Excerpt from Briefing by USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios (Press Release, December 3, 2004.)
"In the area of education, 25 years ago, Iraq had one of the best educations systems in the Middle East. That steadily declined during the 1990s. As we entered the country, in terms of our troops, schools were poorly maintained. Particularly in the Shia areas in the south, the child attendance rate in schools was very low, especially among girls. We tried to open as many schools as we could in October 2003. By that time, 1500 schools had been rehabilitated. And some of these schools were in such terrible condition, you could not teach in them. They were -- some of them were partially collapsed; and so parents wouldn't send their kids. In some cases, there were no girls' latrines, and particularly in the Shia areas in the south, parents would not send their girls to school unless there were separate latrines for boys and girls.
"We've now repaired, as of March of this year, some 2500 schools. We've trained about 32,000 teachers, and we've reprinted -- working with UNICEF and UNESCO -- 8.7 million textbooks and reprinted, or printed new textbooks, particularly in the math and sciences areas.
"We have awarded five grants in one of the most innovative programs we're doing, which has got almost no visibility at all, which I think is quite a wonderful program, five American universities won competitive bids with five European universities they have partnered with, with five Iraqi universities, and we're hoping to expand this program next year sometime. And what that does is delegations of university professors from Iraq -- I met with some of them, and they said they hadn't been out of the country in 25 years, not even to a neighboring country. And so they were locked in Iraq, literally, for a couple of decades.
"And so, and there was almost very limited or no access to the internet. Some of them didn't even know what it was except by rumor, and we've opened internet cafes in many of the universities now and so people have access to the outside world. But professors are now visiting Europe from these universities to these exchanges, and the United States, and we're doing counter-trips by our professors there.
"We're also holding training sessions, bringing different technical disciplines up to international standards in terms of what the research has shown and done in their fields in the last decade and a half. And these are in the areas of the rule of law, health, education, the environment, agriculture and their cultural heritage."