Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iraq's Education System: Helpful Tool For Terrorism and Religious Extremism

By: Ali Rawaf

A few days ago, I was listening to an NPR story on China’s education system. The report said that the system is based on memorization and doesn’t encourage critical thinking. Students who were interviewed in the report said that they were not encouraged to think about the subjects but rather, “to know the right answer.” In their opinion, that is the reason the West has become more advanced than them and that this system creates an oppressed society in china.

Iraq’s Education System

That is exactly how I feel about Iraq’s education system. It is old and on the verge of collapsing. As I remember, in most institution, you are encouraged to memorize the books and that way, you will get a perfect grade. In 6th grade, I scored a 100 percent on the national standardized test. Don’t call me a nerd, but in order to get that, I had to memorize almost all the books we have studies that year.

Saddam Hussein established the “Faith Campaign,” the project that made all school obligated to teach religion classes. In those religion classes, students are to memorize passages from the Quran along with attached “explanation” of every verse. No one discussed those verses, but everyone memorized them and memorized their “explanation.” This is very dangerous because it limits students from questioning and if we don’t question, we are not more than machines that operate on food.

In class, there wasn’t much of a discussion about the material. We were encouraged to know the “one possible answer” while there could have been many others. We were more trained than taught.

Getting Into College

Our future depends on how we score in the national standardized tests. We have one in each 6th, 9th, and 12th grade. The one taken in the 12th grade determines which field you can pursue in your studies.

If you have scored within high 90’s, you might be able to study engineering or medicine, the Middle East’s most popular fields to study. So, the number of applications for med school and engineering are way higher than any other field.

It is sad to see that our society glorifies those two fields while it discourages studies in the fields of social studies, arts, and humanities. This point needs to be more emphasized, our education system –with the way it discourages the pursuit of such fields – is the reason why we have religious extremism and terrorism.

Many of those who have higher scores in the national exam and who have well spoken and written English, can be qualified to study abroad so they can bring something else to the table but it is rare to find the students who go back actually want to bring back what they learned abroad and make the changes on our education system.

Results of Having Such Education System

Just like it is in China, we have an oppressed society, one that doesn’t bother to think about how and what to believe but rather seek being told what to believe by an Imam or an Ayatollah.

That is why our youth can be easily persuaded by someone who clams to know the ‘right’ answer or path. That is why we now we have more extremism in our country than ever before. That is why when someone speaks of anything that doesn’t conform to the society’s general belief system, they get assassinated and tortured.

It is the reason why we clap for every one who is in power and boo every one whom the people who are in power tell us to boo. That is why we don’t stand up for our selves when we face government uprooting of our society, when we see terrorist beheading our people. We are afraid of questioning because we weren’t allowed to.

What Can Be Done?

There needs to be some fundamental changes in our schools, starting with elementary schools.

  • Programs such as the “Faith Campaign” should be abolished* so students can have the opportunity to think about their beliefs and religion and told what to believe
  • We need to have more proactive interactions between students and teachers, more than just I-tell-you-what-to-think-and-you-write-that-on-the-test-and-I-give-you-good-grade style.
  • Our teachers and professors need to be trained to teach students to think not how and what to think.
  • Our curriculum needs to be changed from boring, dry text books to become more interactive and accompanied computer programs and other activities.
  • We need to take the turbans out of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education
  • We need to employ the skills and the images of those who studies abroad and try to imply some of the ideas they learned at home.
  • Also, we need to start questioning. We need to use the word “why” more often in our schools. We shouldn’t only address the “right” answer in class, we should discuss all possible answers.
  • We need to change TV. We can’t let every turbaned head with a dirty broom hanging from his face teach our children how to live life properly every weekend mornings.

Is It Possible?

Iraq once had one of the most secular and educated societies in the Middle East. We still have those people, they are just afraid of voicing out their opinions. We had one very decent middle class that was capable of producing a hard working and well educated population, we can learn from our predecessors.

Yes, it is possible. It just needs a bit of time and assertiveness in our attitudes with our officials. If the Iraqi student body was to unite and ask for better schooling with higher quality and better style, we can.

If you are a student, talk to your friends about the issue. Ask for their opinion about it and discuss it with them. You will not believe how many you will find who believe in the freedom of education and in its advancement.

Changing our education and the way we think about life and society will help us in many ways to advance as a

people and a country. Yes, it might need some protests and demonstrations and writing to government officials but we can do it. Don't think that I am saying this because I live in the U.S and learned to talk their talk but if Saddam Hussein could make protest for useless issues such as Palestine and the Arab unity, we can protest for our own good and for the healthiness of our society.

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