Civic Education in the Kurdistan Region


Sep 28, 2023

In this blog, Adnan Majeed Mohammed, PhD student in the IR Department at Soran Universtiy, Erbil, and author of Civic Education and Political Socialisation in KR, analyses the impact of Civic Education’s inclusion on the curriculum.

After the 1991 Kurdish Uprising in Iraq and the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1992, the KRG has tried to improve and modernise its educational system, beginning with eradicating the fascist Arab Baath Socialist Party (the Baath) ideology. 

The Baathists utilised the educational system to serve its ideological objectives. In line with this, the KRG’s Ministry of Education held several initiatives including large conferences. 

The first educational conference was organised in 1993 with the slogan of educating future generations of Kurds with high morals, true ‘Kurdishness’, modern science, and democratic values. Since then, the democratic principles have become ever more important in education throughout the Kurdistan Region (KR).

“Improving science and education standards in a Kurdistan free of illiteracy” was the theme of the second educational conference, which took place in 2000. The Education Minister, Abdulaziz Taib, stressed that democratic values such as freedom and human rights should be at the heart of our education system. In addition, it was pointed out at the conference that all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be taught in schools. Along the same lines, at the fourth educational conference, held in 2007, the Minister of Education, Dlshad Abdurrahman, stated that Kurdistan is one of the societies that ought to move towards teaching democracy as a pillar of the curriculum. 

As part of these initiatives and understandings, the Ministry of Human Rights in conjunction with Ministry of Education sought the help of an expert from the Centre for Civic Education in Maryland, USA to assist in drafting the civic education curricula for the KRG schools.   

The Ministry of Education first ran a pilot program for civic education at selected schools. Later, it conducted a survey that found that seventy one percent of teachers thought the program was of good quality. 

The Civic Education program was then rolled out across the KR. Soon after, the Ministry of Education felt that a civic education curriculum was not given enough attention by regular  teaching staff at schools. Consequently, it was decided to be taught by social workers. Furthermore, a group of teachers was sent to the Civic Education Centre in Maryland to receive training. Upon their return, they trained other teachers in KR. The civic education curriculum has since been modified several times by various committees.

Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education kept the Civic Education curriculum at schools. However, one must consider how the topics have since been reflected in practice in the education system in KR. To do this, we assessed and scrutinized the civic education textbooks.

As such, the content of the Civic Education textbooks was examined and the school pedagogy scrutinized in order to assess the validity of the claims made by the Ministry of Education that the newly introduced curricula is enriching democratic values and respect for human rights among the students. 

The Civic Education Curriculum Content

The Civic Education curriculum is an independent school program taught at four primary school levels, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. The third year grade of the Civic Education is entirely dedicated to enshrine the value of responsibility. The forty-four-page textbook does not cover values such as tolerance, equality or human rights but responsibility is mentioned seventy five times, environmental awareness twenty seven times, freedom six times, and rule of law four times. 

The title of the fourth grade Civic Education textbook is “Learning about Privacy”. The primary focus of this fifty-six-page textbook is the idea of privacy. The content paid more attention to moral values such as integrity, honesty, and other moral values. However, it does not pay much attention to other values such as equality, pluralism, freedom, tolerance, coexistence, justice, confronting violence, and human rights. 

“Learning about the Judiciary” is the title of the fifth-grade Civic Education textbook.  The forth-two-page program is entirely devoted to the idea of justice. However, “Learning about Power” is the title and focus of the fifty-page sixth-grade textbook. This curriculum makes no mention of the values of tolerance, pluralism, coexistence, or responsibility as the rule of law is the most important value within the textbook; it is mentioned ninety-nine times.

Challenges and Shortcomings

The fact that this program even existed is a positive development and a move in the right direction toward democratising education. It makes teachers regularly discuss this subject among themselves that’s why it is crucial for both students and teachers.

However, after thorough review of the civic education textbooks, the following shortcomings have been observed: firstly, the programs’ content was not very clear. For instance, there was an incorrect photo of Erbil Castle in a lesson on Sulaimani city. An error that suggests little attention has been paid to the content of the programs regarding matching the images to the subjects.

The right to life was defined as a political right in the fourth-grade civic education curriculum, even though it is in fact a natural human right. 

Secondly, the majority of political and legal concepts and terms have been misinterpreted as a result of inexperience in developing the civic education curriculum. For instance, the definitions of central government and regional government are ambiguous in the civic education curriculum for sixth grade. Furthermore, in the civic education curriculum for third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, the concept of judiciary is used instead of justice, which is of course very different. Additionally, the values of coexistence, justice, equality, and tolerance are not discussed at all.

Thirdly, there were no specialized teachers for the civic education curriculum. The majority of teachers themselves were confused by some of the curriculum’s themes, ideas and concepts. For instance, civic education was taught by teachers of Arabic, Kurdish, mathematics, geography and history. Thus, when I interviewed the teachers, most of them had problems with the content of the programs; they did not comprehend the themes, ideas and concepts discussed in the textbooks. Most teachers had not attended any courses or training on how to teach the program.

Finally, the civic education program had only one lesson per week. In addition, there were no teaching resources or materials for teaching the lessons and carrying out the activities in the curriculum in most schools. Sometimes the lesson was missed altogether because it was scheduled as the last lesson of the day and the students were sometimes sent home early.

In order for the education process to serve coexistence, peacebuilding, and intercultural understanding in KR, these shortcomings should be addressed, and the overall curriculum and pedagogical methods in educational institutions should be seriously reviewed. Additionally, specialist or trained teachers should also be provided for the curriculum.

It is worth mentioning that in 2022 a new curricula subject entitled “Skills and Social Values” was introduced which replace the Civic Education curriculum at KR schools. In terms of content the Skills and Social Values curricula are somewhat better than the Civic Education. However, in general the issues previously identified in the curriculum of Civic Education, such as a shortage of curriculum development experts, limited consultation with relevant stakeholders and lack of specialized teachers, can now be observed in the recently implemented Skills and Social Values curriculum.

Any opinions expressed in this, or any other blog post on this website, are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Education, Peace and Politics organisation.

  • Adnan Majeed Mohammed

    Adnan Majeed Mohammed is a PhD student in the IR Department at Soran University, Erbil, and author of Civic Education and Political Socialisation in KR. Specializing in Civic Education,Peacebuilding and Minority Rights. @AdnanShwany