The deserts of Iraq may seem like an unlikely place for bustling construction sites, but some Chinese companies are racing against the clock there to build schools as part of the effort to bridge the education gap in Iraq.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education said Iraq is in dire need of nearly 12,000 new schools to accommodate the growing number of students in the country, where an estimated 3.2 million children are currently being out of school.
In 2021, several Chinese companies signed contracts with Iraq to build 1,000 schools in Iraq as part of an ambitious project to build a total of 8,000 schools across the country, which is still reeling from long years of war and destruction.
This project aims to increase the number of schools in Iraqi cities, towns and villages to reduce the overcrowding problem in the existing schools, which are over burdened already due to the growing number of students.
At a construction site in west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Hanan Raad al-Qaysi, an Iraqi teacher, was thrilled with the progress of the project.
She spoke of her admiration for the new schools being built by the Power Construction Corporation of China (PowerChina), which will have all the necessary infrastructure and services, including health services, infrastructure, and teachers’ rooms.
“The old schools in Baghdad are not fully equipped,” al-Qaysi said. “We all hope that PowerChina will provide us with the best new schools in terms of classes, health services, infrastructure, and teachers’ rooms, which will serve the school, students and teachers better.”
Gao Fei, the vice president of the Middle East and North Africa Department of PowerChina, emphasized that the school building project is a fruit of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is committed to bringing about win-win results and benefits for both China and participating countries.
“PowerChina will do its best to fulfill the project contract, strive to better meet the educational needs of the Iraqi people, and contribute China’s strength and wisdom to the economic and social development of Iraq,” Gao said.
PowerChina will begin handing over the 144 school buildings in the Baghdad province starting from July this year, according to Liu Zhenlin, the manager of PowerChina’s school project in Baghdad province.
The school building project is considered very important for the future generations in Iraq, said Yousif Jamal, an Iraqi engineer working for PowerChina.
He noted that Iraqis are able to learn modern technology and ideas in construction from China, which will also benefit Iraq’s future generations.
“Honestly, my first experience of working for a Chinese company was very nice. And I benefited greatly from my Chinese colleagues,” the Iraqi engineer said.
Iraq’s once exemplary education system, with nearly 100 percent primary enrollment rates in the 1970s, has suffered a severe decline, leaving the country grappling with a shortage of schools. This was largely caused by the war, violence and political chaos that have ensued after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Saif Farhan, a representative of the Iraqi government overseeing school construction projects, said that the past decades of wars and conflicts have badly damaged the country’s education infrastructure, compounded by a lack of substantial reconstruction efforts.
“The Iraqi government was keen to contract with accredited international companies, and among the first of these companies is PowerChina, which has rich experience in the field of construction,” Farhan said.
He also lauded the positive impact of the BRI, adding that Iraq has plans for further collaboration with accredited Chinese companies to benefit the Iraqi society and secure a brighter future.
“The Iraqi government and people welcome this initiative, and we have seen the positive effects of many projects, such as this school building project that serves a large part of the Iraqi people,” Farhan said.