OHCHR, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP joint press release on International Day of Education:
24 January 2021
Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.
Recognizing the collective responsibilities of governments, civil society and the international community in realizing this right, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as the International Day of Education, to continuously remind us of the role of education in realizing peace and sustainable development.
This year’s global theme is ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’. World over including in Iraq, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures have shown how central learning is: for social cohesion, wellbeing, and building of a prosperous future. On this day, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) call on the government as well as the international community in Iraq for continued investments towards a more flexible, sustainable education system, that is suitable to the needs of learning in Iraq. The UN in Iraq affirms its commitment to support and work with the government and all partners, on efforts to ensure that every learner has access to quality educational opportunities.
In Iraq, the closure of schools, universities and learning institutions, and the interruption of many literacy and lifelong educational programs have affected more than11 million learners in Iraq. For children, this impacted not only upon their ability to learn, but also their access to nutritious food and additional health support schemes. Since the start of the outbreak, the UN has worked closely to support the Federal Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government to minimize the impact of the disruption in schooling, and develop a framework for safe school reopening as part of efforts to ensure that all learning is taking place in a safe manner.
UNESCO and UNICEF have collaborated with the government on establishing an education television channel (ETV), online education portals, production and broadcast of television lessons and self-learning materials. At least 4 million children and adolescents, including some in the most vulnerable communities, have been able to continue access to learning. Together UNESCO and UNICEF have also supported the government and NGO partners to ensure that 192,312 children in camps for internally displaced people, returnee areas, as well as out-of-school children in the governorates of Anbar, Erbil, Duhok and Salah Al din continue their education through a blended approach, that combines face-to-face learning, remote studying, and home-based learning.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call – to make education systems more resilient to crisis, and more inclusive, flexible and sustainable. It has forced the systems to innovate to ensure continuation of education, challenged teachers to adapt to distance pedagogical approaches and forced parents to provide learning support at home. In Iraq, besides the provision of sanitizers, gloves and masks for teachers and students for immediate response, UNESCO is supporting training of the trainers and teachers in blended distance learning and strengthening of e-learning platforms. Further, recognizing the limitations and challenges of internet access for online learning in rural and remote areas, UNESCO is working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and partners to develop and broadcast TV lessons for all subjects for all 1 – 12 grades, and Alternative Learning classes reaching more than 9 million across the entire country”, said Paolo Fontani, UNESCO Representative to Iraq.
“Since day one, UNICEF has been working to ensure that the most innovative and up to date learning methods are adapted to children’s needs here in Iraq, and that children are able to continue learning in the safest possible way. We also trained educators on delivering blended learning and have equipped studying and taking exams in over 5,000 schools and centres in Iraq with disinfectant and protective gear,” explained Dr Paula Bulancea, UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Iraq.
With the reopening of schools, WFP and the MoE worked to re-launch the National School Feeding Programme (NSFP) this past week, which will support 255,000 primary schoolchildren in 11 vulnerable districts across Iraq. Children benefiting from the programme receive a healthy meal at the beginning of the school day. Through the NSFP, WFP and MoE aim to increase enrolment and attendance rates while providing support to the most vulnerable families and communities. During Ramadan when schools were closed, WFP and MoE arranged take-home food baskets for children and their families, reaching nearly 140,000 people.
In 2020, WFP and UNICEF signed a Joint Work Plan to bring together expertise and support to improve education and learning, nutrition and health, for school age children. The joint approach is working to enhance the overall wellbeing of school children in Iraq. With the Directorate of Education in Basra, WFP and UNICEF are collaborating on a pilot project to help around 2,500 girls’ transition from primary to intermediate education, through providing cash stipends to support the girls’ families during the academic year. “Health and education are interlinked. When we provide the complementary support that children need, from school meals to helping relieve the financial burden on families, we can help them fully realise their potential during their formative years,” said WFP Representative in Iraq, Abdirahman Meygag.
And on the occasion of International Day of Education, OHCHR published the second report in a series on The Right to Education in Iraq: Obstacles to Girls’ Education after ISIL. The report highlights the indispensable role of educated girls in post conflict stabilization, transition and recovery, and identifies how traditional gender roles and norms, family levels of education, poverty, perceived protection concerns, and trauma continue to create barriers for girls’ access to education.
“Measures to ensure equality of access to education engender broader human rights dividends for society as a whole, including long-term peace and stability”, said Danielle Bell, OHCHR Representative in Iraq. “The report provides practical recommendations to address specific institutional and societal barriers girls face to access education and aims to promote inclusive and equitable education for all children in Iraq.”
The investments made by the government and the partners, in provision of distance and blended learning methodologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq, are also an opportunity for the education system to transform itself towards a more flexible and sustainable system, providing an inclusive and equitable lifelong learning environment in the longer term, for all children and learners in Iraq. The UN in Iraq re-iterates its commitments to support this endeavour.