From education to employment

Alan Corbett, International Officer, Association of South East Colleges, has just returned from

Being ex RAF, I knew that there was a possibility of being recalled for military service, though confess to being taken totally by surprise when the order arrived. I was sent there as an everyday soldier, with no aspect of my task relating to education or rebuilding the nation. My comments are based on casual observation and a deeply felt need to do something to put right the dire state of affairs.

Nobody with an interest in history can deny that Iraq is one of the pillars of civilization, if not the pillar upon which the modern world has evolved. And this is as evident today as it would have been several thousand years ago. Contrary to what some readers may expect, I found Iraqis to be charming, charismatic and thoughtful. If the country has descended into chaos, that is the result of other factors and certainly unrelated to the inherent qualities of this noble race who have learned to live and function in a society of unimaginable hardship and horror. If ever there were a people in need of help to put right their evils, this is it and I, for one, hold the Iraqi people in the highest esteem.

There is a form of basic schooling and indeed higher education that still functions in post-war Iraq, albeit both are in deep crisis. Indeed, it is not uncommon to meet somebody who is illiterate and has never been to school. These days, school is for those up to 14 years, at best, though no education is increasingly the norm. Sadly, Further Education is possibly the sector in most urgent need of help and it is largely the result of charitable efforts by a small handful of dedicated volunteers in the UK ““ a group known as Rawabit – that there is any skills” or vocational training for the masses. That is not to say that there are not dedicated Iraqis striving to improve the situation ““ and who face lethal danger every day as a consequence ““ but their efforts are restrained by lack of resources and progress will only follow if there is outside help. FE for everybody must become the norm and there should be equipment and facilities to match, otherwise involvement in illegal activity, whilst abhorrent, seems to me to be not altogether surprising. I cannot help but wonder what other outcome can be expected. If ever there were a need to prove that FE matters, Iraq is surely it. Speak to any young man ““ and this is a male driven society – and he will tell you that crime was not his first choice, but in the absence of access to education and a trade what else could he do? This is not to make an excuse ““ nothing can justify the dreadfulness of some of the acts that are commonplace in Basra ““ but rather an indication that there is no undercurrent of criminality in Iraqi society, just a desperate need to survive in a world, the horror of which we cannot envisage in our comfortable, western homes.

Believe me, there are few experiences worse than that of having an Iraqi youngster ““ in his late teens or early 20s ““ pleading with you to shoot him as “he is tired of life”. But in a futureless world, with no means of earning a living or supporting a large family, such events were commonplace.

As I write this script I await a call to join forces with Rawabti and do what I can to accelerate the rebuilding of FE in Iraq so that everybody will have the opportunity to learn skills which will, in turn, allow them to earn a dignified living. It is too early to reveal our plans but, for now, suffice to say that there is a recognition that FE must be rebuilt as a priority before there is any hope of “normality” in Basra.

I hope that the FE Sector will understand that Basra deserves this help and support us when we come to ask for practical assistance. There can be no finer opportunity for the FE sector to reflect on its value and do something good, something to change lives and bring a glimmer of hope to a people drowned in adversity. Failure to act is to abandon a people to the abyss.

Alan is keen to hear from other people who wish to assist in the rebuilding of Iraqi FE, especially those in a position to influence reconstruction. Please contact him on [email protected]

Photo: RAF Halton

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