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Iraq Charges Fees for Education

September 4, 2000

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ With the start of a new school year, Iraq has begun charging students to attend classes at public schools.

An Education Ministry official said Sunday the annual fees would be used to maintain buildings, add to teacher salaries and buy supplies like chalk and blackboards.

Fees will vary depending on the student’s age, and range from $1 per year per student to $12.50. An average Iraqi family has four children in school and the typical Iraqi salary is about $48 a year.

Iraq, once wealthy because of vast oil reserves, had offered free education from kindergarten through the highest university degree.

The Iraqi economy has been destroyed by war and international trade sanctions imposed to punish it for invading Kuwait in 1990. Aid groups say children have been hardest hit by the economic collapse, with many families unable to provide their children enough food and medicine and some taking them from school and sending them out to beg or work.

The cash-strapped government has been unable to build new schools for years, resulting in serious overcrowding. Class rooms built for 30 now routinely hold 50 or more _ even after schools resorted to double sessions.

More than 4 million students started school Friday.

``It is becoming harder and harder for us to raise our children the way we were raised,″ said Mustafa Radhi, 36, father of two students and a civil servant.

Radhi said his monthly salary is the equivalent of $3.50 and he must pay a total of $6 in tuition for his two children.

Fakhir Tawfiq, principal of one of Baghdad’s elementary schools, said he has had to put off maintenance for years. Windows are broken and walls need repairs, he said.

``The cracks in the walls are so big, birds started building nests inside them,″ he said.