Private Education or Public Education- Who Is the Winner?
|April 25, 2011||Filled under Iraq Daily News|
With their flashy uniforms and buses, private schools are becoming a trend in Kurdistan
Families with money to spare hanker after a good private school to secure a good education for their children and earn bragging rights. As a result, private schools are quickly filling up their coffers. Private schools outshine an outdated public school curriculum and teachers who are neither trained properly nor paid well enough.
Until recently, there was no such thing as private education in Kurdistan. In the mid-1990s Ishik, a private Turkish company opened a primary and secondary school, followed by Media School for the same age range. In the last few years, particularly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, a number of private universities were established, like SABIS University, Cihan University, Ishik University, BMU University and American University. Not to mention the International School of Choueifat, part of the SABIS school network, which was established in 2008 in Kurdistan. It is the most rapidly growing and expanding private school network in the Region with around 5,000 students.
This recent trend has been the result of the chronic inability of public schools in Kurdistan to meet the needs of an evolving society. The public school system is based on the traditional British educational system of the early 20th century, brought by the British Empire when it colonized Iraq. Since then, this antiquated system has remained mostly unchanged. The curriculum is a range of too many subjects, without specialization. Text books have not been adequately improved upon or updated to keep up with advances in science and educational research. This system is mainly a pedantic one, encouraging blind memorization and discouraging creative thinking, which produces students poorly equipped to succeed in the modern world and workplace.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Education has made some attempts to modernize the public educational system, but the effects have been of little real significance due to many shortcomings and roadblocks that stand in the way of effective educational reform. The main problem has been the shortage of skilled educational experts, and the low level of training teachers get from the ministry. Additionally, low teacher salaries and lack of benefits provide little incentive for recent graduates to put their efforts into the job. The basic entry-level teacher salary is a mere 400,000 Iraqi dinars, which can hardly sustain a person for a month in a region with rising living expenses. This forces teachers to take additional jobs to make ends meet. This affects teacher morale and dampens their enthusiasm for the job.
Corruption in the governmental educational system has also had an impact on student and teacher morale and dedication. There are instances where students and teachers give or take bribes to access exam questions or change a student’s results on certificates. Hardworking students feel disheartened when they see another student taking the easy road. The government is making more of an effort to strictly control the pre-university baccalaureate exams, maintaining rules and security in the exam halls, but cheating does take place and sometimes appropriate punishment is not given, allowing the cheating to go on.
Private education has addressed many of these shortfalls by offering modern, relevant curricula taught by competent teachers and educational experts. Often, the staff or these private educational institutions is made up of foreign experts or expat Kurds returning from developed countries, with higher qualifications and bringing a strong work ethic.
Most of these schools teach in English or another international language, not only as a language in itself, but as the language of instruction. This opens the students up to the possibility of higher education abroad.
Legislation has not kept up with the sprouting of these private schools and universities; many legal issues face these institutes with licensing, certification and qualifications. The government needs to act to deal with this problem more effectively. The pre-university, upper primary level seems to be more of a cause for concern than the kindergarten, lower primary and secondary levels. There hasn’t been adequate legislation that equates an upper primary qualification to a government qualification, causing problems for students from private schools who want to attend public universities or work in civil service. Universities and the government both require public school certificates. The exception to this has been qualifications from the International School of Choueifat; the government accepts its certificates. The school also offers international qualifications, such as International General Certificate of Secondary Education and Advanced Level.
Will private education solve the educational problems that Kurdistan is facing? There could be a number of possible answers to this question. For one, private education offers a better alternative and a substitute to government education, but it is not available to all people in Kurdish society, as the cost ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 for each academic year, immediately cutting off the poorer strata of Kurdish people. Second, the Ministry of Education is attempting to modernize the rusty public education system, and it may succeed, although this may not happen within a single generation. If this happens, it could outrun private education in meeting the demand. However, this may not happen as Kurdistan is leaning toward a free market system, which encourages private education.
Related Iraqi Articles-