With the formation of modern Iraq in 1921, a formal education system was established, consisting of public and private schools.
Private schools were taken over by the government through the 1970's, a time during which education became compulsory and free for all. Full enrollment was achieved during this period, but the 1980's and 1990's became a period of setbacks, much because of Iraq's continuous involvement in wars and conflicts. In 1988, enrollment had dropped to 85%. Much of this came from a dramatic fall in government spending on education.
Education is free at all levels. Private schools were not permitted during the regime of Saddam Hussein, but since 2003 substantial reforms have been launched. The curriculum is being reformed to remove ideology of the Ba'th Party, and measures to rehabilitate the many schools were begun. But in 2005, reforms were halted from the increasingly poor security situation.
There has been some growth in private institutions since the regime change, but as of yet, only few have begun operating.
Presently much of the financing of education comes from the United Nations and the World Bank. The main focus are presently on primary education.
Information about literacy in Iraq varies. Some data state that in 2000, literacy rates were only 56%, 66% for men, 46% for women. Data for 2008 show that 74% can read and write, but there is no way these two figures go together, and even more so in a country that has been through a war most of these years. The totality of available information makes it impossible to assess which of these are most correct.
Iraq had a system of voluntary kindergartens for children 4 years, lasting two year before they began normal school. It is not clear how this system has survived the war and unrest of the 2000's.
Iraq has 6 years of compulsory primary education, beginning at the age of 6. The curriculum follows Western styles, which was the case even under the former regime. Religious education was and is an important part of this.
In the 1990's primary school system was challenged, although in general better than in the 2000's. The main problems were repetition and drop-out. For all classes combined 14% repeated a year, in the 5th year repetition rose to 23%. Another problem was low girl enrollment, 10% higher than with boys. There is good reason to assume that these trends still challenge Iraqi schools, now perhaps even to a greater extent.
Subjects were Arabic, religion (depending on the pupils, Islam or Christianity), mathematics, science, technical education, physical education, music. In 4th grade, English, history, geography and family education were introduced.
Upon completing pupils must pass an examination to be admitted into intermediate secondary school. Many pupils fail to pass.
Intermediate secondary education
In Iraq, intermediate education is not compulsory, and defined as part of secondary education, and last 3 years. There is sex segregation at this level, but there are no important differences in quality.
Through 1st to 3rd grades pupils study Arabic, religion (Islam or Christianity), English; history; geography; civics; mathematics; technical education; and athletics/military education. In 2nd grade, chemistry; physics; and biology are introduced. In 3rd grade, health; algebra; and geometry are introduced. Girls study Family Education for Girls.
Upon successfully completing this level, pupils are awarded the Certificate of Intermediate Studies.
Vocational education is an alternative for pupils that fail to pass the exams after primary education. But it is of poor quality, and has low status both with pupils and in work life, so few attend. Most pupils rather enter work life directly at this stage.
Pupils choose between agricultural, industrial, veterinary and commercial studies.
Preparatory secondary education
Following intermediate education, follows 2 years of preparing secondary education, aiming at studies at university level. Upon completing the 2 years, all pupils must pass a national examination.
Pupils choose a specialization at this level, between scientific and literary.
Upon completing this level, pupils obtain the Adadiyah certificate, also known as Sixth Form Baccalaureate.
Higher education has deep roots in Iraq. During the centuries when Baghdad was the centre of the Muslim world, as the capital of the caliph, it also was one of the main centres of learning in the Muslim world.
With the fall of the original caliphate in the 13th, and until the 20th century the lands of Iraq had few higher institutions. forced the young Iraqi nation to reestablish higher institutions. The country's first university was first established in 1957. Today, Iraq has a fair number of higher institutions, with two main centres, Baghdad and Irbil, the latter the capital of the semi-independent Kurdistan.
Iraqi universities have since long followed the structure of Bachelor and Master studies. In most fields, Bachelor's take 4 years, exceptions are Architecture, Dentistry, and Pharmacy. Medicine is 6 years.
A Master study is one year general studies, and one year research and writing of thesis.