Teachers fail pupils from wrong sect

Baghdad, Iraq - IRAQI pupils have had their dreams of going to university dashed by teachers who have been failing schoolchildren from rival sectarian groups.

Examiners at Baghdad marking centres who receive examination papers from both Shiite and Sunni pupils erased answers and gave marks below the 50 per cent pass mark required to go on to higher education.

Several teachers were sacked after education officials detected the scandal last week and many more are being investigated.

Officials from the Ministry of Education are trying to find ways to re-mark hundreds of papers, but the task has been complicated by the Iraqi practice of using pencils to fill in exam papers. Investigators trying to establish which papers have been tampered with have been thwarted because the markers simply rubbed out the correct answers.

A spokesman for the ministry, Amir al-Khafaji, said the teachers involved, who were able to identify members of rival religious groups from their names, had disgraced their profession.

"We feel shame because these educated people have become some sort of terrorists," he said. "Next year, we will make all the teachers swear not to differentiate between Sunnis and Shias."

Mr Khafaji said six teachers - four Sunni and two Shiite - had been dismissed after fellow markers realised what they were doing.

Each year about 50,000 children sit the final Bakaloria exam, which covers Islamic history, Arabic, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. To pass, they need to achieve an average mark of 50 per cent or higher.

The mark has a significant impact on their educational prospects. Pupils who just scrape in cannot hope to get into a state-funded university and must pay their own way at private establishments.

Six of the 14 marking centres in Baghdad are exclusively Shiite or Sunni, but officials discovered that at the eight mixed centres some teachers were marking pupils down.

One Shiite teacher, who was dismissed, told investigators: "I gave bad marks to those with Sunni names because I lost one of my sons in al-Adamiya city [a hardline Sunni area of Baghdad]. He was killed there because he is a Shia."