Education in IraqEducation stands as the cornerstone of progress and development in any society. Amid the challenges and upheavals that have marked Iraq’s recent history, education has emerged as a beacon of hope and transformation, offering a pathway toward a brighter future for the nation and its people.

The Ripple Effects of Conflict on Education

Iraq’s education system has been plagued by a myriad of challenges, ranging from inadequate infrastructure and outdated curricula to insufficient resources and trauma-based psychological impact affecting both teachers and students. According to UNICEF, “one in every two schools is damaged” and needs improvement to effectively teach students. This crisis perpetuates a cycle of ignorance, poverty and underdevelopment.

Education in Iraq is hindered by violence, infrastructure damage and the displacement of children. Due to years of war and conflict, the weakened Iraqi government has allocated less than 6% of its budget to education.

The lack of education in Iraq contributes to a dearth of skilled workers, hindering economic growth and making it difficult for the country to compete in an increasingly globalized world. Low-quality education exacerbates social disparities, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. It deprives marginalized communities of the tools they need to break free from the constraints of their circumstances and contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Paths to Educational Reform

Improving the education system in Iraq could be the key to unlocking a plethora of benefits for the country. UNICEF and the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) have been working toward improving the education system and the lives of future Iraqi generations.


Recently, UNICEF has partnered with Daewoo E&C to provide hundreds of young children with access to education in disadvantaged areas in Basra. In a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Basra Directorate of Education, this initiative will not only improve children’s preparedness for school but also streamline their progression into primary education, ensuring a seamless and efficient transition. Early Childhood Education (ECE) plays a pivotal role in enabling young learners to embark on their primary education journey at an appropriate age, armed with the essential skills required for future success.

With Daewoo E&C’s support, UNICEF will establish five ECE centers in five schools. Each ECE center will include a classroom and a play area and will be equipped with essential amenities such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. Through its Iraq National Education Strategy, UNICEF supports the Government’s goal to provide ECE to at least 30% of Iraqi children by 2031.

In order to ensure that children in Basra and other parts of the country have the best start in life, UNICEF will continue to work with the Government of Iraq, U.N. agencies, civil society and community organizations.


Established in 1998, the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering peace in Iraq. EPIC undertakes humanitarian initiatives to promote harmony within the nation. Through a combination of impactful advocacy, field work aimed at empowering youth and authentic collaborations with both Iraqi civil society and the young population, EPIC is committed to advancing its mission to empower young Iraqis.

EPIC designs and implements a series of on-the-ground programs that empower adolescents to make a positive impact. It also advocates for U.S. and international support to secure peace and build democratic institutions in Iraq. This includes efforts to enhance government accountability, strengthen civil society and improve educational opportunities for all generations of Iraqis.

Furthermore, EPIC facilitates research and information-sharing about developments in Iraq. They share lessons learned and best practices in peacebuilding, education and youth development. Through these programs, EPIC is building a community of young people who have been impacted by them. By supporting the development of programs that best serve Iraq’s youth, EPIC will be able to better understand the needs and aspirations of Iraqi youth.

Unlocking a Brighter Future

Transforming education in Iraq requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Adequate funding, updated curricula, teacher training, modern infrastructure and equitable access to education are all critical components of reform. International support, collaborations and best practices can also play a pivotal role in guiding the country toward an improved education system. By committing to education reform, there is hope that Iraq can break the chains of poverty and underdevelopment and pave the way for a brighter future for its citizens.

– Dunia Matta
Photo: Flickr

Girls Finishing Primary School
The importance of education in lifting a country out of extreme poverty has been well established. Specifically, girls’ education promotes gender equality, raises wages and results in smaller, healthier families. There is an unprecedented increase in girls finishing primary school, allowing them to get educated alongside their male peers.

Income Levels and How they Affect Girls Finishing Primary School

The percentage of girls who can afford to attend (and finish) primary school is directly tied to their country’s income level. Level 1 is extreme poverty; the family can barely afford to eat and must get water from wells. Level 2 is lower-middle income; the family can afford decent food and shoes. Level 3 is upper-middle income; the family can afford running water and basic appliances. Level 4 is high income; the family can afford a nice house and cars.

Level 4: Oman

One hundred percent of girls in Oman finish primary school. Primary school starts at age 6 and continues until age 18, and girls can go to one of 1,045 schools as of 2011. However, back in 1973, when Oman was a Level 1 country, there were only three primary schools with no girls attending them at all. Oman has experienced phenomenal advances in both poverty reduction and girls’ education.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended the throne in 1970 and did not like what he saw. He vowed to improve life for the Omani people. This included, among many other things, opening more schools and allowing girls to attend them. Additionally, he made public school free, allowed private schools to exist and created a comprehensive kindergarten curriculum. With the availability of free education for girls, 100 percent of girls attend and complete primary school.

Level 3: Iraq

In Iraq, 58.8 percent of the nation’s girls finish primary school. This is down from 68 percent in 2004, but it is higher than the 0.722 percent that it was in 1974. At present, girls make up 44.8 percent of students in primary schools.

The Iraqi school system is far from ideal. Uneducated girls, when asked why they do not attend school, cite abusive teachers, poverty, the presence of boys and concerns about domestic and national safety. Those who do go to school endure dirty bathrooms, a lack of clean drinking water and the aforementioned abusive teachers. Despite this, there are enough girls finishing primary school in Iraq to keep the country out of extreme poverty in the next generation.

Level 2: Morocco

In Morocco, 94.7 percent of girls finish primary school. This is a stark increase from 22.9 percent in 1972. After King Mohammed the Sixth ascended the throne on July 30, 1999, he began placing more focus on the education of his people. His efforts have impacted girls more than boys, as shown by the fact that only 9 percent of girls have to repeat any grades in primary school, which is less than the 13 percent of boys who have to do so. Although this has done little to improve women’s reputations as workers thus far, it is still a victory for the country.

Level 1: Myanmar

In Myanmar, 89.3 percent of girls finish primary school. This number was only 30.8 percent in 1971 for a simple reason: extreme poverty. While schooling itself is technically free, parents still need to pay for uniforms and supplies, and boys are favored over girls in terms of whom parents will spend money on. Sometimes, girls as young as 4 years old are sent to schools in Buddhist monasteries, which means being separated from their families.

However, help is being provided by the international community. Educational Empowerment is an American organization dedicated to promoting educational equality in Southeast Asia. It develops and supports schools in Myanmar, publishes books, and gives microloans to mothers to help get their daughters into school. This has helped girls catch up to their male peers and finish primary school.

For girls, getting an education has historically not been an easy task. Between the cost of school attendance, the existence of extreme poverty and general gender inequality, girls often fall behind their male peers when it comes to receiving an education. However, thanks to new government rulings and help from nonprofit organizations, there are now more girls finishing primary school than ever before, and the number is set to rise even higher. In the near future, girls’ education will be on par with that of their male counterparts. This is important because educating girls leads to educated women, and educated women can help lift a country out of extreme poverty.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Education in Iraq
Conflict and totalitarianism have plagued Iraq for decades. This has had a negative impact upon the Iraqi education system in many ways.

Here are the Top 10 Facts about Education in Iraq

  1. UNICEF has helped massively. To start on a positive note, although education in Iraq is dreary, help has not been avoided by international players in the arena of helping the impoverished. UNICEF has been instrumental in Iraq for various improvements, such as building schools, fixing water/sanitation systems in already existing schools, helping train over 50,000 teachers in child-friendly manners and supplying millions of Iraqi children with vital school materials, among many other positive upward aiming changes. In 2016, UNICEF helped an estimated 682,000 children access education in Iraq.
  2. The ongoing conflict has diminished education attendance. Since the end of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraq has been in constant conflict. What emerged following that war was a civil war between Sunnis and Shias and a burst of jihadist insurgencies. This has ultimately interfered with education in Iraq. Attendance is low with 3.5 Iraqi children either not attending school regularly or not at all.
  3. ISIS’ presence in Iraq has damaged the Iraqi education system. Prior to being pushed out of its last Iraqi stronghold in Mosul, ISIS ran rampant in Iraq and created several consequences. On top of terrorizing Iraqi citizens, ISIS negatively influenced the Iraqi education system greatly. When ISIS had control in Iraq, they either closed schools and used them as safe houses or they took schools over completely and began teaching a curriculum of radicalization. Parents were forced to send children to these schools under the threat of death. This resulted in one out of every five schools being out of use.
  4. The expulsion of ISIS from Iraq has left work to be done. There is a lot of work to be done following the expulsion of ISIS from Iraq. The closure of many schools due to ISIS’ presence left many children out of school for two years, thus creating a need for these children to catch up educationally. UNICEF has helped in this regard by attending to the effort of rebuilding schools in the wake of their destruction.
  5. The Iraqi government has a low education expenditure. Following Iraq’s liberation from ISIS, more than three hundred thousand children have returned to school with a high level of enthusiasm. Despite this, the Iraqi government is not doing its part in regards to making education more attainable for more people. In the 2015-16 school year, only 5.7 percent of Iraq’s government expenditure went to education. This has led to half of Iraq’s displaced children being out of school, thus creating a $1 billion loss in potential wages.
  6. Military spending has historically detracted from educational spending. The Iraqi government allocates little of its resources towards education. This was not always the case and is largely accounted for in allocating more resources towards the military to combat ongoing conflicts. For example, following The Gulf War, 90 percent of educational spending dropped in Iraq. Attendance at school has always been high in Iraq as primary education was compulsory until the U.S. invasion in 2003. After the conflict in 2003, only one in six children had textbooks, school facilities were in poor condition, there was a shortage of supplies and equipment and the quality of education was in serious decline.
  7. An over-emphasis on religious teaching is causing conflict within the population. In 2008, a new education system was established in Iraq that instilled a philosophy of education centered on Islamic education. “The main objectives are: enhancing the pupils’ faith in God and His divine messages and their feeling of need for the religious faith; inform the pupils of the pillars of Islam and faith among other objectives.” In the Iraqi public educational system, there is not an equal distribution of religious education, in that, Islamic education is emphasized and religious minorities are not permitted to learn their own religions. This causes religious minorities to feel educationally inferior, as they are not permitted to be educated on their own faith. Prior to the 2003 invasion and the toppling of the Ba’ath regime, such educational religious intolerance was non-existent.
  8. Education for girls in Iraq is far from adequate. Culturally, female education is frowned upon; instead, females are seen as a means to an end, the end being marriage (often arranged). Girls have an illiteracy rate that is twice as high as boys in Iraq. The majority of the over 355,000 children not attending school are girls.
  9. External efforts are being made to improve the situation. Aside from the aforementioned help that UNICEF has contributed, other organizations have contributed massively to the effort of bringing quality education into Iraq. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has contributed to the Education For All (EFA) policy in Iraq. This entails the promotion of the modernization and social improvement of schools to help Iraqi schools to have a positive long-term impact on Iraq’s development.
  10. What more can be done? There are various organizations dedicated to improving education in Iraq. The Iraqi Children’s Relief Fund is a highly certified organization dedicated to ensuring a higher quality of life for Iraqi children, which includes promoting better quality education. Donating to organizations such as The Borgen Project will ensure informative articles will continue to be published to spread awareness of the problems of global issues, like that of education in Iraq.

Education in Iraq has not always been problematic. Respective conflicts and moments of peace have created a void that had left the education system demolished by conflict. With organizations like UNICEF and UNESCO on the ground, the goal is to return Iraq to where it was during The Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was the epicenter of global intellectualism. Much work is to be done to bring education back to its former glory.

– Daniel Lehewych
Photo: Flickr