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Teaching Iraqi children to look ahead

Alisa Roth Mar 25, 2008

Teaching Iraqi children to look ahead

Alisa Roth Mar 25, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: The United Nations says more than 4 million Iraqis have been displaced because of the war. Just over 2 million are still inside the country. An equal number is spread across the rest of the Middle East.

Three quarters of a million or more are in Jordan. They’re not gathered in a single refugee camp. They’re spread out into the local communities, where they’ve had to find places to live and enough to eat and an education for their children.

Marketplace’s Alisa Roth reports from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Alisa Roth: It’s a Thursday evening. School was dismissed hours ago, but the lights are on in one classroom at the far end of a dingy hallway at this school in Marqa, near Amman. Outside the door is a pile of shoes. Inside, a dozen or so boys are sitting in a circle playing a math game.

Jawad Al-Ghousous: The main purpose of this program is to allow the kids to go back to a sort of educational system.

Jawad Al-Ghousous works with QuestScope, a non-profit that runs a program for dropouts in Jordan, which uses non-traditional teaching methods to help kids get a high school equivalency degree.

These days, he’s working hard to get Iraqis involved in the program, too. There are probably tens of thousands of Iraqi kids living in Jordan who should be in school, but aren’t. Circumstances — including some government policies — mean that a lot of them have dropped out. For one thing, Iraqi refugees weren’t even allowed to attend public schools in Jordan until this academic year. For another, Jordanian law forbids any student who misses three years of school from reentering the system.

So a kid like Ismail, who hasn’t been enrolled since his family left Iraq three years ago, couldn’t go back to school, even if he wanted to. He’s one of the boys playing math games this evening.

Ismail: I can’t go to school because I have to support my family.

He works as a cashier in a school cafeteria. His brother, who’s also in the class, sells flowers in the street. For them, basic survival is more pressing than education right now and Al-Ghousous realizes it:

Al-Ghousous: But when they will start to know that they will stay more than they thought before, they will look for opportunities. One of these major opportunities is education.

Education’s key not just for the kids, but for the whole society. Jason Erb works for Save the Children, an NGO involved with education issues.

Jason Erb: Their future education prospects are down to next to nothing and of course that’s going to have a huge impact on what they can do when they reach adulthood.

It’ll have a huge impact on Jordan, too, if the Iraqis end up staying, because they’ll be unskilled and hard to employ. If they do end up going home, it’ll have a huge impact on Iraq, because many of Iraq’s professional class — the doctors, lawyers, engineers — have fled the country. Their children are the ones who should be the professional class of the future, but now many are being denied an education.

Erb: And that’s why a lot of organizations are looking at other ways to at least provide some sort of educational opportunity or some other sorts of skills to these kids.

Like at this community center in East Amman, where Iraqi students can take remedial classes in subjects like math, English and Arabic, whether they’re enrolled in local schools or not.

The programs are free and they’re designed to be flexible to allow for students who have to work or care for younger siblings, but even minimal costs such as carfare can be enough to keep kids from attending and none offers an obvious path to a university education, even for students who had been on that track in Iraq.

Groups like QuestScope are still trying to figure out how to change that. Al-Ghousous says until they do, these programs still offer obvious advantages.

Al-Ghousous: The main benefit from this is not just to be educated, not just to know how to read and write, not just to have life skills…

…but to remind the students that they, too can have a future, which is what Ismail says.

He has to work every day, but at night he comes to study because he still wants to go to the university.

In Marqa, Jordan, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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