Weapons fear keeps old computers in class;Briefing;International

23rd October 1998 at 01:00

A shipment of more than 1,000 computers for Iraqi schools has finally been approved after being blocked for more than a year by Britain and America.

Despite a report from the United Nations' education arm urging the UN to release the contract, Britain and America said they considered the numbers of computers to be excessive and were concerned about their possible "dual-use" for weapons development.

The block has now been released on condition that the computers, originally Pentium PCs exported by an Indian company, are downgraded to out-of-date models. The shipment is only enough to be distributed to students in 200 selected state schools in central and southern Iraq.

There are two other requests for computers still awaiting approval by the UN sanctions committee that vets all contracts.

Last month Dennis Halliday, the then UN humanitarian Co-ordinator, said:

"The devastation of the Iraqi education system requires much more than the current programme allows."

Certainly, such a slow, piecemeal introduction of out-of-date computer equipment will not bring Iraq and its children into the modern computer age. Before the embargo imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait the Iraqi government planned to introduce computers into all of its schools. Since 1990 they have fallen well behind in the computer revolution, unable to establish even one Internet connection.

"We've dropped out of history," said Ahmed Al-Mukhtar, a computer programmer and lecturer. His daughter, Rusul, attends Mutamizat, a private school for gifted girls. She studies computing there using computers bought before the sanctions. They would hardly be recognisable as such by students in Britain today. They won't even run a word-processing package. In class she and her friends share these "Flintstone" computers, as she calls them, one between three.

Rusul, however, is privileged. Most Iraqi schools, starved of equipment after eight years of sanctions, do not have enough desks let alone computers.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today