Reimagining and Modernizing Kurdish Education

2/10/2020 3:14:03 PM

4101 View

Aras Ahmed Mhamad
+ -

Despite many flaws and drawbacks in the Kurdish education system, schools and universities have improved significantly, particularly since the toppling of the former Ba’ath regime. Nevertheless, there are some issues that have been tiresomely persistent and challenging since the formation of the first Kurdish cabinet in 1992, including the culture of spoon-feeding information, the predominance of pedagogies that rely on memorization, the tendency to consider teachers as all-knowing and all-seeing God-like figures, evaluations of a student’s academic life based on the baccalaureate examination, a centralized method of teaching where students are passive receivers, few opportunities to practice, and even fewer chances to be acknowledged and feel human. A fundamental problem with the Kurdish education sector is the objectification of students.  

Throughout my journey as a student from elementary school all the way up to high school, institute, and university, I did not come across a single teacher who would start the lecture with a piece of music. The outset of the lesson was either something about the previous lecture, a quiz, or a direct question and answer session, which all triggered feelings of fear and submission to the hegemony of the teachers. For most of my student days, the school looked like a big prison with merciless jailers guarding the conservative walls of the primitive norms of life. I felt disconnected and developed a kind of hatred towards science and learning. Still buried inside me is a fear that prevents me from enjoying the enigmatic world of mathematics. I remember those days where my classmates and I would daydream that we could skip class and play outside in the wilderness, learning from nature instead of in the drab schoolhouse. When I tell my students that on the very first day of first grade, one of my math teachers ripped my red tie and slapped me, they are horrified. Although my childhood years are full of similar awful experiences that are relatable to what we call “the Golden Generation of the Kurdish Students of the late 1980s and early 1990s,” I believe that those moments made me stronger both as a student and as a human being because life itself is suffering and we are biologically doomed to be different. Some of the difficulties that life brings cannot be solved either through education or science and that is a fundamental reason for our everlasting pain and continuous stress. 

After almost fifteen years of teaching hundreds of students in basic education, elementary and high schools, and both public and private institutes and universities, writing a book in Kurdish about the critical importance of education for the process of nation-building, and publishing almost twenty articles and interviews in international journals and websites about Kurdish education and its challenges and opportunities, I have been asked to participate in a six-month pedagogical training course to modernize my teaching techniques, and even worldview, as a prerequisite for my scientific title. One promising aspect of the course was the beginning of the second module, where the teacher began the lecture with a Bob Marley song. While the song did not suit my musical tastes, I have already made use of this technique with my students by showing motivational videos, tutorials, and short clips from films. I recognized that is was a refreshing opening for the other participants in the course. It unleashed a positive energy that is often lacking in the classroom. Contrast this with the teacher of the “student-centred approach” module, who began the class by threatening to assign a 450-word essay in English when some of the students do not have the language skills to do so and reminded me of one of the essential problems and inherent psychological fissures of the generation of the 1980s.

In one class three questions were posed: “What kind of experience do you have from your university lessons or classrooms? What was your teacher’s role during the learning process? What was student’s role in the learning process?” While some of the candidates gave extremely negative answers that were drawn directly from their memories of experiencing beatings, gender discrimination, and emotional disintegration while at school, two of the candidates had wonderful learning experiences as a child and as an adult. One of the candidates mentioned that she was quite lucky to have been brought up in Baghdad where she had a totally healthy relationship with her teachers and experienced a fruitful educational environment. However, the vast majority were stores about the bombardment of Halabja with chemical weapons of mass destruction, the Anfal Campaigns, the militarization of the Kurdish cities at the hand of the former Ba’ath regime, and the civil war of the 1990s in the Kurdistan Region, which all brought both physical damage and psychological traumas for our generation. Despite the harsh realities of those unbearable days of the 1990s, the economic embargo of the Kurdistan Region, and the fact that teachers were not paid their monthly salary for months on end, the students that they taught went on attend schools and later teach students themselves with passion, determination, and hope.

Until the dethroning of the former regime, there were only three universities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; these days there are approximately thirty. The Region still has a long way to go in terms of building a fully functional education system, encouraging a government that is based on the values of meritocracy and not cronyism, and, most importantly, fostering individuals who profoundly believe in their independent prospective. By its very nature, education has a divine power to stimulate our potential goodness and intensify the core of our being towards achieving the highest aim of life which is, as far as I am concerned, responsibility. When we (as teachers and students) shoulder our responsibility with determination and love, we do not only make our own lives meaningful, but also those who share their journey with us and that should be the fundamental objective of education.


Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a writer and teacher the Language and Culture Centre at the University of Sulaimani.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily reflect those of NRT.