Kurdish attempt to change curriculum in Hasakah fizzles
Hasakah, Syria - The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is seeking to impose new curricula for elementary education in Kurdish language in Hasakah, a move seen as a step towards creating an independent entity in the mainly Kurdish-populated province in north-eastern Syria.
However, the attempt has been largely rejected by Kurdish and Arab parents alike, many of whom refused to send their children to public schools. Administrators of some private institutions threatened to close if they were compelled to change official curricula.
“The Kurds were the first to reject this change utterly, fearing for the future of their children and them getting an education which is not recognised or certified by any official authority,” said a Kurdish source from the town of Qamishli, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Consequently, the number of students returning to school at the beginning of the academic year dropped dramatically.
“Children enrolling in the first elementary grade reached unprecedented lows. In some schools the numbers did not exceed ten students compared to more than 100 children starting their academic life in previous years,” the source added.
Under the amended curriculum, courses will be given only in Kurdish in the first three elementary grades, covering the subjects of mathematics, Kurdish grammar and humanities. New books were printed and teachers were trained by the PYD for that purpose.
The subject of patriotic national education was modified to focus on Kurdish national issues and to reproduce the thought of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, taking into account the cultural and intellectual diversity of the region
The source pointed out that the Education Department in Hasakah rejected the PYD move altogether. The PYD then proposed dividing classes based on ethnic basis: Kurds would be compelled to enroll in the Kurdish programme and Arabs would have to sit for three hours of Kurdish language lessons per week.
Marwan Ahmad, a prominent Kurdish writer and lawyer, has been outspoken in opposition to PYD’s “meddling” with the educational programme.
“Such mentality will deprive our children from (proper) education and no Kurdish parents will accept that,” Ahmad warned.
“The future of Kurdish children is at stake because the Syrian state will not recognise their education and will not grant them the necessary certificates to be able to acquire a higher education at home or abroad,” he said, alleging that Kurdish teachers appointed to introduce the new curricula have no qualifications and many were originally “mere shepherds”.
A teacher in the Kurdish programme rejected Ahmad’s accusations, stressing that she holds a baccalaureate degree and had followed a special three-month training organised by the PYD to explain the new curricula.
“I was in contact with my direct trainer only and don’t know anyone from the authority in charge of the programme. I know that I will be paid a monthly salary of 20,000 Syrian pounds ($60) for doing the job I was trained for,” said the teacher, who asked not to be named.
She said the parents of five students, among some 200, have accepted that their children be educated in Kurdish in the Qamishli school to which she and three other teachers have been assigned.
At the start of the school year in September, some parents sought to send their children to private schools that do not fall under PYD control. “I am struggling to have my children accepted in any private school to save them from such a big problem,” said Kurdish citizen Ahmad Ismail.
“Most private schools, especially those run by the Christian clergy, are overwhelmed by new students from all religions because of the issue of the Kurdish programme. They are not accepting any more children,” Ismail said.
A number of private schools that were asked to implement the Kurdish programme threatened to close.
“In case we are forced by any non-governmental authority to start teaching in any language other than Arabic, the school administration will shut down the place and turn it into a charity or even a sports club,” said the supervisor of a private establishment who asked to be identified as Myrna.
In addition to the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, control over Hasakah is also shared by the regime forces and the Islamic State (ISIS), although the largest part is dominated by the Kurdish group. In regime-held areas of Hasakah, schools are sticking to the official programme. Schools in ISIS territory have been closed for two years.
Arab citizens of Hasakah oppose attempts to impose teaching Kurdish on Arab students. “If they want to propagate their language, they should rather open private institutions where Kurdish children can learn their mother tongue, as well as non-Kurds who wish to do so,” saidd Suleiman Jassem, an Arab resident of Qamishli.
Ahmad Ali, a teacher in Qamishli, noted that “Kurdish language is not officially recognised or used in any government departments, hence there is no need to teach it, especially in the elementary cycle.”
“Moreover, students cannot learn Arabic, English and Kurdish language grammar all together, because the curricula would then be transformed into one for languages only,” Ali said.
The current curriculum is that of the Education Ministry and no one is allowed to change it or remove any of its subjects, he added.