Iraq's Education System
by Jan Oberg
April 24, 2003
What kind of education will Iraq's children get under US occupation?
We've heard it time and again and we know it's an old truth: our kids are the future. These weeks, the media focus almost exclusively on the war, on military people who "rebuild" Iraq (after having destroyed it) and they focus on politics.
But together with security, no aspect of post-war reconstruction, reconciliation and development is more important than the education system in a broad sense. It certainly deserves more media attention than it gets. What the US occupation administration does these very weeks is intended to have a long-term impact on Iraqi society - that is if they succeed.
Naturally, therefore, I get very curious when, a few days ago, a friend sends me an e-mail asking whether I have seen that Washington-based Creative International Associates Inc (CAII) has been awarded a contract worth US$ 62 million to re-build the education system of Iraq. I haven't, so I look up CAII's website and read its news of April 14, 2003, "The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded Creative Associates International, Inc. (CAII) the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education (RISE) Project, which will seek to mend more than a decade of neglect to Iraq's education sector."
The situation in Iraqi schools is terrible; here are some basic statistics from TFF PressInfo 173. The data covers the changes that have taken place since the late 1980s and early 1990s, i.e. a period in which the regime has not conducted any wars.
- No longer attending primary school: 31% girls, 18% boys
- No longer attending secondary school: 50% boys and 60% girls
- Teacher salary: US $ 3-5; shifts, classes of up to 60 pupils, outdated curriculum
- 5,100 new school buildings need to be built, 70% of existing schools need rehabilitation
- Literacy rate 1998: 58%, used to be much higher in the 1980s due to literacy campaigns; thus, adult literacy rate was 72% in 1987.
- Female illiteracy has increased from 8% in 1985 to 45% in 1995.
The US was the most eager to continue the sanctions that amounted to a genocide on the Iraqis and destruction of their health and school system. That must be what is meant by "neglect" above? If so, it's history's irony that a US private, for-profit company is now to rebuild Iraq's schools?
Creative Associates International Inc.
Here is what you can read on CAII's homepage:
"Creative Associates will lead an alliance of partners on the RISE Project which aims to provide rapid distribution of school materials, equipment, and supplies in Iraq. Education reform efforts will underscore accelerated learning and enhanced teacher and school capacity, breathing life into an education system that was once among the strongest in the Middle East.
Rapid assessment processes will be initiated immediately to meet the educational system's most pressing needs. Iraqi NGO partners will be trained to guide local data collectors that will help establish targets for rapid distribution of materials. The American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG), will lead procurement efforts.
Accelerated learning pilot projects will be launched in five counties to address girls' education, the needs of overage pupils, and out-of-school youth. US-based Iraqi NGO partners bring a wealth of local knowledge and will help provide basic services, with an eye to reaching especially needy rural areas."
I read this a couple of times and I still don't understand what they are actually going to do. I do not know what is meant by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) in Iraq; under Saddam there were only Near-Governmental Organisations. And I wonder how much US-based Iraqi NGOs can contribute given the situation on the ground. But I do understand it will be both rapid, immediate, accelerated…
Here follows excerpts of how CAII presents itself and I quote at length with a purpose:
CAII was founded in 1977 as a private for-profit international consulting firm. It employs in excess of 200 staff, and operates in 12 field offices around the world; it had in FY 2001 revenues of $35M and has in excess of $200 million in signed contracts. It is a minority, women-owned and managed firm and has security clearance to handle classified work/information.
CAII believes in corporate values and excellence, equity, inclusion, diversity, empowerment, sustainability, and client participation and "approaches change as an opportunity to transform and renew."
Here is what it says about civil society, "The existence of an independent, engaged and politically active civil society is a condition for a participatory and accountable democracy. CAII enhances the capacity of civil society actors so they can more fully participate in democratic life. In particular, CAII's efforts seek to strengthen the role of civil society in the human rights, electoral, legislative advocacy, and governance arenas. CAII's projects foster citizen participation to fight corruption, heighten transparency, and demand accountability."
This is how it describes its work in Afghanistan, also with AMEG as a partner:
"On the eve of the new school year in Afghanistan, 50 metric tons of new primary textbooks were revised, printed and are being delivered to schools across Afghanistan.
Under the USAID-funded $16.5 million Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP) and in close collaboration with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education, a consortium led by Creative Associates International completed the job. Requiring complex logistics, books were airlifted from Indonesia to meet the March 22, 2003 school season deadline. … By late May, in close collaboration with the American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG), more than 10 million new text books will have been produced and transported to Afghanistan by Creative Associates International."
So, it produces and transports school books. How will they produce millions of school books for Iraq's children? USAID says that the U.S. government's goal is to ensure that children are prepared for the new school year beginning in September 2003. Will it be translated versions of those in Afghanistan? I mean, it takes some time to assess the needs and construct the above-mentioned 5,100 new school rooms and rehabilitate 70% (or more now after the war) of the existing ones - and at least some of that must be in place first?
Then it takes time to get Iraqis - authorities, teachers, parents, and children - involved. To CAII participatory and democratic methods are essential, right? During the process, there may turn up conflicts and they must be handled throughout the education system. I then think of things like the negotiation of salaries with the various teacher categories, the development of curriculum with them, organising the ministerial structure, etc. - not to mention the writing of the many and different types of text books. And, yes of course, there is all the screening to be done so you avoid having bad guys, such as Ba’ath Party members, to teach the innocent souls of primary and secondary levels.
I spent a long time browsing CAII's website. All of the texts are of the type above, that's why I quote them at length so you can see slippery marketing language with no real content. I can only hope it does not reflect the quality of a firm that calls itself creative and works with educating millions and millions of people in 12 countries around the world.
There is not a word anywhere about the content, the difficulties ahead, the cultural sensitivity. Not a word about how CAII is to go about it, the didactics and the philosophy of learning that will be applied to this country and its different religious and ethnic communities.
It's not that I expect the American occupiers to introduce Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed or the convivial de-schooling thinking of Ivan Illich. But there could have been a hint - provided, of course, that CAII does not see education as a purely technical, tooling problem, a standard package that can be air-dropped anywhere American interests are at stake and USAID funding therefore available.
And how do you "rebuild the educational system" - quite a formulation! - of a country you have not worked in before? I mean, what does CAII really know about the millions of children it is going to "help", "service", "empower", "democratise" and who have now been "liberated" by the US "President" a few blocks away from CAII's offices in Washington?
By the way, he is a "President" who has done quite a lot to "neglect" education in the US itself. If you don't trust me, take a look at Michael Moore's Stupid White Men…which will also remind you why George W. Bush's official title should be between quotation marks.
Since there is so much I don't understand, I surf a bit more and, fortunately, find a Fox News Channel interview with CAII's President and CEO, Charito Kruvant.
But, it seems she says only the right things - bordering on platitudes - and nothing of substance:
We start by communicating with the Iraqi people. One of the things that we have learned in our work is that the education belongs to the people in the country.
Hard pressed about how reasonable it is that foreigners come in to teach the Iraqis, she insists that CAII is only helping:
“[H]and-in-hand with the Iraqi people, we will be able to identify - first of all, we need to assess the real numbers. Secondly, we need to decide what other kinds of things are the schools going need for October 1 when school starts? We also know that the Iraqi regime has not been providing the kinds of educational tools or educational materials that the children need.
So, really, the U.S. government is committed to support them. One of the things that we're going to be doing is looking around to see what they need. Do they need pencils? Do they need notebooks? Do they need blackboards? We've seen in some instances that some of the schools have been ransacked."
Oh my! You get US$62 million and that's all you can say? And the Iraqi kids are going to have a "new Iraq" by October 1 - "hopefully" in co-operation with the Ministry of Education:
"Our goal is that with the Iraqis and, hopefully, with the ministry of education, we will be able to by October 1 start the schools in a way that really demonstrates the transformation to a new Iraq.
Qualifying for the contract - embedded with Washington's power circles
I continue my surfing on the wonderful Internet and begin to understand that the company's President and CEO, Charito Kruvant, is a very special person. She was born in Bolivia and raised in Argentina. Judging from what can be found on the Internet about her, she is extremely well connected with the business community in Washington and rated as one of the 100 most powerful women in the capital.
"Since 1998, she has been a leader in the Project in Search of a National Security Strategy, an effort that focuses on U.S. interests and values through the promotion of legitimate governance and economic opportunities at home and abroad. It involves the integration of concepts of democratic freedom, the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and American idealism."
She is also board director of Calvert, a socially responsible investment company. Ms. Kruvant is involved in combating terrorism and emergency situations in Washington:
"The Greater Washington Board of Trade has rounded up four people - former AOL executive George Vradenburg, Marsh managing director (and Connolly's boss) Dick Duncan, KPMG's John Veihmeyer and Creative Associates' Charito Kruvant - to develop plans complementary to the government's."
One must assume that combating terrorism in the US capital offer a lot of political mileage. Long ago, Ms. Kruvant had even helped the US disarm the Contras and undermined apartheid in South Africa.
"Kruvant has worked with rape victims in Bosnia and oppressed women in Afghanistan. One of her most memorable moments on the job must include being part of a U.S. government mission to convince the Contras that it was time to put down their weapons and prepare for more peaceful activities. To travel to her meeting with Nicaraguan guerillas, she was lowered from a helicopter near their mountain retreat. Kruvant also was especially proud to be among the few Americans to work within South Africa to end apartheid. She and her team helped prepare black South African leaders to participate in governing their country."
On a US government mission to disarm the Contras in Nicaragua - well…I have not been able to find more about this part of the CAII CEO's life. The Arias Peace Plan was signed on August 7, 1987, CAII founded in 1977.
"The speed -- and lack of competitive bidding -- with which the State Department agency awarded six of its eight initial Iraqi reconstruction contracts drew criticism from Congress and attention to companies that, like IRG, had been little known outside the international development community…
M. Charito Kruvant, president and chief executive of Creative Associates International Inc., a Washington consulting firm awarded a school reconstruction contract worth as much as $62 million, said government contractors are used to scrutiny.
"The issue of transparency is part of our life," Kruvant said. "I usually say quite comfortably that people know my shoe size."
"American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG) is a small woman owned firm whose core business is as a Procurement Services Agent (PSA); however, AMEG's strength is in providing a range of technical services for humanitarian and economic development projects worldwide. While AMEG specializes in the fields of procurement and logistics, we have also built a reputation for capable management of large scale programs, high quality feasibility studies, design, implementation, and evaluation."
Interestingly, while Sandra Tribble is President, Wess Tribble is Executive Vice President:
"Wess Tribble has extensive international experience as a private sector executive, as a senior Foreign Service Officer, and Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served with USAID Missions in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Upon retirement from the Foreign Service, he assumed the position of Executive Vice President of AMEG. He has been involved in numerous sensitive programs worldwide."
Who knows what it could mean that one has been in the US foreign service and the Marine Corps and been involved in sensitive programs?
It can't be excluded that Creative Associates Incorporated does good things to many people. I have not conducted an analysis beyond the website and the media coverage.
But there are reasons to question why, without much competition, if any at all, this company has been appointed and awarded the considerable sum of US$ 62 million to bring education to a historically civilised country that used to be perfectly able to educate its own people to a very high level.
1. This is private enterprise, for-profit education export. Whatever learning it conveys it will be compatible with the corporate values that furthers US globalisation interests.
2. Funding sources, methods and structure are likely to influence, if not dominate, the content of what Iraqi children will learn in the future. So, exactly what will Iraqis kids learn?
3. The slick presentation, the fashionable, politically correct words used on the homepage betray a worldview that is fundamentally different from the world in which the program is to be implemented.
4. It is structurally destined to serve US government and corporate interests more than - as yet unidentified and unknown - Iraqi needs for learning. How could it be participatory and create a "new Iraq" in 4-5 months?
5. Such programs will hardly be able to teach Iraqi children anything that is not politically correct in the eyes of the current regime in Washington.
6. With fly-in technology and tools in the driver's seat, content takes the back seat. That clashes fundamentally with creativity and with the needs of a people yearning for freedom of thought and speech.
7. It is too close to USAID and the US government. However sympathetic one might be to a company that is minority and woman owned, Ms. Kruvant's connections and status in Washington's powerful circles, raises the suspicion of favouritism.
8. True, many may sympathise with the implicit values and world views 'embedded' in these types of quick-fix programs, but do they - at the end of the day - provide the Iraqis more freedom than, say, the old Ba’ath Party values that many may like a lot less?
Fast education...the Burger philosophy spreading
In short, it looks like quick-fix, air-dropped, fast education. It looks like facade and superficiality: “See how we care for the Iraqis and their children,” while in reality we don't give them a chance to influence the process! It's difficult to see how they'll be subjects and not objects in the process.
A hamburger is a poor meal compared with a thoughtfully prepared meal based on the best raw materials and the art of cooking. The risk is high that Iraq's children will be educated according to the hamburger model. But we can be sure that the US will soon tell us about the "success" and count their "rapid, immediate, accelerated learning" by the metric tons of education and the millions of books. More means better! Perhaps this is the American Way? But it isn't good.
After 25 years of dictatorship, 4 wars and 12 years of sanctions, could the occupying Master really not do something more serious for the children and youth of Iraq? Could the US not show just a little more respect for the "liberated" Iraqis and their most important assets?
If children are the future, the time for investigative reporting is now! The real battle for Iraq is the one that has started now after the war. So, to the media: Please don't go away, stay seized with the matter!
Jan Oberg is the Director of the Transnational Foundation For Peace and Future Research in Sweden (http://www.transnational.org). © Copyright Jan Oberg and TFF 2003