Wednesday, June 01, 2011
As published in Awat on 01/06/2001
By: Shwan Zulal
The education system in Iraq and Kurdistan has been under tremendous strain since the mid eighties. During the war years of Iran-Iraq, the Baath government cut back on education funding. As a result, by early nineties the education system was near to a collapse and barely achieving universal elementary education standards.
Kurdistan was not immune from the cutback and was even more affected due to political tensions and discrimination. Since 1991, the Kurdish Region has held on the same outdated Iraqi model until recently. During the years after Kurdish uprising, austerity and social decline did not dampen teachers' spirit, and despite not being paid, they strived to provide young pupil with education.
The recent video clip that was published online showing a teacher bullying a 6-year-old pupil has caused an outrage and at the same time highlighted two main points in Kurdistan Region education system. One is that the system is not functioning as well as it should be in light of governmental changes. Secondly, it is not only the education system, which has failed this particular pupil but the parents too.
The 6-year-old’s father has come out in defence of the teacher by justifying his actions as "having a bit of fun" at the expense of his son. In the eye of most people who saw the video, this was a clear case of psychological abuse. The teacher clearly over stepped the mark and deserves to be punished accordingly. He is due to be reprimanded and the education minister promised that the ministry would take action against him for child abuse.
Historically teachers have been perceived as pioneers, and it could be that the father of this pupil is giving the benefit of the doubt to the teacher. However, this blind faith in teachers has a sharp edge. Teachers used to be respected and cherished in society. They also enjoyed a social status, which many people aspired to. Nevertheless, in recent years, this persona has been diminished and the profession has become less valued. This has led to a lower standard of teaching and widespread decline in teaching ethics.
Although the improvements in the education system must start from teachers, but parents' education and raising awareness is as important. Education in Kurdish language is synonymous with nurture, therefore only concentrating on literacy and numeracy cannot resolve all the current issues facing the education system.
Kurdistan Region has numerous problems, namely corruption and mismanagement within most sectors in the government. And the education system has not been immune from this chronic mismanagement. The schools have suffered from lack of funding, while priority and concessions have been given to other more glamorous projects like Shopping Malls and luxury Hotels. The government have been giving grants and concessions to build mosques but have failed to encourage philanthropists to build schools instead.
The increased rate of unemployment and high inflation has consequently made the government recruit more teachers and staff in schools. The policy has meant, less money for schools, which would ideally be spent on better facilities and school project funding. The government's policy maybe well intentioned, but this has been counterproductive.
The recent legislations to change the curriculum and publishing a new code of conduct for schools set out in, Primary and Intermediate School Systems 2009 is a promising start. The change are a triumph for Education Ministry and marks a start of a new era.. But they cannot celebrate yet and much work needed to implement changes and reform the system. It is clear that on paper the education system looks as if it is on the right track, but in reality most of these new regulations have not yet filtered through the system or schools have failed to follow them correctly.
In order to make the necessary changes within the Education system, it is imperative that the government makes education reforms their top priority, and invest in making it successful. The old education system is described by Higher Education Ministry as inadequate, "with little transparency, democracy and accountability ... and the role of staff and students in management is negligible". Teachers and students must be encouraged to embrace the new system and support it. In return, the authorities must listen to people's concerns about the changes and include everyone in discussion to go forward.
Many Schools are still without proper facilities and pupils are still taking lesson in overcrowded classes with substandard facilities that lacks adequate amenities. An overhaul of the system is needed and it can only start from those that teach because unless the system is designed in a way that equips teachers with the right skills and values, state education can only get worse. The pilot schemes running in some schools-trailing the new curriculum- have been described by teachers as a positive step in the right direction. Rolling out the changes to other schools across Kurdistan must be a priority and the pace of change must be accelerated. The fast pace of development in Kurdish regions necessitate faster response towards calls for reform.
It is obvious that reforming the education system in Kurdistan and building new schools will not bare fruits immediately. Reforming the education system will cost money, and take time. The government on its own cannot make this a reality, but the community must acknowledge that they need to compromise and contribute in order to have a brighter future for their children. The failure of the education system cannot only be blamed on government mismanagement, but it is a collective responsibility of every member of the Kurdish community to support it and make sacrifices in order to make it a successes.
Kurdistan Region has been in the spotlights ever since the Saddam Regime was toppled from power by the US led invasion. The Region mainly attracted smaller oil exploration companies to tap in to the largely unexplored oil rich region. Ever since the exploration companies have arrived, many of them have described the region as an oilman's dream.
KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) has took it upon itself to grant PSC contracts for oil and gas exploration and now there are over 40 companies operating in the region. Many companies like Gulf Keystone and Norwegian DNO have had good fortune of discovering large reserves of oil and some have not been so lucky. Only this week Western Zagros WZR has struck oil in Sargala 1 and secured a new rig on site to carry out more exploration.
The disputes between the Iraqi central government and KRG have turned away some investors meanwhile many are undeterred and have invested billions of US dollars looking for oil. The dispute has been over the legality of the contracts and technical details.
Most contracts awarded to operators in Kurdistan Region are PSC's with a levy for local infrastructure. The Iraqi deputy Prime minister for oil, Husain Shahristani, believes that KRG contract should be converted into service contracts in order to comply with the Iraqi constitution and the illusive oil and gas Legislation that is not yet in force.
The infrastructure and development tax applied to the oil contracts in Kurdistan Region varies from zero to 40 per cent of profit. The local tax is the main sticking point between Erbil and Baghdad, because Iraqi government argues that the rest of Iraq would not benefit from the extra taxes paid for locally. Nevertheless, the Kurdish Authorities argue that Kurdistan has been underdeveloped for decades and it needs the extra investment to build-up its basic infrastructure.
Comparing the difference between PSC and service contracts if applied to Kurdistan, one cannot see a very large difference in its profitability for the government in the short or medium term. The difficulties many operators facing in Kurdistan due to lack of basic infrastructure and other challenges, would surly offset the argument for converting the contracts to Baghdad's liking, because the cost involved in drilling for oil in Kurdistan and can be claimed would be very high. If KRG contract with oil explorers were converted to service and all parties to the contract agree-which is very unlikely- the gains for Iraq's coffers would be minimal and in some cases, it may be more expensive.
Seeing the facts and observing the political struggle between Baghdad and Erbil, it is becoming clear that Shahristani's opposition to the Kurdish oil contracts is not for getting the best deal for Iraq as he claims, but in order to take full control of oil and gas industry and leave KRG completely dependent on Baghdad for its income. The policy pursued by Shahristani is also designed to strip as much power as he can from KRG and try to centralise power in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Kurdistan Region sees granting oil contracts and controlling its natural resources as its prerogative, therefore it would not easily give up control to Baghdad. All matters considered, It is very unlikely that KRG will back down and accept Shahristani proposals, however a compromise must be found otherwise the sorry state of Iraq would continue while Iraqis and investors grow more frustrated.