Wealth gaps affecting schoolchildren in Iraq

Iraqi schoolchildren walk through the arcades of the old city in Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Wealth gaps affecting schoolchildren in Iraq

  • One-third of schools across the country operate multiple shifts in an effort to enroll as many kids as possible, meaning students may get just a few hours of class per day

BAGHDAD: Economic inequality is massively affecting whether students in war-ravaged Iraq finish school, the UN children’s agency warned Monday, urging the fledgling government in Baghdad to spend more on education.
An economic downturn, years of fighting and little government support has left Iraq’s school system lacking, UNICEF found in a new study of more than 20,000 families. Socio-economic status creates a huge gap in who graduates from secondary school — 73 percent for the wealthiest students compared to just 23 percent of the poorest students.
One-third of schools across the country operate multiple shifts in an effort to enroll as many kids as possible, meaning students may get just a few hours of class per day. To improve access to education, Iraq needs 7,500 new schools, UNICEF said.
“It’s to do with the conflict, the economic collapse, and lack of investment over the past 20 years. When the quality falls, then children themselves march out of the classroom,” UNICEF country director Peter Hawkins told AFP.
“Children are the future of this country, and a growing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ sows discord and is detrimental for children and for Iraq,” he added.
The wide-ranging study was the first in seven years in Iraq. The country’s infrastructure, including its schools, has been hit hard by conflict, from the US-led invasion in 2003 to years of sectarian violence and bombings.
In 2014, Daesh overran a third of the country, implementing its own twisted curriculum in schools before being ousted from its urban strongholds last year.
And in recent months, a water crisis in the country’s south kept many children at home in fear of contracting diseases.
To get more children in school, the government must boost its spending on education, one of the lowest rates in the region at just 5.7 percent of total expenditure, UNICEF said.
“Ministers: Please use this to target investment to those children in greater need. Those children are your future,” Hawkins urged government members.
Parliamentary divisions mean Iraq has not appointed anyone to head the ministries of education or higher education.
According to Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, more than 1,050 schools across the country have been damaged to varying degrees by the recent violent years.
Sixty percent of the country’s 39 million people are under the age of 24.


Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

Updated 22 February 2019
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Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

  • More than 100 vessels taking part in the three-day war games in an area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean
  • Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles

DUBAI: Iran on Friday began large-scale naval drills at the mouth of the Gulf, which will feature its first submarine cruise missile launches, state media reported, at a time of rising tensions with the United States.
More than 100 vessels were taking part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, the state news agency IRNA reported.
“The exercise will cover confronting a range of threats, testing weapons, and evaluating the readiness of equipment and personnel,” navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said in remarks carried by state television.
“Submarine missile launches will be carried out ... in addition to helicopter and drone launches from the deck of the Sahand destroyer,” Khanzadi said.
State media said Iran would be testing its new domestically built Fateh (Conqueror) submarine which is armed with cruise missiles and was launched last week.
Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles.
Iran launched its domestically made destroyer Sahand in December, which official say has radar-evading stealth properties.
The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf in December, ending a long absence of US aircraft carriers in the strategic waterway.
Iran displayed a new cruise surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,300 kilometers earlier this month during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.