UNESCO to provide five million science and mathematics textbooks for Iraqi school childrenParis - UNESCO will make five million science and mathematics textbooks available to Iraqi primary and secondary students for the forthcoming school year under a $10 million programme supported by, and undertaken in cooperation with, the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The textbook programme is part of a set of UNESCO activities directed towards the reconstruction and reinforcement of a quality education system in Iraq that meets the learning needs of students at primary and secondary levels. UNESCO will manage this effort in full cooperation with other partners, including Iraq’s Ministry of Education, Iraqi educators, textbook specialists, private sector companies (especially for book production), UN organizations and agencies, and other partners, as appropriate.
As indicated in UNESCO’s recently published Situation Analysis of Education in Iraq (2003), Iraq’s education system before 1990 was considered by education experts as one of the best in the Arab region. Education was free, enrolment and literacy rates were high. However, the 1990-91 Gulf War and subsequent economic sanctions led to the rapid deterioration of the education sector, with a critical shortage of teaching and learning materials, mounting rates of repetition and dropout and a loss of qualified teachers due to poor remuneration and brain drain. According to a recent UNESCO survey of education in the Arab States, Iraq’s literacy rate is now amongst the lowest in the region.
The UN Oil for Food Programme, established in 1995, provided some relief and permitted a considerable improvement of facilities and school supplies in Northern Iraq, where UNESCO and UNICEF were given the responsibility for education. However, in the central and southern regions where the Iraqi Government was directly responsible for implementation, programme delivery was slower. Years of neglect and degradation brought about by a lack of resources, coupled with the recent war damage and looting, have left the majority of school buildings in poor or critical condition. Levels of participation in primary school have fallen – even before the recent conflict, an estimated 24 percent of children aged six to 11 from the centre and south were out-of-school.
UNESCO has been active in education in Iraq for many years and, before the recent war broke out, had more than 20 international and 100 national staff working in the country, primarily in the North but also in the South. Through its national staff on the ground, UNESCO has been in constant touch with Iraqi education officials and is already working with the Ministry of Education in Iraq, responding to urgent educational needs. The immediate aim is to get the education system functioning again, while assisting with the reorientation of educational activities to meet the new requirements of Iraqi society.
The textbook programme will involve minimal changes to existing textbooks to ensure that their content is accurate and does not contribute to distrust, discrimination, intercultural misunderstanding or hate. UNESCO will supervise this textbook revision process and will also organize the printing and distribution of the textbooks.
Another priority is to organize the end-of-year examinations. UNESCO is providing basic materials for these examinations, which will allow children to complete the current school year and facilitate the transition to the 2003/2004 school year. The Organization will also complete construction of a model secondary school for girls in Baghdad and provide it with modern furniture and equipment.
“Education is a fundamental right,” says UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. “In collaboration with other partners, UNESCO will work to ensure that all learners in Iraq have the opportunity to realise this right. Within the framework of the United Nations’ response, we are pleased to be working with both the Iraqis and the US to contribute to the strengthening of Iraq’s education system.”