Monday, January 22, 2007

Educating Kurdistan

This is interesting. We've heard of academics in Iraq being persecuted. Last week, Mustansiriyah University was bombed. Applications for visas to leave the country continue to pile up. But Kurdistan is apparently doing well on the academic front. University faculty in Iraq, seeking jobs and a modicum of security, are flooding Kurdish schools.

Consider how the void will be filled in the non-Kurdish part of Iraq, a once secular, well-educated and highly literate society (under Saddam Hussein, no less). War, it hardly needs to be said, damages lots of things, but neglected in all the geopolitical analyses and rapidly clicking death toll of the Iraq War is the high probability that Iraq will lose one or two generations of educated citizens.

This is bad for a number of reasons. Education is intrinsically valuable and the loss for Iraq's youth is immeasurable. But further, the war is creating a different intellectual landscape in Iraq. Just this fact alone suggests that, in fifteen years or so, we could see an Iraq that functions as a radical Shi'a colony of Iran, if not in legal terms, certainly in intellectual terms. That is, while Iran's education system remains diverse - perhaps ideologically polarized, but diverse nonetheless - Iraq, on the other hand, will have no choice in the near future other than to build and rebuild more Shi'a sponsored schools, assuming Iraq remains a state at all based on its current borders.

As a geopolitical matter, the US has most likely ceded nearly half of Iraq to Iran by simply invading. No military power can fully control - without mass oppression - the intellectual life of a people. Looking at Iraq in these terms, partitioning the country into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish nations appears inevitable.

After the initial days of the US invasion and occupation, schools in Iraq were pronounced rebuilt by the US administration once they had a new coat of paint on them. That seems to have been the entire plan for the Iraqi education system. Now, Iraq proper will grow increasingly devoid of secular education (who wants to go teach in Iraq? Who wants to stay?). Even the news for Kurdistan has its downside and potential backlash.
The new Kurdish universities mainly depended on local and expat Kurdish academics because they had no connection with universities in the rest of Iraq.

After 2003, the relocation of Arab lecturers reinvigorated academic life there, prompting the Kurdish education authorities to expand several colleges to meet growing local demand for higher education.

"If those [Arab] lecturers hadn’t come, teaching at Sulaimaniyah University would have been problematic," said Aras Dartash, dean of the College of Economy and Administration. At this college alone, there are 11 lecturers and assistant lecturers from central and southern Iraq.

He said they were a great help, especially in supervising masters and doctoral students.

The Kurdistan Regional Government seeks to encourage Arab lecturers to relocate by offering them financial incentives. Individuals are handed bonuses of 300,000 Iraqi dinars (200 US dollars) while those who bring their families receive an additional 500,000 dinars as a housing subsidy.

But there is a downside to the trend, and not only the obvious one that higher education in other parts of the country suffers.

Many young Kurdish university students have a poor grasp of Arabic because during the period of autonomous rule in the Nineties many studied only in Kurdish.

Aryan Qadir, a student at the College of Economy and Administration, failed a course in a topic that an Arab lecturer taught. "We know these lecturers are experienced but we don't understand them because they teach in Arabic," he said....

No comments: