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Pilot human rights project in northern schools

After nine months of preparations, a pilot scheme to teach human rights to school children in Iraq's Kurdish northern governorate of Sulaymaniyah is ready to start. Initiated in January by staff at Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) NGO, based in the city of Sulaymaniyah, the project has involved seven local aid agencies and two local ministries, as well as human rights experts and teachers. The bulk of the work went into the drafting of curricula suitable for the three age groups - 11, 13 and 16 - chosen for the pilot project. Printed and bound this week, 4,750 copies are now ready to be distributed to the 16 schools across the region chosen by NPA as a representative cross-section of Kurdish society. "There are mixed schools, boys' schools and girls' schools, rural, suburban and urban schools," NPA programme manager Aram Mohamed Ali told IRIN in Sulaymaniyah. "The whole point of this pilot scheme is to gauge how people react to the project throughout the region." "I have no doubt that some aspects of the curriculum will raise hackles in the more conservative areas," added NPA project manager Bakhtiar Ahmad Saleh. "It's not that we are out to cause problems, but if there are none, it means we have failed." Participants say the idea of introducing human rights as a school subject long pre-dates the scheme's launch this year. Like almost all Kurds over the age of 20, human rights lawyer Chenar Ali Ahmad, who provided material for the courses for 13 and 16-year-olds, has fresh memories of Baathist oppression. "For me, the main interest in this type of education is to create a generation of children aware of their role as citizens," he told IRIN at his office in Sulaymaniyah. "We have to learn to see ourselves as active partners, not passive victims." Salah Mohamed Amin, a senior school inspector also involved in the project, believes the scheme could also speed up the transformation of Iraqi teaching methods. "It would be wrong to write off Iraqi education as authoritarian learning," he said, "but in our training courses for the 32 teachers involved in the pilot scheme, we did our best to emphasise the importance of free discussion and self-expression." The three curricula have been moulded to the ages of the children involved. The booklet for 11-year olds is colourful and full of pictures. Lessons will revolve around theatre and games, and the teachers involved have been encouraged to use their imaginations. Only the 16-year olds will be presented with anything approaching abstract theory. Unlike other subjects in Kurdish schools, the weekly human rights course will not be examined at the end of the year. The subjects covered in the three curricula range widely, from specific issues such as the right of an individual to marry whoever they want to more abstract concepts such as free speech. The vast majority of the course is well put together, with a range of homely stories used to encapsulate complicated ideas. One or two examples do, however, seem out of place. In the curriculum for 13-year olds, the section on the right to life contains a question and answer section on a story about the events in a Kurdish village in 1963. "Eighteen men and boys," the text reads, "were taken out by Iraqi government troops and shot in front of their families for speaking Kurdish." "Nationalism is everywhere in Kurdish society," sighed NPA's Aram Mohamed Ali, adding that he and his colleagues had succeeded in persuading delegates to excise other mentions of Iraqi Kurdistan's bloody recent history. His greatest concern is that money necessary to monitor the pilot scheme throughout the year is short. "Nobody involved in the project is under any illusions that it will be easy," he said. "We know that we are going in the right direction, but we also know that the road will be long." If successful, he hopes that the project will be implemented in schools not just in Sulaymaniyah governorate, but throughout the Kurdish region. "After that, why not all of Iraq?" he asked.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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