Iraq: The region and education system of Kurdistan pass into oblivion

The Kurdistan Teachers' Union (KTU) issued a distress call about the deplorable situation of teachers in the public education system, which continues to deteriorate in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

“A forgotten region”

“The current situation suggests that Kurdistan is a forgotten region on some other planet  […]. It is not too late to correct the damage and save what can still be saved,” stresses the president of the Kurdistan Teachers' Union (KTU) Abdelouahed Mohamed Haji.

Recalling that “before the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2014, education workers and teachers in particular, enjoyed a rather favourable situation,” he explains that “the deterioration in relations between the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi government as of 2014 has led to budget reductions for Iraqi Kurdistan, with Kurdish teachers in the front line as they would at times get their salary 40 to 45 days late.”

The intensification of actions by the Islamic State in the centre and west of Iraq and Syria has aggravated the situation. In fact, the inhabitants have been forced to leave these regions, and 1,800,000 displaced people have moved to Iraqi Kurdistan.  Faced with such a number of displaced people, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan had to use schools to house refugees, which delayed the return to school by three months. The government installed tents and distributed basic necessities with the help of international organizations and, to a lesser degree, the Iraqi government.

“The tense relations between the two governments, the considerable number of displaced people, and the lack of organization at government level to deal with these problems have led to a deep economic crisis that has hit the education sector and educators hard,” explains Abdelouahed Mohamed Haji.

Teachers’ salaries reduced sharply

The Kurdish government has imposed severe budgetary restrictions, reducing annual salaries by 70%.  By way of example, a person who used to get an average salary of USD 1,000 was paid less than USD 300.

The Kurdistan Teachers’ Union (KTU) complained about this illegal measure, sent several letters to the competent authorities and organized huge gatherings to demand a return to the former system of salaries. Representatives of the KTU met on five occasions with officials of the government of Kurdistan, without arriving at a satisfactory result, according to Abdelouahed Mohamed Haji.

Insufficient measures in favour of teachers and education  

Although, under pressure from the KTU,  the government granted subsidies  to “encourage educators,” that is not enough, notes the leader of the KTU. It led the KTU to request the support of Education International (EI), the Asia-Pacific Regional Office of EI, the Inter-regional Structure of Arab Countries of EI, and the British trade union NASUWT “to cancel this unfair decision,” and ask the two governments to leave the salaries of educators out of political conflicts.  

At this time, the regional government of Kurdistan has decided to lower the salaries to 30% and to add 70% bonuses. In addition, the salaries for August 2018 were paid in November 2018, and the regional government does not want to pay the salaries for October, November and December 2018, without any apparent reason according to the trade union.

Abdelouahed Mohamed Haji also set out the main problems encountered by the Iraqi teachers and  the public education system:

  • No budget has been earmarked for education and higher education these last four years;
  • There is no well-defined pedagogy;
  • A significant number of university students and professors have gone abroad to earn a better living;  
  • Of the 1,200,000 people still displaced, 300,000 of them are students, and 48% of them have no chance of going to school given their appalling living conditions;
  • There are few modern facilities and classrooms. The Iraqi government needs 11,000 buildings, and the regional government 400 buildings;
  • Competent teachers deplore the lack of training. Although several teachers have retired or left the regions, no new teachers are being recruited;
  • School programmes no longer correspond to the needs of the community in terms of personnel at the intermediary level, in particular for vocational, specialized, and pre-primary education; and
  • Private schools are promoted among rich people and high government officials.

Serious consequences for education

Different obstacles have harmed education in Iraq in general and in Kurdistan in particular, with the following consequences:  

  • An increase in the dropout rate, which now stands at ca. 30% in Iraq and 16% in Kurdistan;
  • An increase in the percentage of students who fail at school, which has gone from 8% to 16% for all levels, and has even reached 27% for college, which has the highest rate of students who fail at school; and
  • An increase in the gender gap in schools. Whereas this gap stood at 14% during school year 2014/2015, it rose to 33% in 2015/2016.  The authorities concerned should pay more attention to this alarming situation.  

“Generally speaking, 1 man in 5 aged between 15 and 24 and 1 in 10 between 25 and 34 is unemployed because they do not have the required qualifications. The situation among women is even worse,” Abdelouahed Mohamed Haji stresses.

EI supports its affiliate in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is deeply concerned about the dramatic situation faced by teachers; it calls on the competent public authorities to ensure the proper functioning of the public education service; and will continue to monitor developments in this “region forgotten by the outside world.”