Students Fail, Like So Much Else

BAGHDAD — Living from one crisis to another, without electricity or freedom to move under a collapse of security, massive numbers of Iraqi students are failing their exams.

“It is a natural result of what is going on in Iraq under this U.S. occupation that so many Iraqi students failed the high school exams,” Mahmood Jassim, a teacher in Baghdad told IPS.

“How can a student pass such difficult exams feeling terrified, exhausted in the heat, in darkness without electricity, having to work in the absence of a dead or detained father, and all the problems of the world over his head.”

Jassim says about 75 percent of his students are failing their exams.

“I am ashamed of the results my school achieved this year,” a school headmaster in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “I cannot tell you what percentage we achieved because that will reveal me and my school. You do not really believe we are living in a democratic country, do you?”

Two headmasters, who also spoke on condition of anonymity given the prevailing atmosphere of fear, said school results showed sectarian divisions – and not for the best of reasons. Shia schools, they alleged, ran a loose invigilation system that allowed students to cheat.

Some teachers believe most students who passed their exams did so by cheating. “Those who cheated have passed while the honest failed,” Ghanim Jamil, a teacher in Baghdad told IPS. “If a student is the son of a senior government official or of a member of an armed group, how can we stop them from cheating? We would be killed.”

But some officials at the ministry of education suggested that the poor results are an encouraging sign.

“The low number of students who passed the exams shows credibility and discipline,” Waleed Hussein, media and public relations official at the ministry told journalists earlier this week.

Hussein refused to say how many students failed their exams.

“I live in an old two-room house with my family after we were evicted from Sha’b Quarter of Amiriya in Baghdad,” Manhal Ali, a high school student who failed five exams out of seven told IPS. “There are five of us plus our parents in the small place that lacks most living necessities such as electricity, not to mention the noisy atmosphere of the crowded space. I passed Arabic and English because I am good at them, but failed the other exams that needed me to study hard.”

Most students IPS spoke to from families that have become refugees appear to have failed the exams this year.

“My father was detained by U.S. forces in 2005,” Omar Khattab, a high school student from Baghdad told IPS. “His fashion shop was looted by the so-called Iraqi army who came with the Americans to take him away, and so now I have to work as a labourer to support my family.”

And Iraq was once considered the best country for education in the Middle East.

Following the invasion of Kuwait led by former dictator Saddam Hussein, UN sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 severely affected the education system. Since the 2003 U.S.-led occupation, the education system has deteriorated faster.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Iraq had until 1989 allocated 5 percent of its budget to education. The average in developing countries is 3.8 percent.

Tens of thousands of new schools were built between 1960 and 1990. But in the 1990s, more than 83 percent of schools were in need of repair in central and southern Iraq. This number has risen since the invasion in 2003.

U.S. promises to rebuild the educational infrastructure led to nothing.

“I decided to stop fooling myself by dreaming of going to college and becoming a lawyer,” Sufian Kathum, another high school student who failed his exams told IPS in Baghdad. “One has to face reality; that Iraq is finished as a country.

“The Americans and their collaborators need us as dirty policemen and garbage collectors who locate roadside bombs for them,” Kathum said. “We must realise that college has become a luxury that we cannot afford.”

(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region.)