Iraq: Hundreds of displaced children in south unable to get school places

NAJAF/BASRA, 7 May 2007 (IRIN) - The increase in the number of displaced children in the southern governorates has left hundreds of students out of school, according to education departments in the south.

"The most affected governorates are Najaf, Basra and Muthana where the number of displaced families is increasing daily. As free education allows children to join schools chosen by their families, there are no places for newly displaced children or many who are already residents," said Ali Kareem, media officer for the secretary of education in Basra provincial council.

"We have a shortage of books, pencils and chairs. We cannot accept more students as teachers are having difficulty teaching because the number of students has nearly doubled," Kareem added.

According to Kareem, nearly half the displaced in southern governorates are children of school age and need urgent assistance to restore normality to their lives without losing another year of learning.

"There is less violence in southern areas compared to the central governorates and this factor alone allows children in the south to reach their schools safely. Displaced families have taken advantage of this situation and are trying to enroll their children at schools in the south," he noted.

Nearly one million students at primary and secondary school levels are in the southern governorates and at least 150,000 displaced students have taken refuge there, according to education specialists.


"Our schools have deteriorated and are in urgent need of repair. Many of them have been closed for lack of teaching resources," said Firaz Haydar, media officer for the secretary of education in Najaf provincial council.

"We have been asking wealthier families as well as some religious leaders to help with notebooks, pencils and chairs for our schools. We have had some response but not sufficient to meet all our requirements," Haydar added. "Hundreds of teachers have fled the country to escape the violence and their departure has increased the already existing gap in the teacher-pupil ratio."

According to Haydar, Najaf's infrastructure has deteriorated. Streets need to be repaired and the sewage system in many districts has yet to be fixed.

"Investment in southern cities is declining by the day. The sight of open sewers and children playing amidst rubbish has become commonplace," Haydar said.

"There is no transport to take children to schools. Most public buses are in garages waiting to be repaired, but owing to lack of funds they remain there and many children are unable to get to school," he added.

Fareed Abbas, a spokesman for a Najaf-based NGO - the Muslim Organisation for Peace (MOP) - said local NGOs are trying to assist the local population but lack funds.

"We have raised this concern with local governing councils but their budgets are tight and the result is cities without schools, poor infrastructure and families without proper conditions for normal life," Abbas said.