Preparing Iraq’s Next Generation For Sustainability

Despite decades of armed conflict in its recent history, Iraq merits attention as a candidate for sustainable development. Having said that, Iraq is not yet in a stable enough position to finance research or pilot projects in sustainable energy, as it needs as much oil revenue as it can obtain to stabilize its fiscal situation.  For the time being, the best hope for Iraq is to emphasize sustainability in its education system so that seeds can be planted for a sustainable future.

The rapid deterioration of stability in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2014 reversed what progress had been made since the 2003 U.S. invasion.  In 2013, before ISIL’s advance into Iraq, a report on the progress of the millennium development goals for Iraq found that at Iraq had reached 89.1% enrollment in primary education in 2011, and a rate of 95.5% for completion of primary education for that year.[i] By October of 2015, two million children nationwide were out of school, with 1.2 million additional children aged 5 to 14 years old at risk of dropping out.[ii] In 2012, the Iraqi government, with the assistance of the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF, developed the National Education Strategy (NES) 2011-2020 as a guide for all education projects and interventions.  In 2013, the government also agreed to the National Development Plan (NDP) for 2013-2017.  According to the NES and the NDP, education is a basic element in the advancement of society and a right guaranteed by the state, and is thus an essential pillar for rebuilding consensus between all Iraqis.[iii]

As emergency efforts continue to deliver basic education to Iraqis emerging from traumatic conflict situations, it is never too early to be looking toward how education could be made more sustainable.  A recurring topic in the literature recently has been sustainable universities in Iraq.  But the literature thus far tends to be general and vague.  When it does discuss specifics, it focuses primarily on the physical elements and design qualities rather than the subject matter being taught to students.  A 2015 study conducted by Akram J. Al-Akkam examining three universities in Baghdad determined that the universities had an unbalanced urban structure and environmental obstacles, as their sites were isolated from their surrounding urban community and exist below environmental standards.  For example, the University of Baghdad has an urban system that is too isolated from the entire spatial system of the city of Baghdad, meaning there is less interaction between individual students and the rest of society.  The study concludes that the universities examined need to move away from the university/urban city structure, which lacks harmony, and toward the campus model, in order to be more synchronized with native ecosystems and sustainability criteria.[iv]

Such initiatives may yet be worthy pursuits. But focusing on the spatial dimensions of Iraq’s universities is not a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development.  Given that Iraq cannot afford to embark on a green energy venture, the best path to sustainability at the time being is to invest in education for sustainable development (ESD). This requires a curriculum along the following criteria:

  • Integrating views of environmental needs with changes in the course of the economy, as well as human and societal development;
  • Education about poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equality, cultural diversity, international understanding and peace, and;
  • Enabling people to develop knowledge, values and skills about the way things are done individually and collectively, locally and globally, to improve quality of life without damaging the future of the planet.[v]

Integrating university campuses with society and synchronizing them with the surrounding ecosystem is insufficient to improve the big picture of Iraq’s future. Integrating sustainability into the country’s education system will enable future generations to put Iraq on a path to sustainability once armed conflict has abated. This offers the best chance for sustainability in the long run.


[i] “2015 Millennium Development Goals.”  United Nations National Programme, Iraq Country Office, 2013. Web.

[ii] “Violence Denies Millions of Children across Iraq Access to Education.” UNICEF, 30 Oct. 2015. Web.

[iii] EU, 2015

[iv] Akkam, Akram J. “Assessing Baghdad Universities: Informative Framework for Relative Development Plans.” Journal of Urbanism 8.1 (2015): n. pag. Web.

[v] Lukman, Rebeka, and Peter GlaviÄ. “What Are the Key Elements of a Sustainable University?” Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy 9.2 (2006): 103-14. Web.


About the Author


Chris Caruso is a Research Assistant at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C..  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and Politics and a Master of Public Policy degree in International Security and Economic Policy, both from the University of Maryland.

Contact Chris Caruso



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