Fast-Track Learning for Women

Schools in the Kurdish north are encouraging adult education for women who never had a chance to go to school when they were young.

Fast-Track Learning for Women

Schools in the Kurdish north are encouraging adult education for women who never had a chance to go to school when they were young.

Until three months ago, Miryam Majeed’s early morning routine involved feeding her two children and starting on the day’s chores. But now there is a new task that gets her out of bed and fills her with enthusiasm – she has gone back to school.

Now 29, Majeed from Chamchamal, 60 kilometres south of Sulaimaniah in Iraq’s Kurdish region, never received an education as a child. "My father didn’t let me go to school", she explained.

Now she carries her books to classes four days a week, and spends several hours studying at home.

Majeed counts herself lucky that her husband has backed her in her desire to get an education.

"Illiteracy is like being blind," she said, "I always had to ask other people to read me things."

When she was at a bus stop, for example, she would rely on strangers to read out routes and destinations so she would know which way she needed to go to get home. Now she can read the signs for herself.

A combination of social restrictions, war, population displacement, and lack of provision in past years meant that Majeed and many other women in this poor part of northern Iraq were deprived of an education as children.

To make up for what these women lost out on, the Kurdistan Women’s Union, KWU, launched the Accelerated Learning School in Chamchamal this academic year.

The school accepts women regardless of age, and puts them on an accelerated learning programme where, for example, the standard primary school course of six years will be halved to three.

Kurdistan’s education ministry is providing textbooks, desks and other material, and will accept the school’s leaving certificate, meaning graduates will be able to go on to higher education.

Omed Kaka Rash, director of the illiteracy eradication programme for Sulaimaniyah province, said his office will offer all the support that is needed to make the school a success.

Many of the students have young children, so KWU staff look after them while the mothers are attending classes.

Chamchamal is one of the Kurdish areas badly hit by Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, in which thousands of Kurds were forcibly relocated, killed, or “disappeared”. The district is home to one of the largest camps housing Anfal survivors.

There are no statistics showing how many women have missed out on school, but Miryam Mohammad, who heads the KWU branch in Chamchamal, believes the figure is high.

Education officials say 27 per cent of people over the age of ten in Sulaimaniyah province count as illiterate.

Kaka Rash said a broader literacy campaign is under way in Sulaimaniyah. "Everyone who is now illiterate will be able to read and write within the next three years," he promised.

The campaign has been going on for several years, but most of the adult education schools were located in the city of Sulaimaniyah rather than in surrounding areas. Chamchamal’s Accelerated Learning School is an attempt to widen the reach of the literacy programme.

The adult students have two hours of schooling a day, in which they are taught Kurdish, Arabic, English, science, mathematics and social studies.

Sheerin Ibrahim, 36, one of just two teachers at the school, is full of praise for her students. “They are very smart, and very good listeners," she said.

The new school has had an enthusiastic response from local women, although some have reservations about it because it is located inside the KWU office – an institution closely affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, the dominant party in this part of Iraq.

The link has given rise to concerns that the PUK could be supporting adult education as a way of recruiting party members. One student recalled how a classmate withdrew from the school after her husband objected because of the political party connection.

KWU branch chief Mohammad agreed that the school’s location might be one reason why student numbers have fallen from an initial 50 to 25. She hopes the school will acquire separate premises at a site viewed as neutral by the time the next academic year starts.

The remaining students appear unconcerned about where the school is located.

"I'm extremely happy to have the opportunity to study and learn to write," said Bokan Ghazi, 20, whose father prevented her from going to school.

"I will continue studying until I finish school and get a job so I can earn my own income," she said.

Teacher Ibrahim said the literacy drive was about much more than just education.

"Most of these people are survivors of the Anfal campaign," she said. "We need to offer them something that might help them forget those atrocities."

Azeez Mahmood is an IWPR contributor in northern Iraq.

This article has been produced with support from the International Republican Institute (IRI).
Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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