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Corruption corrodes Kurdish education

Quality education from the outset can eradicate corruption, guarantee peaceful coexistence, and bring about social and economic justice.

Posters of candidates from different political parties are seen in Erbil of Kurdistan, Iraq, on Sept. 11, 2018. Picture by Yasser Jawad/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. Every year, thousands of parents make a lot of sacrifice and spend their lifetime fortunes so that their children can get into good schools and universities. Thousands of high school graduates passionately get admission in public and private universities. But after four years of studying, many of them end up unemployed and jobless. This reflects a misallocation of their incomes, time, energy, and age. Meanwhile, the KRG Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Ministry of Education have failed to tackle issues of overcrowded classrooms, outdated curriculums, and favouritism.

In 2017 in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, more than ten thousand students dropped out of school in the city of Sulaimani alone, mostly due to economic problems. Out of that number seven thousand are male and 3 thousand are female. Among those, high school students constitute the lion’s share. According to information provided by the Sulaimani Education Directorate, in 2017 and due to austerity measures by the Kurdistan Regional Government, 1356 teachers quit and asked for unpaid leave in order to find other work.

University students are also leaving their universities and heading mostly to Europe since programs do not correspond to the demands of today in the fields of science and technology. UNIDO’s survey shows that unemployment in the Kurdistan region stands at 24% for men and 69% for women, highlighting administrative, economic, and educational dysfunctions and systematic problems in Kurdistan Regional Government’s institutions.

In 2016 at the University of Halabja, a few teachers of the university altered final results of 74 students affecting the overall grades and rankings of top and failed students. Some officials of the university have forged signatures of teachers in order to issue fake certificates. An investigating committee was established look into these unlawful acts. The committee announced the names of those responsible for altering the documents. Not a single official or teacher has been arrested after five months of the announcement confirming corruption at a high level.

Since 2014 not a single school has been built in the city of Sulaimani which has a population of 2 million. A spokesperson of the Ministry of Education said that they need to construct 250 to 300 hundred schools each year in order to meet the schooling needs. The Ministry of Education started constructing forty five schools in the city of Sulaimani for students of elementary, basic and high schools in 2010 but 8 years later, not a single building has been finished. Moreover, 34 schools and 24 kindergarten buildings were supposed to be constructed inside modern residential areas but none has been built emphasizing a high level of ignorance of KRG officials when it comes to the education process.

In the Kurdistan region, almost all the projects of construction are either controlled by a certain political party or a small circle of corrupt elite politicians or those who work for them. KRG consists of 21 ministries all of which are monopolized. Likewise, presidents of universities, deans of colleges, and heads of departments and even school managers in Hawler (Erbil) and Duhok provinces are either employed by, or are members of KDP; and in Sulaimani and Halabja provinces they are mostly hired by PUK. This phenomenon is a continuation of the fifty-fifty division and mentality of the 1990s civil war.

While KRG was supposed to be a broad-based government, all the ministers are either PUK or KDP. The later shut down the parliament in 2015 and sacked the Gorran Movement Ministers. KRG has not removed or adjusted names of those ministers that KDP has fired in order to mislead international public opinion and representatives which in turn has helped consolidate their grip on power. The Gorran Movement, however, has proved to be a helpless representative of people’s votes due to their silence and passivity.

With the growth of population in the Kurdistan region, the disorganized and unmerciful role of free market in the region dominated by slumlord politicians, and the hegemony of technological advancement, responsibilities of universities, teachers, and students have transformed. Universities are no longer a place to offer certificates as they used to be in the 1990s.

Since 2008, graduates from humanities departments such as geography and history are not employed by the KGR. Whereas a common graduate has zero chance to get employed, relatives of elite politicians just need their connections or “wasta” to find a job. It has become a norm that sons and daughters of elite politicians occupy high ministerial posts. They do not work as teachers, for instance. Favouritism plays a major role in the employment process. Similarly, graduates from departments like Islamic Education, Sharia Law, history, geography, and Kurdish and Arabic languages have almost zero chance to get a job both in the private or public sectors. Successive KRG cabinets have failed to address the issues of favouritism and wasta in the public sector and oligarchy in the private one.

It has become a fruitless and deceitful trend recently that public and private universities hold many of what they call “International Scientific Conferences” yearly but almost none of these conferences has been able to solve problems in KRG institutions. KRG and its academia have, for instance, failed to solve the problems of water shortage in the city of Darbandikhan while the city is located on a dam. The researchers are ignored since they either write low quality and fraudulent research or do not respond to the economic and social needs. Those that are considered in touch with the local needs, since they are limited and few, don’t have their outcomes implemented practically because they obviously harm economic and political interests of high ranking officials.

Dilshad Omer, General Director of Sulaimani’s Directorate of Education, has recently revealed that 76 people were arrested for being responsible for the leaking of baccalaureate exam questions. The KRG Ministry of Education, after almost three decades of self-rule, has failed to conduct honest baccalaureate exams. It is noticeable that many sons and daughter of high ranking officials never attend Kurdish schools and universities but usually study abroad. Many of them also receive medical care in Europe or the US because they do not trust local medical staff and doctors underlining their total lack of trust in the home-grown skills of the people of Kurdistan.

Currently, there are 6799 schools and 1000706 students in the Kurdistan region. 25 percent of those are completely unserviceable and should be demolished, 50 percent need renovation because they are unfit for use. Austerity measures threaten the live of 126 teachers of the Kurdistan region, according to information provided by the Kurdistan Teachers’ Union. Annual standard hours for teaching in the world are 900 hours, but in the Kurdistan region it is 500 hours due to demonstrations against salary delays and cuts, bureaucracy and national and political holidays.

1733 schools are in Sulaimani but a big number of those schools have two shifts and some even have three. In Sulaimani alone and apart from internal obstacles, there are 35000 internally displaced students and 5000 refugee students which require a clear educational plan. Council members of Sulaimani province warn about the possibility of not providing school supplies for those IDP and refugee students because “the Iraqi government has decided that those IDPs must return to their own cities and that they are no longer ready to provide school supplies for those students.”

Despite logistical challenges after almost three decades of self-rule since the establishment of the Kurdish parliament, teachers are still underpaid or half-paid, favouritism is widespread, schools lack basic services like up-to-date classrooms, clean water and modern toilets, and the rankings of the Kurdistan region universities are among the lowest in the world. This systematic corruption is inherited from the Baath regime and remains unsolved. This will not change unless graduates, presidents of universities, and deans of colleges stop selling certificates and give up on offering doctorate degrees to elite politicians to satisfy unresolved childhood wishes and prove their own submissiveness.

The role of teachers and university lecturers should not only be giving advice, conducting exams, and announcing the names of failed or successful students. Students should hope to go beyond satisfying their parents’ wishes by simply getting a degree. The attitudes of both teachers and students need to change. Adapting to change does not mean surrendering to it, it rather means being able to live with it and add to it in order to have a better society and world.

Universities should guide graduates to find jobs and teachers should build bridges between the market and the university. Students should attempt not only to change their own lives but the lives of those around them and fight against fraud and oil lords. A good teacher cultivates as well as shapes the mentality and personality of their students in order to eradicate injustice. A good student makes use of the knowledge she has acquired. A good university directs societies to embrace pluralism and diversity, organizes people to respect the role of law and esteem their own individuality. A corrupt government will not reform when people are silent.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq emerged from the ashes of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, chemical bombardment and displacement, Anfal campaigns, economic embargo, and ethnic cleansing into the 1990s civil war between KDP and PUK heading towards internal corruption and nepotism. A civil society, political pluralism, social and economic justice is impossible without a modern productive education system starting right from kindergarten. More students will quit, more fake certificates will be issued, unemployment will increase, and corruption will further paralyse both private and public sectors unless there is a transparent democratic system of governance based on the values of meritocracy and not kleptocracy.

About the author

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance journalist. He is the founder and deputy editor of SMART, an independent English magazine that centres its focus on literature and society. He has contributed to Fair Observer, The World Weekly, Newsweek Middle East, The New Arab, and Your Middle East, among others.


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