Teaching in Rojava.
12 Jan 2014
Education in Rojava: Academy and Pluralistic versus University and Monism
An Interview with Dorşin Akif – by Derya Aydın
On one hand the Cantons of Rojava (Kobanê, Efrîn and Cizîrê) continue to resist against the brutal "Islamic State" also known as ISIS -Islamic State of Iraq and Sham- on the other hand, they try to construct a social life. The institutions of education are opened in all three cantons of Rojava and they offer a new educational model. The primary languages of the education are in Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac among others. And this model of education in many languages aims to break the monolithic language policy of the Baathist regime in Syria. In the interview with Dorsin Akif, lecturer of Jineology at the Mesopotamia Social Sciences Academy located in the Cizîrê Canton, we talked on the institutions of education and academies and their plans for the future. Ms. Akif said, 'The primary perspectives in education is on the basis of democratic, ecologic-economy and gender emancipatory paradigm' and she also explained why they use the term 'academy' instead of 'university'.
Can you tell us about the developments in education that started with Rojava Revolution?
First of all, it should be reminded that the Kurdish People's Leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has an impact on the revolutionary tradition in Rojava. We put a lot of effort into women's emancipation. Everybody, who goes to academy, including a 70 years old adult and a 7 years old kid have been educated in one way or the other. This has already created a tradition. So, the 'free Kurd' and the 'free women' revolution of the Kurdistan liberation movement has brought a significant change and transformation in this area for the last three years.
There are two types of education in Rojava, one is the "public education" that is provided mainly by the academies. The other one is the "school education", that is provided mainly by the state institutions. The state has a monopolistic policy in school education and we try to change the curriculum and develop a new curriculum. This year, we prepared books for pre-school, kindergartens, and first grades.
Functioning of all schools is depended on the ministry of educations in the cantons. However, we have not changed all the books yet. What we try to do is to change the curriculum of certain courses and free the education from government control and give it to the public. People does not control the school education, the state still continues its education.
To elaborate on the education in academies, we can say that this includes training for the construction of the social life, social change and transformation and also to train people for leading social institutions. The fundamental perspective in this education is based on the democratic, ecologic-economy and gender emancipatory paradigm. We have created a system different from the education developed by the nation-state, we think the production of knowledge should be given back to society. And that we will change everything, from the methods of education, using the buildings and to the construction of daily life in academy. The school directors and teachers in state schools rather than educating people, they have always been someone to be afraid of. We are different from them and we will establish a relationship based on equality and friendship.
In the education system of the state, only one curriculum is set and that is applied in all schools. The main point of the state education is that the individual belongs to the state. And that is what we are different from the state. We are trying to build a system where we can educate ourselves and develop knowledge. We are trying to own ourselves, our society, and to understand the social reality. We are different from the state education in the sense that we minimise the state power and strengthen civil society.
How is the education built in the cantons; are the educational models the same in each Cantons or are there any differences?
Every canton endeavors to build its own educational system on its own social structure. Of course, there is a shared approach in terms of paradigm. This shared approach is the democratic, eco-ecologic economy and gender emancipatory paradigm. However, the social composition in every canton is different. For instance, Cizire canton is an example of the coexistence of Middle Eastern societies. For that, the education in Cizire is shaped accordingly. Kobane and Efrin are also different. I can give you an example in terms of the language. Syriac, Kurdish and Arabic languages are taught in the school education in the Cizîrê Canton. If there is an Arab child, he/she is taught in the Arabic language; Kurdish or Syriac language courses will be an elective option for that student. The children learn in these languages based on their ethnic identities and their education is based on their social structure. However, this is not the case in the Efrin canton because mainly Kurdish and Arab population live there. The Efrin canton has prepared books up to 8th grade; however, the Cizîrê canton has prepared them only to 3rd grade, because of having different ethnic structures they need to find a common ground.
Public academies are also developing on this ground. For example, there are currently Mesopotamia Acaemies of Social Sciences in Cizre Canton. It is not opened in other cantons. The situation is different in Kobane obviously because of the war.
Why is the term "Academy" is used instead of "University"?
Good question. The definition of university is very much based on the system. When universities were first established, they might have been thought to be independent from a central system. Yet, today universities have mostly become the institutions in which the state is organising itself. On the contrary, academy is an area where society builds its own intellectual power. It maintains its existence as an area where it produces knowledge and science by itself. Thus, we found it more appropriate to call it an "academy".
What differentiates the educational model in Academies from the ones in the West or in the Middle East?
In fact, the main difference can be explained through this question: 'How does the society want to live?' We have an educational model that answers this question. It embodies the educational tradition in the Middle East; but, it also embodies the research tradition of the West. First of all, we do not construct knowledge on the basis of Western knowledge. Knowledge takes place based on the dynamics of the society. For example, a mother who is 70 years old teaches Oral History at the Mesopotamia Academy of Social Sciences. We call it oral history, but she mainly talks about her experiences in the recent history, the stories of young people in the freedom struggle, the epics, the words that have disappeared or forced to disappear through repression. I will give you another example, there is no memorisation in education here and we ask these questions: will the knowledge gained by the student in school be useful in the social structure and life, will it make life better? And is the knowledge gained by the individual related to its own society or the knowledge is constructed by the modernity that leads to individualism? It is an effort to produce knowledge that based on understanding, explaining and the shared experiences of life. Thus, it is a sort of learning that goes beyond the static limits of teacher-student relationship in the Middle Eastern and Western traditions, and it allows changing these static relations time to time.
One more example: In each traditions, the students mainly are questioned and categorised through exams, right? There is also a different approach at this point. After each class the student criticises the teacher's method. At the end of the education, the outcome of learning is promoted not only by the teacher but also by the student.
Students go through the criticism and self-criticism in front of the all students. They decide within the group of friends how they will be involved in the social life.
There are women academies. Can you tell us about them? What differentiates the education here?
Women, who are not considered as a social power, identify themselves in academies, and try to understand their place in history. The women have no place in the constructed social structure. Social institutions were identified with men. The important thing for our academies is to get rid of these definitions. For that, it is necessary to have a change in the social structure that is constructed with the masculine discourse and mentality. And this necessitates education to be woven by women's identity.
In the patriarchal education system, there should be an age limit and classes are designed according to the age groups, isn't it? But this situation is different here. For example, when we had a training session for "Yekitiya Star Assembly", some of our friends were taught together with their mothers. Some of the women were 60 years old, while others were 18 years old. We see the generational gap as the result of the power structures. These are problems that arise as a result of limiting each other. In free relations however age is not a problem, it is about sharing the experience. It is important that a 60 years old person's experience seen as a power, but that experience should be shared and should transform the surrounding environment. Similarly, an educated person in the schools of the system gains a higher status in the society. However, in our academies, to be educated is not giving you a high status. Education is all about contributing to social life and relations. It is not considered as a status but a qualification that needs to be shared.
Due to the fact that our women's academy addresses to the whole canton, mostly education is carried out in closed training sessions. Which means the people who attend can stay here. Thus, everything is done together. Each night a group of students keep guard for the security of the students in the academy. The daily life starts with sports in the morning. Then the classes begin. Once the classes of that day are completed, the evening classes continue with news. The evening classes are mainly visual, we try to complete classes with alternative cinema and documentaries.
How are the academies widely spread in Rojava now?
All of our academies were built in line with social needs. Self-defense academies are common. There are "Women's Academies", "Youth Academies" "Security Academies" "Economy Academies", "Free Ideas and Thinking Academies" "City Academy" "Law, Sociology, History, Language and Literature Academies" "Political and Diplomacy Academies" and there are "Educational Committees" which contact with these academies all times and which exist in every community. Every city has its own "Free Ideas and Thought Academies". In addition to that, there are academies established by institutions for employees. These are on the canton level. But there are also defense academies, and professionalism academies and schools in every subject.
What are your prospective plans and programs for education?
First of all, our objective is to enable the school system to be transferred to society. As we stated in the beginning, we have added some classes to these trainings, and we interfered with the Nationalism classes and History classes that were given by the state. However, it is necessary to make radical changes in other classes. We made some gender based changes in the pre-school and kindergarten books. But this is not enough. The mentality that is imposed on to children through the old education system must change. This is the first thing that we need to do.
(Translator: Gizen Şahin)