CAIRO — Three-and-a-half years after the US invasion-turned occupation, Iraq’s school and university system is collapsing with students and teachers deserting classes and even some fleeing the country to escape killings, kidnappings and security restrictions.
“Education here is a complete shambles,” science professor Mohammed told the Guardian on Thursday, October 5, using only his first name after returning from the funeral of a colleague who was killed in an explosion.
“Professors are leaving, and the situation – the closed roads and bridges – means that both students and teachers find it difficult to get in for classes,” added the 60-year-old professor.
“Between September 8 and 28 two members of the staff were murdered. The staff was supposed to be 42. Now there are only 20,” Mohamed said.
“Students are really struggling. To get them through at all, we have had to lower academic levels. We have to go easy on them. The whole system is becoming rapidly degraded.”
For the fourth time this year a bomb exploded in bustling Tehran Square in downtown Baghdad Thursday, wounding at least 20 day laborers waiting at a spot popular for seeking work.
In the north of the city, a bomb exploded in a mixed Sunni and Shiite district, killing two civilians.
The latest attacks came after a US military spokesman told reporters that attacks by car bombs and roadside booby traps are running at an all-time high.
Operation Together Forward, a joint US-Iraqi security plan, has brought 15,000 US troops and more than 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and police onto the streets.
Yet, the loyalty of Iraqi security forces has been in question, with some Shiite-dominated units accused of collaborating with the militias and death squads fighting a sectarian dirty war which leaves 100 people dead every day.
Iraq on Wednesday, October 4, demobilized an entire 800-strong police brigade and quarantined them in a US military base where they will receive what a US spokesman said was “anti-militia, anti-sectarian, national unity training”.
The ferocious violence has forced many Iraqi students and teachers to stay at home, fearing to leave lest being kidnapped and killed.
“Education in my area is collapsing,” said a high school teacher in Amariya.
“Children can’t get to school because of road blocks. The parents of others have simply withdrawn them from the school because of the fear of kidnapping.”
Mohamed, who quit the education system four months ago, said students attending the classes were increasingly dropping out.
“If children have to travel by car, we are much less likely to see them. When I left, we had 50% attendance.
“We see parents when they come in to ask for the children to have a ‘vacation’, and they admit they are too scared to let them come,” he said.
Ala Mohammed, a high school student from Zafaraniya concurred.
“The journey is too long and too unsafe. I don’t know whether I will be going to college or stay jailed at home,” she said.
She was supposed to join her college in Adhamiya, a neighborhood notorious for violence, but she had no other option but to ask for a deferral.
Many Iraqi parents are sending their kids to learn abroad.
“The people who have got the money are sending their children abroad to study,” said Wadh Nadhmi, who teaches politics in Baghdad.
“A lot – my daughter is one of them – are deciding to finish their higher education in Egypt.”
Nadhmi said many professors were doing the same.
“What has been happening with the murders of professors involved in the sciences is that a lot of those involved in medicine, biology, maths have fled.”
Professor Saad Jawad, a lecturer in political science at Baghdad University, stressed that universities are increasingly dominated by militias.
“The militias from all sides are in the universities. Classes are not happening because of the chaos, and colleagues are fleeing if they can,” he said.
“The situation is becoming completely unbearable. I decided to stay where many other professors have left. But I think it will reach the point where I will have to decide.
“A large number have simply left the country, while others have applied to go on prolonged sick leave. We are using MA and PhD students to fill in the gaps.”
More than 181 university professors and academics have been killed in violence since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Another 85 senior academics have been kidnapped or suffered attempts on their lives, according to the Association of University Lecturers in Iraq.
Iraq’s education system collapses: Report