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New school year begins in Iraq amid parents' fresh worries
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More than 6.6 million students flocked to schools in Iraq on Sunday at the start of a new academic year, while their parents have fresh worries about stationery insufficiency and A/H1N1 flu spread besides students' safety.

"The number of students accounts for nearly 25 percent of total population of 28.5 million. About 4.6 million are pupils of primary schools, while the rest would be distributed among secondary schools, vocational schools, teachers institutes," the Education Ministry spokesman Walid Hassan said.

There are more 262,943 students this year than that in 2008, he added.

But many Iraqi parents and guardians of students complain the insufficiency of stationery, saying that they have to buy them from local markets due to lack of distribution by the ministry.

"I have bought some stationery for my three kids, because some teachers will ask for certain copybooks that the ministry do not provide. Another problem is that some of the stationery provided by the ministry are not good," Um Sarmad told Xinhua while checking some copybooks at a bookshop in Baghdad's western district of Khadraa.

Ahmed Khalil, 55, said "we can find some stationery and even textbooks, which should be provided by the ministry, here at the bookshop, while some schools could not get their portion of textbooks allocated for students. This means some ministry officials or school staff are selling them to markets instead of giving them to our children at school."

However, the Iraqi official said the Ministry of Education had "prepared all necessary materials for students."

Walid Hassan said the ministry had prepared all prerequisites, including stationery, text books, laboratory equipment and other stuff for all schools, free of charge.

The Education Ministry has taken all necessary measures to improve school environment, including measures to prevent students from A/H1N1 flu epidemic.

Haifaa Mahmoud, mother of a seven-year-old son, said her first concern this year is not precarious security situation like previous years, but it is the deadly A/H1N1 flu.

"What we are most afraid of this time is not the security situation as it has improved this year. Our top concern is the possible spread of A/H1N1 flu," Haifaa Mahmoud told Xinhua as she was guiding her son to attend his first primary class.

Ahmed Ali Khalaf, father of three children, decided to keep his children at home Sunday, saying he would not send them to school before he "makes sure that the Education Ministry has taken all measures for the safety of the children."

"My children will stay at least two days at home until everything goes well at school," he said, expressing his content to see security members protecting schools from attacks.

(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2009)

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