NEWS | Nov. 8, 2010

Baghdad takes a stand on illiteracy

By Spc. Amie McMillan , 10th Public Affairs Operations Center

BAGHDAD (Nov. 4, 2010) — What seemed like a dream months ago to bring basic education to Iraqis is now a reality thanks to the cooperation between U.S. and Iraqi agencies.

A ceremony at AL-Nahrain University, recently, marked the beginning of a new opportunity, the Arabic Literacy Program, as 400 centers opened their doors to help educate the people of the Baghdad province. The sites for the centers were chosen by the Baghdad Provincial Council and the Deputy Minister of Education.

The program is the first of its kind in Iraq and was developed in hopes of reaching almost two-million illiterate people in Baghdad. It took several agencies to bring this together, including Iraqi non-governmental organizations, government of Iraq officials, United States Forces-Iraq and the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team.

“It took us a great effort to put the right foundation down for the entire project,” said Fatina Baban, Iraqi teacher, Committee for Women. “We would like to educate all the people in the capital and we’re going to start doing it in all the provinces over here.”

According to the Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, one in five Iraqis, ages 10 to 49 are unable to read or write, which significantly decreases their ability to function in a growing society.

“We were [overcome] by the response because as history will tell you, Iraq had been the center of education for the Middle East for many, many years,” said Air Force Col. Greg Zehner, energy and services division chief, United States Forces – Iraq. “It’s good to see they’re working their way back, taking their rightful lead as the center of education.”

More than 1,770 people were certified to teach literacy classes after professors at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., trained a group of Iraqi instructors using video teleconference technology during a three-week course in the spring at Baghdad University.

“At a critical juncture, the PRT came up with funding to allow the cadre of Iraqi literacy instructors to train with experts from James Madison University on skills to reach adult learners. Those trainers then went on to instruct all of the other teachers who will be leading the classes across the Baghdad province,” said Eric Turner, public diplomacy officer, Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The Baghdad PRT assisted and advised the Baghdad Provincial Council and Ministry of Education throughout the planning process for the literacy program. After the class through James Madison University, the PRT watched as Iraqi leaders and organizations took the lead to ensure success of the program and the people of the Baghdad province. They not only provided the funding and materials for the literacy program, they also volunteered their time to locate students who would benefit from the educational opportunity.

“I think in the long run, that element of the connection with James Madison University and educating people how to teach will have a great impact on Iraq in the future,” said Robert Kuntz, Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team leader.

Iraq is the taking lead in recognizing and solving their own problems, while the United States steps back and provides counsel and support.

“The ultimate goal, as the country rebuilds an education infrastructure devastated by decades of war and [United Nations] sanctions, is that Iraq will be able to educate its people when they are children, and eliminate the need for such a comprehensive adult literacy effort,” said Turner.

“We hope that eventually as children come up through the education system, they learn to read in that manner, and the rate of the adult illiteracy drops from there,” said Kuntz.

The success of the Arabic Literacy Program demonstrates the importance of establishing a foundation for the future with our Iraqi, coalition, and interagency partners in a collaborative effort to rebuild a stable Iraq during Operation New Dawn.