Broken-down Poetry: Life in Iraq: education


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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life in Iraq: education

Yesterday afternoon, Claire and I visited Zeba and Amir in their office, two floors below the Preemptive Love office. One of Zeba's friends was at their shop and we conversed with him about womanhood in Iraq, life in Texas, PLC, autism and education.

He told us that when he was a student, back in the 1980s, the schools were very good and his teachers very knowledgeable. Coincidentally, this was during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Claire and I were confused: why would Saddam invest in education - especially for Kurds - when he was such a tyrant? We thought that most dictators liked to keep their people uneducated so they can't revolt.

We went back upstairs to an empty office - it was past five and the interns had gone home. Jeremy, our boss/friend/PLC visionary, was still around so we asked him if what our Kurdish friend said was true. After a quick Google search, we had our answer.


In the early 1970s during the oil crisis, when Americans were lining cars outside gas stations, handing over exponentially more money for gas than they had the previous year, Iraq was getting rich. Off of our money. This isn't a political statement, it's a fact. Because of the oil crisis of 1973, Iraq got wealthy.

Saddam Hussein, who was the vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, used this newly gained money to fund domestic projects. A big part of this was the education system. He established a campaign for "Compulsory Free Education" which made all education - primary through higher ed - free. This is still true for Iraqi public schools today.

The school systems were so good that he won an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


Today, public schooling is still free for Iraqis. It's free to go to college if your grades are good enough.

Classes are large with 25-40 students. Primary and secondary teachers aren't trained for their jobs. Teachers, like Media, whom I wrote about last week, aren't allowed to teach outside their assigned curriculum. If they are, they're punished. Students aren't punished for bad behavior like cheating, but teachers are punished for their ambition.

When we asked our ESL students if they wanted their kids to attend public schools, all but one emphatically answered, "No!"


So what happened? We learned from our ESL students that the public schools in Iraq are not good. How did we get from point A to point B?

Jeremy had some ideas. The Iran-Iraq War started in the early 80s. Since so much money was put into the war, not as much was put into education. The focus shifted.

Or maybe Saddam got scared, like many tyrants do, that his people would out smart him and revolt.

I'm sure there have been books written about this, or at least lengthy essays.


When discussing education in our ESL class, one student noted that people don't value what they don't pay for. I read an essay about this, regarding the environment. I see it as the same.

Who's going to invest time and energy into something that has no money invested into it?


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