Back to School in a Post-Qaddafi Libya

Officials confront war-ravaged facilities and Qaddafi-dominated curricula

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As rebel forces advance on Muammar Qaddafi's last strongholds and the international community unlocks funds for rebuilding war-torn Libya, the country's new leaders are turning their attention to a daunting task: reopening schools. Rebel education chief Soliman el-Sahli tells Reuters today that schools will resume classes on September 17, though he previously informed The Wall Street Journal that there will be a "soft re-opening" of primary and secondary schools on September 5 (the picture above shows children singing a new national anthem at a school in Tripoli on Monday). Here are some of the staggering challenges facing the country's educational system:

  • Destroyed and dangerous facilities: "There are schools that have been completely destroyed--in Misrata, Zawiya, Zintan," Sahli says. The Journal adds that a mine-awareness campaign has trained 280 teachers to help children avoid mines planted by Qaddafi's forces. This Reuters picture shows a school Libyan officials claimed was bombed by NATO forces in Zlitan:

  • Few schools: Libya's schools are overcrowded because Qaddafi halted school construction from the late 1980s until 2010, the Journal notes. And some schools are currently being used for more pressing purposes. This AP photo shows pro-Qaddafi soldiers sitting in a Tripoli school that has been converted into a prison: 

  • Psychological scars: Many schools in Libya closed when the uprising began in February, prompting Save the Children to issue a warning in June that the suspension of regular schooling was making it harder for "children to cope with the trauma of living through a conflict," not to mention keep up with their education. When schools did open unofficially during the conflict, the uprising was top of mind. "There is no school now so we just come here to draw and make songs against Muammar," a 13-year-old girl told Reuters. Meanwhile, in Misrata, an eight-year-old informed classmates, "people died. They shot children. They shot families. They shot girls." The Journal states that "the grimmest concern is to provide support for students who have lost family members or witnessed atrocities by Qaddafi's troops." This Reuters photo shows a girl in a Misrata school in July: 

  • Qaddafi-centric curriculum: Qaddafi's writings were required reading in schools, and his rambling manifesto, The Green Book, was taught for 45 minutes each week by a specially trained and approved teacher, according to the Los Angeles Times. While math and science were taught in a rather straightforward manner, rebel official Hanal el-Gallal tells Reuters, "History was completely distorted" in line with Qaddafi's paranoid, anti-Western world view. Libyans, she says, "don't know anything about World War One, World War Two or the French Revolution because Qaddafi was "scared of any story that might make people stand up for their rights." A few months after the uprising erupted, the rebels established a committee of education experts to purge Qaddafi's theories from the curriculum, and Sahli says their work is now complete. The new schools, he adds, will teach more Western languages like French and English and spurn Qaddafi's short-lived efforts to promote African languages like Hausa and Swahili. The photos below, taken on government-led tours in the spring, show students in Tripoli filing past a Qaddafi portrait and holding up The Green Book in support of the leader:

  • Teacher recruitment and training: Libya's new leaders have approached Egyptian officials about recruiting Egyptian teachers for the new school year, according to Ahram Online. Rebel officials are also emphasizing that teachers be hired based on their qualifications rather than their loyalty to the regime, as was the case under Qaddafi's rule. Hanal el-Gallal says teachers have to be retrained to promote free thinking and renounce corporal punishment. Teachers during the Qaddafi era also received dismal salaries. "All the teachers in Libya have been in a very bad financial situation, bad enough that they have to find work outside of education," Sahli observes. The British government is calling for some of the funds it's unfrozen for Libya to go toward paying public-sector teachers.
  • Broken system: Libya's secondary and tertiary education, the Journal explains, is only available to a select few and narrowly designed to "produce doctors, engineers and lawyers, and not much else." The rich have long been able to afford private English and Arabic courses and private schools--luxuries the less fortunate could never afford.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.