television stations reaching Iraqi households through satellite was severe. The shortage of electricity in many areas was a huge challenge.
Nonetheless the Iraqi people gradually are turning to Iraqi television. They are anxious to follow the news about Iraq through the various Iraqi television channels rather than through Arab stations that are usually hostile to the change in Iraq and the new developments in Iraqi society.
This paper has not dealt with the changes in Iraqi Kurdistan. The developments in that area went in a different direction since the liberation of the people of Kurdistan in 1991. The experience in Kurdistan shows that it is possible to build a new pluralistic, open society where the media have more freedom and civil society organizations can play an important role in the social and political life.
The building of a good, human educational system in Iraq will form the basis for a human, political structure as well as a federal democratic system in that country. Civil society organizations and free media will help the process of building that peaceful, tolerant society. Terrorists are trying to stop the process but it seems that the Iraqi people have chosen the right way and will continue to do so. There is no alternative form them except to work together and help each other.
(1) Dr Ala’din A.S. Alwan. Education in Iraq: Current Situation and New Perspectives. Iraqi Ministry of Education, 2004. P. 15
(2) Ibid., p. 31.
(3) Ibid., p. 19 and 29.
(4) Ibid., pp. 45-46.
* : Fuad Hussein is advisor to the Ministry of Education in Iraq.
This paper has been presented at a conference on the Process of Reconstruction and Political and Economic Development in the New Iraq, which was held in Paris on 5 March 2004