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Kurdish Education in the Monarchical Period in Iraq, 1932-58

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The number of schools which used Kurdish as the medium of instruction is not indicated in the annual educational statistics or in the annual statistical abstracts. According to Kurdish sources, Arabization continued throughout the period. To cite a few examples, Arbil's Rûnakî (No. 3, November 29, 1935, p. 8) wrote on the change of textbooks into Arabic, calling it "Chaldean" apparently to avoid censorship:

Farther and Son

Son: I have to get a book.
Father: I got you one yesterday.
Son: Not a Kurdish book! One in Chaldean.
Father: What is that'?
Son: This has become the new curriculum in school.

By 1957, all girls' schools in Sulaymaniya were taught in Arabic (Jîn, September 12, 1957). There was only one Kurdish school in Arbil and one in Kirkuk liwa (Nebez 1957:41-42). In the few remaining schools, instruction was increasingly conducted in Arabic. At one time, even singing was done in Arabic in Sulaymaniya schools (Ibid., p. 42) and some teachers taught other subjects during hours assigned for Kurdish language study (Jîn, February 18, 1954). A secondary school teacher, Jemal Nebez, was told by Kirkuk education authorities not to use Kurdish in his teaching since it was not "an official language." He continued explaining the science courses in Kurdish, however, and was finally removed from Kirkuk and reappointed to the Arab port of Basra in October 1957 (Nebez 1976: 16).

By the 1950s it had become apparent that the Arabic-oriented curriculum had put Kurdish in a disadvantaged position. Students were more proficient in Arabic than in Kurdish. At Sulaymaniya, one substitute teacher found that sixth graders failed to answer when asked how Kurdish and Arabic writing differed or which Kurdish letters did not have Arabic counterparts. When asked to name some Kurdish poets, most of them mentioned the names of singers on the radio. This was, according to Jîn (February 18, 1954), due to the fact that Kurdish composition, literature, and history were not part of the curriculum.

Another problem was the inability of some, among them Kurdish, teachers to teach in Kurdish, apparently because they had themselves received education in Arabic and found it difficult to make the transition. Thus, in spite of the protest of students in the girls' schools of Sulaymaniya, teachers continued to teach in Arabic (Jîn, September 12, 1957). It was the government, however, that was blamed the most for ignoring the Local Languages Law and encouraging teachers to neglect mother tongue instruction (Jîn, February 18, 1954).

Source: Dr. Amir Hassanpour, "Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan 1918-1985", 1992.


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