Cradle of Civilisation?

Mesopotamia is often described as the cradle of civilisation, a place where agriculture, trade, and literature (to name but a few) were devised. What may surprise some is that the area where the ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia was situated is what is now known as Iraq.

Yet a country which has flourished in the past centuries has come to a standstill in the one thing which it is famed for: learning, or to more specific, higher education. Since the 60’s and 70’s Iraq has fallen in its higher education ranking, and even more so in the last decade. What was once considered to be one of the best education systems in the Middle East has suffered from: infrastructural problems, lack of funding, academic ‘brain drain’, and increased violence. According to Christopher Hill (The Conversation), Iraq has seen a depletion of qualified academics and a general loss of faith. During the 2003 War on Iraq, more than 80% of the Universities were bombed, causing further problems for those wishing to attain a higher education.

With the supposed end of the ‘War on Terror’ and the slow stabilisation of the Iraqi nation the Minister for higher education and scientific research, Ali al-Adib, has proposed a reform in which the construction of 13 new universities and 28 colleges will take place. These universities and colleges will be constructed throughout the country with the assistance of UNESCO, the World Bank, and UNICEF.

These universities and colleges are a welcome reprieve from the current daily struggle of the Iraqi people. According to Ali al-Adib, the last decade has caused an entire generation to be subjected to various forms of violence, as well as sectarianism. The new universities will provide a safe learning environment. However, this statement has not yet proven to be true as a recent suicide bombing at the Imam Kadhim University (Baghdad) took the lives of nine university members. However, upset over the parliamentary elections were said to be the cause of this attack.

The education system has received further support through the possibility of overseas study. The Iraq Educational Initiative, which began in 2009, offers Iraqi students scholarships to study in English speaking countries. There is currently US$200 million in scholarships available. Countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, Greece, India, UK and the US are just some of the countries which offer Iraqi student higher educational degrees. In 2012 over 22,000 scholarships were awarded to students wishing to study for their masters or doctoral degrees.

In a country where war has been the main issue for over a decade, education is a way in which the students can strive to become something other than another casualty in the war.

ABC easy as 123?

One of the more complex issues of the middle-east is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While the conflict is usually portrayed as a physical one through various media outlets, it is also evident on an educational level. A report by the Human Rights Watch (2001) on the school systems of Israel deduced that the education system discriminates against Palestinian citizens.

The Israeli government implements two different school systems, one for Jewish citizens and another for Palestinian citizens. Under international law the Israeli government may offer separate education and curricula systems for linguistic and/or religious purposes while still ensuring that they do not discriminate in the process, yet this does not seem to be the case in Israel.

According to the HRW report, Palestinian schools lack funding and equal curricula in comparison with the Israeli Jewish schools. Yet this inequality does not stop at just lower schools but also reaches into the university domain. All Palestinian students from the beginning to the end of their school lives are subjected to a lower level of:

  • Budgets
  • Curricula
  • Hiring practices
  • Teacher training
  • Physical conditions
  • Education psychologists
  • Counsellors, and
  • Special education

Palestinian Arab curricula has been structured so as to limit individual motivation and to ensure that the Palestinian minority is ‘submissive’ to the Jewish majority. Despite a ‘promise’ from the Director General of Israel’s Minister of Education to remove the larger gaps between the school systems in a year, the Israeli government was still allocating less money per Palestinian than Jewish school children in 2004.

While Palestinian teachers are having to make do with larger class sizes, a lack of resources and text books their Jewish counterparts enjoy smaller class size, better basic facilities such as, libraries, laboratories and recreational spaces. For Palestinian children the drop-out rate is three times more than that of Jewish children, with Palestinian children being less likely to pass the national matriculation exam to achieve their high school certificates. These discrepancies are also seen in university entry numbers, with only a small number of university students being of Palestinian decent.

One major difference of the school systems in terms of subjects, was that Palestinian children are taught in Arabic while Jewish children are taught in Hebrew. For the Palestinian children Hebrew is taught as a second language yet Jewish schools do not require their students to learn Arabic at an educational level.

Yet this discrimination does not stop at the school children but also extends to the teachers, as Palestinian teachers are required to undergo a security test – without their knowledge- and a Shin Bet stamp (General Security Service) before they are able to be hired.

These discrepancies are evident, yet the Supreme Court of Israel has never found the educational system, in cases of discrimination against a Palestinian student, to be guilty of a violation of the international law.

Palestinian school children