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In Iraq's Kurdistan Region, teacher strikes highlight schooling crisis

The regional government is three months behind on paying its public servants, including teachers, as part of larger budget disagreements with Iraq’s federal government.
Iraqi teachers and civil servants protest on Oct. 7, 2015 in Sulaimaniyah, in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

RANYA, Iraqi Kurdistan — Standing in the schoolyard of Korean Village Secondary School on Sept. 13, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani rang a bell to open the new academic year. Uniformed students and officials in suits clapped politely as government photographers captured the moment. 

Such a calm scene would give the impression all was well in the public education sector in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. But as the bell’s brass tones rang out, tens of thousands of teachers in Sulaimaniyah governorate walked off the job amid a labor dispute, while students elsewhere crammed into overcrowded and underequipped classrooms. 

Primary and secondary education does the hard work of serving the entire population and teaching basic skills but gets far less attention than the Kurdistan Region’s universities. By most accounts, the public school system is struggling to fulfill its fundamental mission to educate all children so that they can develop the skills needed to succeed in higher education and the modern workplace. Moreover, today's students will help the Kurdistan Region to develop its society and economy.

“They make so many promises. But they never take action. They always just promise,” Paiman Ismail said of the KRG during an interview at her home in Ranya, a large town in northern Sulaimaniyah governorate, referring to the government's obligation to provide basic public goods like education and health care and services like water and electricity.

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