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The Iraqi educations ministry said an IWPR on the school curriculum supported its goal of producing non-sectarian textbooks.
An Iraqi education ministry official said an IWPR Iraq special report on sectarianism in the new religious education curriculum has prompted a review of its content.
IWPR’s report Iraqi School Books Criticised for Sectarian Bias, included interviews with leaders, educators and parents alarmed that the curriculum might be fuelling sectarian views.
Senior ministry officials said that after reading the report they “decided to drop anything from the new [religious education] curriculum that will hurt a specific sect or religion” and to create a separate curriculum for Christian students.
Ghazi Mutlak, director-general of the education ministry’s curricula department, said, “We changed some of our views, and decided to more thoroughly investigate this important matter, which directly impacts people.”
The controversial school books have been pulled from some schools, and new textbooks for Christian students are in development.
Islam has long been taught in Iraq’s schools, and until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 reflected the beliefs of the then-powerful minority Sunni sect.
Critics of the current curriculum, including senior Sunni leaders, said it favours the Shia interpretation of Islam – a highly sensitive issue as Iraq attempts to overcome years of sectarian strife. Critics also said the curriculum did not offer clarity about Islamic concepts that might have violent connotations.
“This report helps the educational process in the Iraqi society and supports the ministry’s goal in writing non-sectarian books, an issue the ministry is working hard to accomplish. This will solve the sectarian problem that some said existed in the previous [school] books,” Mutlak said.
Mutlak praised IWPR for creating a “very important” story that was “neutral and independent”.
“We need such reports to highlight certain problems that officials unintentionally forget,” he said.
"We changed some of our views, and decided to more thoroughly investigate this important matter, which directly impacts people."
Ghazi Mutlak, director-general of the education ministry’s curricula department
Alaa Makki, who chairs the parliamentary committee that oversees the education ministry’s performance, said, “I knew that there was a new Islamic curriculum, but even though we serve on parliament’s education committee I knew nothing about [the controversy highlighted by IWPR].
“I followed up on the issue by speaking with the ministry of education. I asked them to pull the copies [of the new school books] distributed in some schools in Baghdad,” he said.
“We are working hard now to improve curricula for all Iraqis, not only for Islamic books but for the other books.”
Mutlak said the ministry had created a committee of education experts and non-governmental organisations to propose amendments for the curricula.
He also praised the IWPR report for upholding high journalistic standards.
“Having such a thorough report from Iraq makes me optimistic,” he said. “I didn’t think that people in Iraq could do such stories.”
IWPR also held a series of training courses aimed at building up the skills of both inexperienced and veteran journalists.
Nine journalists and human rights activists attended a four-day course on human trafficking in Sulaimaniyah, led by IWPR staffer and women’s rights lawyer Razaw Ahmed.
The students learned about the hardships faced by victims and how trafficking operates in Iraq. Ahmed and Iraq editor Mariwan Hama-Saeed also advised the trainees on how report sensitively.
Qais Muhamed Amin, a freelance journalist and human rights advocate in Mosul, said, “Before the training course, I was under the impression that trafficked women were criminals but after the course I realised that these women are victims.”
In a separate session, IWPR editors trained 16 students in ethics, reporting and writing techniques. In addition to in-class discussions and mock interviews with instructors, students reported on the streets of Sulaimaniyah, where the five-day training was conducted.
Khalid al-Ansary, a Baghdad-based journalist, said the session helped him to “think about my stories and to capture in my mind images of the places I visit. This helps [me] to produce stronger material and use more colour”.
In another course, four local IWPR editors were trained by London-based IWPR editor Daniella Peled, Rath and IWPR Iraq editor Neil Arun. The local editors, who are journalists and translators, received guidance on ethics, editing, libel, contempt laws and commissioning.
IWPR Iraq senior local editor Abeer Mohammed, a seasoned reporter based in Baghdad, said the four-day session strengthened her skills. She said she is now able to write stronger leads; focus stories more; and identify weak or missing information in a story.
Elsewhere, IWPR Iraq’s Kurdish television magazine team is producing stronger stories on Iraqi human rights issues following a three-day training course. Nine producers, editors and reporters were taught how to research, report and structure television feature reports.
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