UNITED STATES. The battle for Iraq is still raging but the Americans have chosen who is to rebuild its schools. Stephen Phillips reports
A pound;108 million contract to rebuild Iraq's neglected and damaged schools has already been awarded to a private American company by the US government.
Washington DC-based consultancy Creative Associates International will spearhead an ambitious 12-month "educational revitalisation programme", dubbed Rise.
Rise faces huge challenges. The 25,000 Iraqi schools have suffered from systematic under-investment, institutionalised truancy, and indoctrination.
Staff have left in droves and illiteracy is growing.
The contract is for textbooks, desks and blackboards. It will also look at curriculum reform, academic standards and teacher training.
Half the schools serving Iraq's 5.7 million primary-age children were deemed unfit for teaching by the United Nations Children's Fund in 2001. Up to one in four children skips class, typically to earn their families extra income.
The revamp is part of a programme billed as the largest-ever humanitarian relief effort. It is seen by some as the White House scheming to carve up post-Saddam Iraq with lucrative contracts for American businesses, passing over better-qualified aid agencies.
Creative Associates has farmed out at least half the schools project to sub-contractors to plug expertise gaps, a source close to the bidding process told The TES.
"So many different organisations have experience in post-conflict education, yet the contract was given to a consultancy that is now fishing around for people with expertise to sub-contract to," said a spokesperson for humanitarian agency, Care USA.
"A contractor is OK for building a bridge but not for an education programme where cultural issues are involved, like whether boys and girls should be in the same classroom," said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
Rudy Von Bernuth of Save the Children USA said enlisting a commercial outfit went "against the grain of what we've learned works over the past 40 years".
Creative Associates declined official comment. But a spokesman for USAid, the international development arm of the US government, said the 260-person firm had copious experience managing similar projects. "No one company has the capacity to undertake all the work," said Luke Zahner.
He added that the schools contract was awarded hastily last month so that the contractor will be ready as soon as hostilities cease.
The Bush administration cannot afford to fumble post-war reconstruction if it wants to win over the Iraqi people, US observers agreed.
Speciality: education and helping post-crisis communities
Programme examples: textbook printing, design of accelerated
learning programmes and devising teacher-training radiomaterials in Afghanistan; education programmes to rehabilitate child soldiers in Mozambique; three years of HIVAids education work in Zambia.