Multi-language curriculum in Northeast Syria lacks official recognition 

By Shella Abdulhalim

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – For a long time, the Kurdish language was systematically and intentionally marginalized by the Syrian government, depriving Kurds of learning their own language. Unlike other ethnic groups like Syriacs, Armenians, and Assyrians, whose languages were taught in private church schools alongside the government curriculum, while the Kurdish language was restricted.

However, after the Syrian civil war and the establishment of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), efforts were made to fight discrimination, and the administration started teaching mother languages in schools within its areas of control.

The AANES has established an independent educational process in their areas. This process focuses on teaching local languages, including Arabic, Kurdish, and Syriac, with the aim of promoting culture and enhancing the linguistic identity of local communities.

The Kurdish language pre 2011

Before 2011, the Kurdish language in Syria faced significant restrictions, as the Syrian government, under the rule of al-Ba’ath party, implemented policies that suppressed the Kurdish language and culture, aiming to assimilate the Kurdish population into the Arab majority, since the use of the Kurdish language in public spaces, schools, and official documents was heavily restricted.

Additionally, Kurdish cultural expressions, such as music, literature, and media, were also limited or banned. Kurdish names and traditional clothing were discouraged and Kurdish activists advocating for language and cultural rights were often subjected to persecution.

The lack of recognition and support for the Kurdish language created barriers to education and limited opportunities for Kurdish-speaking Syrians to fully participate in society. Many Kurds were forced to assimilate into Arabic-speaking communities, which led to a loss of language and cultural heritage.

However, following the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 and the subsequent establishment of the AANES, the situation for the Kurdish language began to change. The administration implemented policies to promote linguistic diversity, including the recognition and inclusion of Kurdish as an official language alongside Arabic.

This shift in policy allowed the revitalization and promotion of the Kurdish language within the educational system and public sphere. Kurdish language classes were introduced in schools, and institutions to teach and prepare educational staffs were opened. Efforts were made to develop educational materials and resources in the Kurdish language before implementing the AANES’ curriculum.

Structure of the curricula

There are three school curricula taught in the AANES-held areas. First, a curriculum special for the AANES that is taught in Hasakah Governorate including Qamishli and Derik (al-Malikiya), Kobani and Aleppo northern countryside (locally known as Shahba region where Afrin IDPs are being housed). Second, the UNICEF curriculum that is taught in the areas of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, and it is the curriculum that is generally used during wartime and consists of basic subjects such as language, math, and science.  Third, the Syrian government’s curriculum that is taught in Manbij, with the exception of some subjects and lessons of religious or national education which they say incite hatred or violence. However, the AANES curriculum is scheduled to be adopted in Manbij for the 2023-2024 schooling year.

Regarding the language of teaching, priority is given to the mother tongue, as the students are taught on the following three principles: students of each ethnic group are taught in their mother tongue for the first three years of study. From the fourth year onwards, an additional local language is introduced alongside their mother tongue. For Kurdish students, this can be Arabic or Syriac, and for Arab students, it can be Kurdish or Syriac.

Foreign languages are introduced from the fifth year, where the foreign language and the second local language comprise about half of linguistic subjects, with the other half in the mother tongue.

Education under AANES control

The AANES’ educational system is supported by approximately 43,099 teachers and administrators. It is estimated that half of them hold university degrees, while the other half have obtained degrees from public intermediary or secondary institutes. However, they have all received training from the educational institutions affiliated with the AANES, and there is a specific institute for teaching the Kurdish language.

In Northeast Syria, there are approximately 863,388 students enrolled in the first three levels of study – primary, preparatory, and secondary. These students study in about 4,130 schools across the areas. Many of these schools were previously belonged to the Syrian Ministry of Education, and the AANES has renovated about half of them.

However, these schools still fall short of the necessary standards for a fully functional educational facility in terms of space, facilities, supplies, and teaching materials, including playgrounds, laboratories, and libraries.

In the cities of Hasakah and Qamishli, because of the relative influence of the Syrian government, there are few schools follow the Syrian Ministry of Education, full of students, and teach the curriculum belonging to the ministry. There are also few private church schools which teach various curricula depending on whether they fall into areas under the control of the government or not.

Public approval  

The public satisfaction with the educational process is less than what the AANES wants it to be, because none of the Syrian parties recognize the educational process in the AANES-held areas.

The certificates and documents issued by the AANES cannot be modified or included within the educational system in the rest of Syria or any other country. In contrast, the educational system in Northeast Syria recognizes the documents issued by the Ministry of Education affiliated with the Syrian government, as well as those issued by other countries.

The few schools that are still run by the Syrian education ministry in the cities of Qamishli and Hasakah are an indication of the residents’ dissatisfaction with AANES’ educational process, as they are full of students, about 50 student in each classroom. Additionally, students go to those schools from all neighborhoods within those cities despite the presence of AANES’ schools in their neighborhoods, and there are students that come from other cities to those schools.

Most of the families who prefer sending their children to government-run schools believe that the educational process lacks any long-term benefits, regardless of the quality and substance of the education provided. Parents are concerned about the future prospects for their children after completing their pre-university studies, as there is no recognition from the Syrian government or from other countries, organizations, or regional and international educational authorities.

To face this unclear future some families tend to teach their children both curricula, as they send their children to the AANES’ school while they register them in the governmental schools and teach them privately at home so they would not be deprived from both educational systems. Supporters of the AANES believe that over the time, the educational process in the region will become an undeniable de facto reality for all parties involved, including the Syrian government. Furthermore, they have confidence that international institutions will eventually recognize and collaborate with the educational system in the region