Educational reform in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

from UN Assistance Mission for Iraq
Published on 19 Aug 2008 View Original
By Randa Jamal

The Northern Iraqi Kurdistan Region has taken significant steps to improve regional education standards. Accordingly, English language classes in early grades and promoting creative thinking in classrooms were incorporated into school curricula. The educational reform in the Kurdistan Region will be utilized as best practices for other parts of the country where there is a need for educational reform.

Asked about the implementation of educational reform, Iraq's First Lady, Mrs. Hero Talabani believes that much educational reform is still needed both in the Kurdistan Region as well as the entire country. She noted that the rotational shifts in schools could negatively impede students' ability to acquire the amount of material that is condensed into three and half hours. She compared the experience of pupils today to that she had many decades ago noting that "there is a huge difference indeed". "I remain indebted to the school system in my time for all the knowledge I acquired then", she also emphasized. Describing the current curricula, she explained that the problems of educational system are linked to the lack of schools and an old curriculum that has not sufficiently evolved to meet the demands of the 21st century.

In particular reference to the Kurdistan Region, Mrs. Talabani applauded the educational reform, although the problem remains with the number of schools, which enforced the shift system. She however explained that there were "more schools built since 2003 than the entire number of schools constructed in the region between 1958 and 2003."

The Kurdistan Region Ministry of Education is enthusiastic about educational reform. This falls in line with the vision of the Minister of Education, Dr. Dilshad Mohammad, who said "the new education system should develop a well balanced curriculum that will be geared towards creating a productive and skilled new generation". Towards this endeavor, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is proactively assisting with educational reforms in the region. The organization is currently involved in a nation-wide US$ 5 million-project entitled "Rebuilding Iraqi School Curricula", while other parts of the country anticipate reforms similar to that in the Kurdistan Region.

In 2007, UNESCO also expanded its role and opened up an office in Erbil. The Director of Relations, Mrs. Rasheda Zaher-Draey, said that the organization will also be the first in the region, and, at the request of the Ministry of Education, will open an office within the Kurdistan Region's Ministry of Education. UNESCO contributes to curricular rehabilitation by sharing experience, expertise, and evaluation. "Although we are ahead in education reforms, we want to support educational capacity building and be part of the team nation-wide", Rasheda Zaher-Draey added. Such capacity building could include cooperative efforts between the Kurdistan Region Government and Baghdad around teacher training, cholera prevention, accelerated learning programmes and special needs.

Mrs. Zaher-Draey also emphasized the Ministry of Education's partnerships with several other stakeholders, including the World Bank and UNICEF. She also shared that a US$ 3 million National Strategy (still waiting for approval by the Iraqi Strategic Review Board) has been dedicated for developing a nation-wide education strategy for Iraq that will be an "overall umbrella that would allow for differentiation in implementation but with the same overriding goals".

In addition to UNESCO, two major United Nations bodies, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), work to promote education on certain topics in primary and secondary schools. This includes a project that was implemented in October 2007, in Erbil, Sulaymaniya, Dohuk, Baghdad, Basra and other governorates that aims to educate primary and secondary school students on cholera prevention, and will run until March 2009.

Education Reform in the KRG includes:

- Starting in 2005, teaching English through new Macmillan (Sun Rise) from Grade 1 Basic now reaches Grades 1-4 Basic and 7-10 Basic + prep.

- After 35 years, a new Mathematics and Science curriculum of Harcourt has been accepted from 2007 -2008 and first started with Grades 1,2,3 Basic and ongoing for this year to cover Grade 4 and 7 Basic

- After 35 years, Social Economic curricula for Grades 10,11,12 Preparatory (Literary) changed

- A new 3-year plan started from 2008-2009 to change Kurdish language programs with an approved standard and covers Grades 2-6 Basic

- The plan started to change social (Literary) programs of History, Geography, Civic Education, Human Rights, Citizenship, etc... and ongoing for 4 years beginning with Grades 4,5,6 Basic

- Preparing plan to use a new Arabic Language curriculum (incorporating Arabic as a second language)

- The new curricula encourages the use of modern teaching methods to enable children to be more analytical

- Attempts to incorporate visual aids and CD's into the curriculum including working on a programme of teacher training

Subjects currently being taught in new curricula include:

History / Geography / Social education / Civic education
Art / Music