philosophy to quick
Iraq's education system
What kind of
education will Iraq's children get under US
We've heard it time and again and we know it's an old
truth: our kids are the future. These weeks, the
media focus almost exclusively on the war, on military
people who "rebuild" Iraq (after having destroyed it) and
they focus on politics.
But together with security, no aspect of post-war
reconstruction, reconciliation and development is more
important than the education system in a broad sense. It
certainly deserves more media attention than it gets.
What the US occupation administration does these very
weeks is intended to have a long-term impact on the Iraqi
society - that is if they succeed.
Naturally, therefore, I get very curious when, a few
days ago, a friend sends me an e-mail asking whether I
have seen that Washington-based Creative International
Associates Inc, CAII, has been awarded a contract worth
US$ 62 million to re-build the education system of Iraq.
I haven't, so I look up CAII's
website and read its news of April 14, 2003, "The
United States Agency for International Development
(USAID) has awarded Creative Associates International,
Inc. (CAII) the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and
Stabilization of Education (RISE) Project, which will
seek to mend more than a decade of neglect to Iraq's
kids in Iraq
The situation in Iraqi schools is terrible; here are
some basic statistics from TFF
PressInfo 173. The data cover the changes that have
taken place since the late 1980s and early 1990s, i.e. a
period in which the regime has not conducted any
- No longer attending primary school: 31% girls,
- No longer attending secondary school: 50% boys
and 60% girls
- Teacher salary: US $ 3-5; shifts, classes of
up to 60 pupils, outdated curriculum
- 5,100 new school buildings need to be built,
70% of existing schools need rehabilitation
- Literacy rate 1998: 58%, used to be much
higher in the 1980s due to literacy campaigns;
thus, adult literacy rate was 72% in 1987.
- Female illiteracy has increased from 8% in
1985 to 45% in 1995.
The US was the most eager to continue the sanctions
that amounted to a genocide on the Iraqis and destruction
of their health and school system. That must be what is
meant by "neglect" above? If so, it's history's irony
that a US private, for-profit company is now to rebuild
Here is what you can read on CAII's homepage:
"Creative Associates will lead an alliance of
partners on the RISE Project which aims to provide
rapid distribution of school materials, equipment, and
supplies in Iraq. Education reform efforts will
underscore accelerated learning and enhanced teacher
and school capacity, breathing life into an education
system that was once among the strongest in the Middle
Rapid assessment processes will be initiated
immediately to meet the educational system's most
pressing needs. Iraqi NGO partners will be trained to
guide local data collectors that will help establish
targets for rapid distribution of materials. The
American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG), will lead
Accelerated learning pilot projects will be
launched in five counties to address girls' education,
the needs of overage pupils, and out-of-school youth.
US-based Iraqi NGO partners bring a wealth of local
knowledge and will help provide basic services, with
an eye to reaching especially needy rural areas."
I read this a couple of times and I still don't
understand what they are actually going to do. I
do not know what is meant by Non-Governmental
Organisations, NGO, in Iraq; under Saddam there were only
Near-Governmental Organisations. And I wonder how
much US-based Iraqi NGOs can contribute given the
situation on the ground. But I do understand it will be
both rapid, immediate, accelerated
Here follows excerpts of how CAII presents itself and
I quote at length with a purpose:
CAII was founded in 1977 as a private
for-profit international consulting firm. It employs
in excess of 200 staff, and operates in 12 field
offices around the world; it had in FY 2001 revenues
of $35M and has in excess of $200 million in signed
contracts. It is a minority, women-owned and managed
firm and has security clearance to handle classified
CAII believes in corporate values and excellence,
equity, inclusion, diversity, empowerment,
sustainability, and client participation and
"approaches change as an opportunity to transform and
Here is what it says about civil society, "The
existence of an independent, engaged and politically
active civil society is a condition for a
participatory and accountable democracy. CAII enhances
the capacity of civil society actors so they can more
fully participate in democratic life. In particular,
CAII's efforts seek to strengthen the role of civil
society in the human rights, electoral, legislative
advocacy, and governance arenas. CAII's projects
foster citizen participation to fight corruption,
heighten transparency, and demand accountability."
This is how it describes its work in Afghanistan, also
with AMEG as a partner:
"On the eve of the new school year in
Afghanistan, 50 metric tons of new primary textbooks
were revised, printed and are being delivered to
schools across Afghanistan.
Under the USAID-funded $16.5 million Afghanistan
Primary Education Program (APEP) and in close
collaboration with the Afghanistan Ministry of
Education, a consortium led by Creative Associates
International completed the job. Requiring complex
logistics, books were airlifted from Indonesia to meet
the March 22, 2003 school season deadline.
late May, in close collaboration with the American
Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG), more than 10
million new text books will have been produced and
transported to Afghanistan by Creative Associates
US$ 62 million for
what education in Iraq?
So. it produces and transports school books.
How will they produce millions of school books for Iraq's
children? USAID says that the U.S. government's goal is
to ensure that children are prepared for the new school
year beginning in September 2003. Will it be translated
versions of those in Afghanistan? I mean, it takes some
time to assess the needs and construct the
above-mentioned 5,100 new school rooms and rehabilitate
70 pct (or more now after the war) of the existing ones -
and at least some of that must be in place first?
Then it takes time to get Iraqis - authorities,
teachers, parents, and children - involved. To CAII
participatory and democratic methods are essential,
right? During the process, there may turn up conflicts
and they must be handled throughout the education system.
I then think of things like the negotiation of salaries
with the various teacher categories, the development of
curriculum with them, organising the ministerial
structure, etc. - not to mention the writing of the many
and different types of text books. And, yes of course,
there is all the screening to be done so you avoid having
bad guys, such as Baath Party member, to teach the
innocent souls of primary and secondary levels.
I spent a long time browsing CAII's website. All of
the texts are of the type above, that's why I quote them
at length so you can see slippery marketing language with
no real content. I can only hope it does not reflect the
quality of a firm that calls itself creative and works
with educating millions and millions of people in 12
places around the world.
There is not a word anywhere about the content,
the difficulties ahead, the cultural sensitivity. Not a
word about how CAII is to go about it, the
didactics and the philosophy of learning that will be
applied to this country and its different religious and
It's not that I expect the American occupiers to
introduce Paolo Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed
or the convivial de-schooling thinking of Ivan
Illich. But there could have been a hint - provided, of
course, that CAII does not see education as a purely
technical, tooling problem, a standard package that can
be air-dropped anywhere American interests are at stake
and USAID funding therefore available.
And how do you "rebuild the educational system" -
quite a formulation! - of a country you have not worked
in before? I mean, what does CAII really know
about the millions of children it is going to "help",
"service", "empower", "democratise" and who have now been
"liberated" by the US "President" a few blocks away from
CAII's offices in Washington?
By the way, he is a "President" who has done quite a
lot to "neglect" education in the US itself. If you don't
trust me, take a look in Michael Moore's Stupid White
which will also remind you why George W.
Bush's official title should be between quotation
Sincere there is so much I don't understand, I surf a
bit more and, fortunately, find a Fox
News Channel interview with CAII's President and CEO,
But, it seems she says only the right things -
bordering on platitudes - and nothing of substance:
- We start by communicating with the Iraqi
people. One of the things that we have learned in our
work is that the education belongs to the people in
Hard pressed about how reasonable it is that
foreigners come in to teach the Iraqis, she insists that
CAII is only helping:
hand-in-hand with the Iraqi people,
we will be able to identify - first of all, we need to
assess the real numbers. Secondly, we need to decide
what other kinds of things are the schools going need
for October 1 when school starts? We also know that
the Iraqi regime has not been providing the kinds of
educational tools or educational materials that the
So, really, the U.S. government is committed to
support them. One of the things that we're going to be
doing is looking around to see what they need. Do they
need pencils? Do they need notebooks? Do they need
blackboards? We've seen in some instances that some of
the schools have been ransacked."
Oh my! You get US$ 62 million and that's all you can
say? And the Iraqi kids are going to have a "new Iraq" by
October 1 - "hopefully" in co-operation with the Ministry
- "Our goal is that with the Iraqis and,
hopefully, with the ministry of education, we will be
able to by October 1 start the schools in a way that
really demonstrates the transformation to a new Iraq.
Qualifying for the
contract - embedded with Washington's power
I continue my surfing on the wonderful Internet and
begin to understand that the company's President and CEO,
Kruvant, is a very special person. She was born in
Bolivia and raised in Argentina. Judging from what can be
found on the Internet about her, she is extremely well
connected with the business community in Washington and
rated as one
of the 100 most powerful women in the capital.
- "Since 1998, she has been a leader in the
Project in Search of a National Security Strategy, an
effort that focuses on U.S. interests and values
through the promotion of legitimate governance and
economic opportunities at home and abroad. It involves
the integration of concepts of democratic freedom, the
rule of law, human rights, free markets, and American
She is also board director of Calvert, a socially
responsible investment company. Ms.
Kruvant is involved in combating terrorism and emergency
situations in Washington
"The Greater Washington Board of Trade has
rounded up four people - former AOL executive George
Vradenburg, Marsh managing director (and Connolly's
boss) Dick Duncan, KPMG's John Veihmeyer and Creative
Associates' Charito Kruvant - to develop plans
complementary to the government's."
One must assume that combating terrorism in the US
capital offer a lot of political mileage. Long ago, Ms.
has even helped the US disarm the Contras and
undermined apartheid in South Africa.
"Kruvant has worked with rape victims in
Bosnia and oppressed women in Afghanistan. One of her
most memorable moments on the job must include being
part of a U.S. government mission to convince the
Contras that it was time to put down their weapons and
prepare for more peaceful activities. To travel to her
meeting with Nicaraguan guerillas, she was lowered
from a helicopter near their mountain retreat. Kruvant
also was especially proud to be among the few
Americans to work within South Africa to end
apartheid. She and her team helped prepare black South
African leaders to participate in governing their
On a US government mission to disarm the Contras in
Nicaragua - well
I have not been able to find more
about this part of the CAII CEO's life. The Arias Peace
Plan was signed on August 7, 1987, CAII founded in
Here is how Washington
Post covered CAII's USAID contract for Iraq:
- "The speed -- and lack of competitive
bidding -- with which the State Department agency
awarded six of its eight initial Iraqi reconstruction
contracts drew criticism from Congress and attention
to companies that, like IRG, had been little known
outside the international development community
M. Charito Kruvant, president and chief executive
of Creative Associates International Inc., a
Washington consulting firm awarded a school
reconstruction contract worth as much as $62 million,
said government contractors are used to scrutiny.
"The issue of transparency is part of our life,"
Kruvant said. "I usually say quite comfortably that
people know my shoe size."
CAII's partner in both Afghanistan and Iraq presents
itself this way on its simple website
- "American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG)
is a small woman owned firm whose core business is as
a Procurement Services Agent (PSA); however, AMEG's
strength is in providing a range of technical services
for humanitarian and economic development projects
worldwide. While AMEG specializes in the fields of
procurement and logistics, we have also built a
reputation for capable management of large scale
programs, high quality feasibility studies, design,
implementation, and evaluation."
Interestingly, while Sandra Tribble is President, Wess
Tribble is Executive Vice President:
- "Wess Tribble has extensive international
experience as a private sector executive, as a senior
Foreign Service Officer, and Officer in the U.S.
Marine Corps. He served with USAID Missions in Asia,
Africa, and the Middle East. Upon retirement from the
Foreign Service, he assumed the position of Executive
Vice President of AMEG. He has been involved in
numerous sensitive programs worldwide."
Who know what it could mean that one has been in the
US foreign service and the Marine Corps and been involved
in sensitive programs?
Reasons to be very
It can't be excluded that Creative Associates
Incorporated does do good things to many people. I have
not conducted an analysis beyond the website and the
But there are reasons to question why, without much
competition, if any at all, this company has been
appointed and awarded the considerable sum of US$ 62
million to bring education to a historically civilised
country that used to be perfectly able to educate its own
people to a very high level.
1. This is private enterprise, for-profit education
export. Whatever learning it conveys it will be
compatible with the corporate values that furthers US
2. Funding sources, methods and structure are likely
to influence, if not dominate, the content of what Iraqi
children will learn in the future. So, exactly what will
Iraqis kids learn?
3. The slick presentation, the fashionable,
politically correct words used on the homepage betray a
worldview that is fundamentally different from the world
in which the program is to be implemented.
4. It is structurally destined to serve US government
and corporate interests more than - as yet unidentified
and unknown - Iraqi needs for learning. How could it be
participatory and create a "new Iraq" in 4-5 months?
5. Such programs will hardly be able to teach Iraqi
children anything that is not politically correct in the
eyes of the current regime in Washington.
6. With fly-in technology and tools in the driver's
seat, content takes the back seat. That clashes
fundamentally with creativity and with the needs of a
people yearning for freedom of thought and speech.
7. It is too close to USAID and the US government.
However sympathetic that the company is minority and
woman owned, Ms. Kruvant's connections and status in
Washington's powerful circles, raises the suspicion of
8. True, many may sympathise with the implicit values
and world views 'embedded' in this type of quick-fix
programs, but do they - at the end of the day - provide
the Iraqis more freedom than, say, the old Baath Party
values that many may like a lot less?
education...the Burger philosophy spreading
In short, it looks like quick-fix, air-dropped, fast
education. It looks like facade and superficiality: 'See
how we care for the Iraqis and their children, while in
reality we don't give them a chance to influence the
process! It's difficult to see how they'll be subjects
and not objects in the process.
A hamburger is a poor meal compared with the
thoughtfully prepared meal based on the best raw
materials and the art of cooking. The risk is high that
Iraq's children will be educated according to the
hamburger model. But we can be sure that the US will soon
tell us about the "success" and count their "rapid,
immediate, accelerated learning" by the metric tons of
education and the millions of books. More means better!
Perhaps this is the American Way? But it isn't good.
After 25 years of dictatorship, 4 wars and 12 years of
sanctions, could the occupying Master really not do
something more serious for the children and youth of
Iraq? Could the US not show just a little more respect
for the "liberated" Iraqis and their most important
If children are the future, the time for
investigative reporting is now! The real battle for Iraq
is the one that has started now after the war. So, to the
media: Please don't go away, remain engaged with the
© TFF 2003
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