Schools in Iraq open this month for a new semester. At one time, Iraq’s public schools were among the best in the Middle East. But neglect by the regime of Saddam Hussein caused schools to fall into disrepair, and education was to a great extent replaced by propaganda.
Before the U.S.-led coalition liberated Iraq, only one in six children had textbooks. Teachers were unpaid. And some Iraqi schools were used to store weapons instead of educating children. Today, says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the coalition is working together with Iraqis to restore the country’s educational system:
“Iraqis are going to work now, including the thirty-five thousand Iraqis who have been working to restore Iraq's schools. Over ninety percent of those schools are now open. All of those schools are now ready to teach Iraqi children the skills for success in a free market democracy.”
To prepare for the new semester, more than sixty-thousand Iraqi secondary school teachers have learned new teaching methods. Five-million math and science textbooks have been printed. More than three-thousand-seven-hundred secondary schools have been visited to collect data on conditions, teacher-student ratios, and parent involvement, to determine immediate and future requirements. And Saddam Hussein will no longer be part of the curriculum. His pictures and writings have been removed.
Mrs. Ahoud Zaiher is a teacher at Al-Kifah Al-Arabi Secondary School. She has taught physics there for more than twenty-years. Mrs. Zaiher says that, “When they see that as a teacher, you are asking questions and not always saying yes and accepting things the way they are, the students will start to ask questions themselves.... No more Saddam, no more Baathists, no more killing, no more war.”
Iraqi students and teachers will be free to discuss topics that were once forbidden. Iraqis will be able to experience the freedom that education brings.