By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The majority of schools in Baghdad and other provinces are currently facing a shortage of textbooks and writing materials. The large number of students in the country find themselves in classrooms that are overcrowded and insufficiently equipped to provide quality education.
Many students have yet to receive their textbooks for this academic year. On Nov. 14, UNICEF offered to print and distribute textbooks for the displaced in several southern Iraqi cities. Some Shiite religious authorities such as Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqoubi asked their followers to raise money so that the textbooks could be printed. But the problem is yet to be solved.
Member of parliament Awatef Naameh called Oct. 27 for Minister of Education Mohammed Iqbal to be questioned over the failed education policy. According to a statement by the parliamentary Reform bloc, the interrogation file has been completed.
This situation prompted Basra residents on Nov. 3 to hold a student demonstration in protest of the lack of textbooks, demanding accountability for negligent officials. On Nov. 4, the imam in the Kufa mosque demanded the impeachment of the education minister for not providing the necessary textbooks, which coincided with the calls of demonstrators in Dhi Qar province demanding Iqbal's dismissal.
It appears that there are different reasons behind this education dilemma, as every concerned party has been trying to distance itself from the accusations of negligence and corruption. On Oct. 31, the Education Ministry said that the reason behind the shortage of school supplies was the government’s decision to reduce the budget allocated for printing the books, from 213 billion dinars to 75 billion ($18 million to $6 million). Hence, the ministry has been unable to pay off last year’s debts to the printing companies.
These claims, however, are no justification for the corruption that has also caused a shortage in school materials. The Economic Crime Tribunal in Baghdad said Oct. 31 that it had confiscated 4,000 textbooks that stores run by the Education Ministry had distributed to the black market.