Global Politics

Education in Libya After Gaddafi

Since the toppling and ultimate death of former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, change is the watchword in Libya.

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A new prime minister has been named, a new transitional government is imminent, and new portraits of fallen martyrs replace pictures of Gaddafi in public spaces.

But perhaps one of the most crucial changes is happening in more discreet locations — in schools, all across the country.

Over his more than four decades of dictatorship, Gaddafi used the country's schools to get his ideology into the minds of his citizens.

From primary to university level, Libya's national curriculum is now being cleansed of Gaddafi's far-reaching influence.

"We don't want anything that signifies him — neither his name, his family, nor his symbols and signature green color," said Mohammed Sawi, director of the National Curriculum Reform Office, which is based in Tripoli

It's a newly formed team of 160 experts charged with rewriting curriculum throughout Libya's entire public school system.

For now, the Libyan experts are doing an initial, rapid purge of the most flagrant pro-Gaddafi elements in schools. It's a stop-gap solution until Libya's transitional period ends and a new government is elected in eight months. Then, according to Sawi, the larger task of long-term revision will start.

"There are no foreign experts because what we are doing is provisional, for one year," Sawi said. "After that, experts will be brought in from abroad and we will do an international conference to see what we can do in term of broader changes to the curriculum."
Getting Rid of Subjects

For now, the easiest change is getting rid of subjects like Al-Mujtama Al-Jamahariya, the study of the "Green Book" — Gaddafi's core treatise on politics and civic life.

But beyond that, many remaining subjects require severe changes. Gaddafi, a strident anti-colonialist, refused to allow what he considered "Western" symbols — for instance, "cm" for centimeters and "kg" for kilogram. Hatem Mhenni, a member of the reform committee, said all symbols in Libyan education will be changed to meet international norms.

"We changed all the symbols that were in Arabic before into Latin script," Mhenni said. "We corrected many spelling errors and technical errors as well."

History, which had amounted to glorifying Gaddafi and his regime, is being rewritten from scratch. Until that's done, the subject has been suspended from the national curriculum.

Subjects like geography would seem less problematic. But education reformer Mahmoud al Chawadi said maps in Libyan schoolbooks were used to confuse rather than inform the students.

"Gaddafi was afraid that the students or their parents could revolt at any time, so it was important that they feel far from each other," Chawadi said. "So in the maps, he created a big separation between east and west Libya — a vast, impenetrable desert — to disorient people and make sure they felt divided, not united."

Officials have said that schools won't have a more Islamic bent, though they will add a subject called Islamic Consciousness. But like everything else in Libya now, it's hard to predict how schooling will shake out until the constitution is written and a new government is chosen.

But these days, the Ministry of Education's eyes are set on more immediate goals: the new, temporary curriculum and textbooks set to roll out to an estimated one million Libyan students by January 14th.

Until then, classes continue at places like the Rixos Technical High School in Tripoli.
Larger Education Goals

The school's principal, Brahim Al Hajaji, said the larger goal of removing the false ideas and mentalities cultivated through more than four decades of Gaddafi indoctrination may take quite a long time.

"I think a lot about the future of the students and the children of this country," said Al Hajaji. "The big challenge is the little kids who love Gaddafi and don't know why they love him."

17-year-old Epthal Abu Bakker said whenever she used to criticize Gaddafi, other kids would tease her and beat her. Now the power has changed, and Epthal can express her opinions without danger.

"We have to know, the children have to know, what they missed before," Epthal said. "About the grandparents, the old people, how they were. We have to know why Gaddafi came, why he did all that."

With the dictator gone, Libya's future is uncertain — the country is awash in weapons, and the revolutionaries are finding it hard to be good politicians.

But in the country's schools, the horizon is relatively bright – assuming the country's political journey continues smoothly.