BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Education Ministry officials say dilapidated schools, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of funds are the major challenges as the school year started for millions of children this week, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.
Walid Hussein, the head of the Education Ministry's press department, told RFI that the ministry inherited more than 15,000 school buildings that have not been maintained or upgraded over the past 20 years.
Hussein added that the Education Ministry's budget for this year has been reduced to some $156 million at a time when contracts worth more than $463 million have been signed with construction companies to build new schools or to renovate older ones.
He said the ministry is counting on a Japanese grant to reduce the deficit between the contracts and the ministry's budget.
But Hussein said that even with the some 2,700 schools Iraq plans to build with funds from the grant there will still be a shortage of schools this academic year.
Habib al-Shammari, Iraq's director of school buildings, told RFI that in 2007 and 2008 his office built 700 schools but that this year far fewer have been constructed due to a lack of funding and suitable land, as well as an absence of data on which districts need new schools most urgently.
Al-Shammari said that in some parts of the country there are as many as 120 pupils in one classroom.
School Planning and Design Director Anaam Majid told RFI that to address the problem of school shortages and overcrowded classrooms -- especially in poor neighborhoods -- the ministry is working with the World Bank and drawing up plans for multistory schools that will start being constructed in 2010.