Barriers to Secondary School Attendance

Iraq’s education system was long considered the most successful and egalitarian in the Arab world, with illiteracy practically eradicated by the mid-1980s and high levels of enrollment at university level. However, due to the country’s recent history of conflict, economic stagnation and the displacement of millions of people from their places of origin, the quality of education in Iraq has deteriorated significantly.

Country-wide enrollment figures at the primary level of education remain relatively high, at 89%. However, a significant drop-out rate is evident after this level. Only 52% of Iraqi boys and 44% of Iraqi girls of secondary school age attend school. Missan represents the governorate with the lowest overall enrollment rates, currently standing at less than 25%. Iraqi families, displaced as a result of the last ten years of conflict, often face significant difficulties when attempting to access secondary education. These difficulties include problems integrating within their host communities, psychological issues associated with traumatic experience, language barriers, and economic vulnerability.

The current report, as the first of a series of five thematic assessments, has been developed within the framework of IOM Iraq’s Community Revitalization Programme (CRP Phase II), funded by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). The objective of these assessments is to look into issues directly related to displacement and migration in Iraq, to develop a shared knowledge base and to provide accurate information and recommendations for possible future follow-up initiatives benefitting vulnerable communities.

The assessments are being implemented in coordination with the Government of Iraq (GoI) and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), relevant UN partner agencies and local and international organizations operating within Iraq. ‘Barriers to Secondary School Attendance within Displacement-Affected Communities’ responds to recommendations developed as a result of both assessments and education-related programming previously implemented by IOM during previous phases of operation.

IOM Iraq’s 2012 Displacement Monitoring and Needs Assessment utilized education-related data gathered by the Mission’s large network of Rapid Assessment and Response Teams (RARTs), operating country-wide. Information gained indicated that primary level drop-out rates had increased among assessed individuals in all governorates since the start of the conflict in 2003. Several factors were found to contribute to these high drop-out rates, including a lack of secondary schools accessible to students in rural areas, the inability of families to pay education-related expenses, the need for children to work and contribute to the household income, cultural prohibitions and in some cases a negative attitude to education from parents.

Between December 2011 and June 2012, IOM Iraq implemented the UNICEF-funded project ‘Strengthening Community Involvement in Education to Rehabilitate Communities.’ This initiative aimed to increase access to safe, quality and sustainable primary education for children and youth in the governorate of Najaf, by strengthening Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs), improving relations between schools and their communities, and assisting parents who were unable to send their children to school through the provision of In-Kind-Grants (IKGs) which could be utilized in the establishment of small businesses. In response to the above, and to information provided by both UNICEF and UNESCO (see methodology), a gap was identified and plans were developed to address the lack of data related directly to secondary school attendance rates.

With the endorsement and assistance from the Ministries of Education of both the Government of Iraq (GoI) and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the current assessment analyzes the primary driving forces behind low levels of secondary school attendance in migration-affected communities, in order to identify interventions that could contribute to the improvement of educational facilitates in Iraq, and to increase access to educational schemes within communities identified as vulnerable.

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