How would you assess the present state of the education sector in the Kurdistan Region?
The MOE is the largest ministry in the KRG, comprising 24% of the government’s total manpower. Based on our calculations, we have approximately 165,000 employees and oversee in excess of 1.65 million students. Added together, this number represents nearly 40% of the population of the Kurdistan Region. So, it’s a very large sector and is also one of the highest priorities for the current cabinet. The KRG as a whole has begun to embrace the idea that education must be the first step for any future growth within the Kurdistan Region. We are trying to approach education from a variety of different perspectives, as well as by supporting it financially to the greatest extent possible. This is especially important given that the number of students here will only continue to increase. We have more than 130,000 new students enrolling each year. Providing funding and facilities for this increasing student population is one of the greatest challenges facing the MOE.
What are the the other main challenges currently confronting the MOE?
I would say two of the biggest obstacles are the limited number of schools and the fact that the skill level of the majority of our teachers does not meet the necessary standard. The rapid rate of technological growth makes it very difficult for our teachers to stay current. They need continuous training programs so that they can adjust their curricula to match international standards. These challenges are fairly common for education around the world, but they still represent pressing concerns. So, our current goal is to increase the standard of our education to bring our educators in line with international practices. We are also working to establish a greater number of schools in order to both prevent overcrowding and incorporate areas that may not yet have access to modern facilities. To enact such changes will require significant financial support, so the limitations of our present budget represents a further issue that needs to be addressed.
We have established a plan to construct 500 new schools over the next 2 years. The modern design and high standard of services that these new schools will offer will prove revolutionary for our education system.
That rise in students indicates that there will be an increased need for new educational facilities. What programs are in place to ensure that expansion occurs?
We have established a plan to construct 500 new schools over the next two years. The modern design and high standard of services that these new schools will offer will prove revolutionary for our education system. We are currently in the tendering process. However, we are not pleased with the existing state of our schools. Essentially, each individual village has its own small school that generally does not provide a high standard of education. We believe it would be far more beneficial to establish one central school that would serve a larger area and would feature well-trained teachers and modern equipment. This would no doubt prove to be a better environment for education, and would certainly be a more controllable, regulated system. Thus, we have established a second plan of minimizing our overall number of schools, while at the same time increasing the quality, services, and facilities that we have on offer.
In terms of teachers, what needs to be done to bring this plan to fruition?
The percentage of teachers in the Kurdistan Region that are in need of intensive training is very high, and sits around 60-65%. We are therefore implementing an intensive, two-year training program into our plan: the first year will focus on the scientific side of the curriculum and the second year will focus on improving social outreach and responsibility. This means helping our educators to better comprehend (and therefore teach) human rights, children’s rights, and women’s rights, as well as environmental protection, personal behavior, and character building. Overall, our goal is for our teachers to reflect the modernity and stability of both the Kurdistan Region and the new schools themselves. Without such training, our teachers will not be prepared to confront many of the issues we will soon be facing. So, this is perhaps our most important program, and we at the MOE are quite proud of it.