Reimagining and Modernizing Kurdish Education: Reading, Studying, and Motivation

3/25/2020 12:03:52 PM

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Aras Ahmed Mhamad
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One of the most challenging, and apparently shocking, tasks for university lecturers is to convince students to read the original work of the authors that are assigned in their course syllabi. Reading reinvigorates the desire to voluntarily explore uncharted corridors of innovation and invention and to find meaning whenever disorder takes over. Put this in contrast with relying on online summaries and prepared materials, which weakens the spirit of experimentation and prevents students from transcending the artificial parameters that are placed in front of them by outside forces. Based on my experience teaching at several universities, schools, and institutions, Kurdish students are heavily trained to pass exams so that they can satisfy their parent’s desires and answer their teachers’ established questions, which holds back their passion for investigation and suffocates their sense of curiosity.   

During the 2018-2019 academic year, I was tasked with teaching third-year students of the College of Languages in the Department of English at the University of Sulaimani. Being curious about their overall experience with and response to my teaching methodology, I asked for their feedback and suggestions. I deliberately embedded a question to see whether they had read William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, William Congreve’s The Way of the World, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, which were part of the syllabus: “Have you honestly read any of the plays and novels assigned in your syllabus from cover to cover?” Out of nearly 105 students, not a single student read them (I still have their handwritten feedback). Even though they were talented students, their approach to the meaning of life and education was deeply flawed.

The message gleaned from their answers and from those given by students in other departments where I taught indicates two challenges: misunderstanding and disappointment. Students believe it is the degree itself that can open the doors of success, rather than their knowledge of the subject matter, which is a serious misperception. Moreover, university graduates are extremely dependant on the government to find them job opportunities, rather than on the skills they acquired during their studies, demonstrating an economic misconception about the role of the government and teachers in an individual’s life and the responsibility of students. When the government does not have the capacity to respond to their demands, particularly when economic crises flare up, they become hopeless and end up with the idea that life is unjust and meaningless.

While movie adaptations, tutorials, short animated films, ready-made PowerPoint and Prezi, and easily-accessed online PDFs and DOCs of books facilitate the process of learning, they do not generate authentic ideas and reduce student’s aptitude for being vigilant and inquisitive, which should be two critical features of students’ approach to learning. The exaggerated belief in online and second-hand sources is an indication that students rely on supposedly authoritative ideas rather than on their own critical thinking analysis and creative imagination. This is an alarming symptom of the penetration of the culture of consumerism into educational settings. 

One of their most repetitive arguments for not doing assigned reading, which honestly wastes time and energy during the classes, was that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not employed any university graduates since 2013 due to the financial crisis and that the free market is dysfunctional. My typical answer is that studying is a self-evident priority that is cognitively loaded with attention-seeking, exhaustion, and sometimes artificial effort, while reading is a voluntary and divine act that will genuinely engender ingenious thoughts, spontaneously gear us up to navigate the depts of our mindset, and to regulate emotional compulsions that strengthen a person’s sense of responsibility, curiosity, and meaningfulness.     

A lot of my students, moreover, complain about the lack of motivation on the part of their teachers. Why would anyone frequently seek encouragement from people to do something good and meaningful? Waiting for people’s approval and being accustomed to receiving continuous appraisal is an act of self-pity that will eventually backfire. A university student’s main responsibility is to read in order to find meaning and illuminate their own path through life, not just to study to satisfy the requests of their teachers. Reading intensifies our prospective to actively negotiate our concerns with ourselves before imposing them on somebody else. It ultimately equips us with techniques and tools to wisely restructure and redirect our thoughts to the right channel. Neither motivation nor studying can create curiosity. Reading does. 

Failing to take into account the transformative power of reading will cause poor imagination. While being motivated by an internal drive to maximize our unprecedented potential will eventually guide us to be more competent, external encouragement leads to short-term gains and instantaneous gratification. Reading is the noblest activity and can reformulate our neurological system and elevate our internal being to accomplish what we aim for and obtain what we envision, and that is what every student should learn to do.  

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a writer and teacher at the University of Sulaimani's Language and Culture Centre. He has contributed to Open Democracy, Fair Observer, The World Weekly, Newsweek Middle East, The New Arab, and Your Middle East, among others.

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.