While American kids are getting settled in their new classes, probably after going on a shopping spree, Iraqi kids are also going back to school.
With the security situation grimmer than ever all over the country, just stepping out of one’s house means a serious threat to life.
"God knows how we could send our kids to school this year," Um Mohammed, a mother of five in Baghdad told IPS. "Our financial situation is the worst ever and the prices are way too expensive for the majority of Iraqis to afford. I might have to keep some of them at home and send only two."
The 40-year-old woman shed tears when she started to talk about the family’s financial now compared to what it was before the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
"My God, don’t those Americans have any conscience? We were not rich before, but life was easy and we used to celebrate the school season, watching our kids trying their uniform on and looking at the colourful pictures of their new books," she said.
Now, the state of American public education is somewhere between adequate and dismal (depending on which school district you look at), something for which there is no excuse in the richest country in the world. Iraqis face infinitely more challenges:
"The educational system in Iraq is destroyed and we are suffering all kinds of difficulties," said Hassan, a school headmaster in Baghdad who spoke on condition that his last name and the name of his school would not be used. "There will be a shortage of desks, blackboards, water, electricity and all educational supplies – as well as a critical shortage in the number of teachers this year."
Teachers, like other Iraqis, have fled the country because of threats from sectarian death squads. Some were evicted from their areas and moved to others inside Iraq for sectarian reasons.
According to Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education, as of February 2006, nearly 180 professors were killed and at least 3,250 have fled Iraq to the neighbouring countries. The situation has deteriorated severely since then.
Many children in the USA have little more to worry about than studying and socializing, with puberty and various crushes thrown into the mix for older kids. This is enough for any kid to deal with, and many American kids have other concerns on top of these: learning disabilities, bullying, child abuse, incest, family violence, gang violence, poverty, racial or ethnic discrimination, social exclusion, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, pressure to succeed... it goes on. Is it any wonder that kids have a lot on their mind and often experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or hyperactivity?
Now imagine life as a school-age child in Iraq.
According to an Oxfam International report released in July, "92 percent of children had learning impediments that are largely attributable to the current climate of fear."
The report added, "Schools are regularly closed as teachers and pupils are too fearful to attend. Over 800,000 children may now be out of school, according to a recent estimate by Save the Children UK -- up from 600,000 in 2004."
More on Children in Iraq
Other recent interesting posts on back-to-school: Surveillance, Control and the First Day of School and School, Take Four...
And speaking of school, instead of blogging, I should really be reading right now (Revolutionary Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954-1962)... time to get back to it.