Iraqi schools welcome students for new school year

Students enter their classroom on the first day of school at a primary school in Baghdad. [Kareem Raheem / Reuters]

Students enter their classroom on the first day of school at a primary school in Baghdad. [Kareem Raheem / Reuters]

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Primary, middle and secondary schools across Iraq opened their doors to students on Tuesday (September 27th) for the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

Ministry of Education officials said schools are hosting 7.5 million students, including 800,000 new students.

Deputy Minister of Education Nehad al-Jubouri said the ministry has provided all the necessary requirements for the start of the new school year, including school supplies and textbooks.

"Efforts to maintain and repair a number of schools are proceeding in full swing," al-Jubouri told Mawtani. "During the current term, more than 450 schools will be built or renovated."

The new school year started with the approaching launch of a number of projects and programs that the Ministry of Education is preparing to develop the education sector in Iraq.

According to al-Jubouri, the programs to be launched this year include a nutrition program that the Ministry of Education is carrying out in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and a number of government agencies. Through the program, students will be offered free meals during school hours.

The other program is a clothing program that will provide school uniforms for students free of charge.

"These two projects will considerably help mitigate the student dropout problem, especially in the primary stage, since they will help alleviate the financial burdens families bear as a result of their students attending school," al-Jubouri said.

For years, the Ministry of Education has worked on changing and developing school curricula. Ministry officials said efforts were underway to promote this project through openness to ideas from education programs around the world and though introducing Iraqi teachers to training and development courses.

Official ministry spokesperson Walid Hussain said the changes to the curricula will effect 19 subjects, including the math curriculum for the third primary grade; the English, math, and English handwriting curricula for the sixth primary grade; Arabic grammar for the first middle school grade; and Arabic grammar, literature, math, biology and chemistry for the third middle school grade. The teacher's guide and activity book for the sixth primary grade were also updated.

"The current school year will also witness the building of 846 new schools," Hussain said. "We hope that this will take place very soon."

According to the Ministry of Education statistics, there are about 20,000 primary, middle and secondary schools in Iraq. There is an urgent need to build more than 6,000 schools, and rebuild more than 1,000 schools that were originally made of mud or have become run down.

Adel Shershab, a member of the education committee in the Iraqi parliament, said his committee was working directly with Ministry of Education officials to develop the education sector in Iraq.

"We will continue to monitor the performance of all sections of the education process, and we will approve the necessary legislations and laws related to the development of education," Shershab told Mawtani.

A number of students in Baghdad said they were happy to start the new school year.

"I have missed my school, teachers and friends a lot," said Younis Hasan, 16, a student at al-Frahidi Secondary School. "Although the nice time of summer holiday is over, I am happy to return to the school atmosphere anew."

Parents of students said the new programs would help offset school expenses.

Fadhil Abdul Rahman, 39, is a father of four children attending school this year.

"To me, the return to school means more burden in terms of expenses to buy school supplies and requirements from the market, and their prices go up at the start of every school year," he said. "However, the Ministry of Education's pledges that they will provide a large amount of these supplies this year have reassured me."