With the booming economy after 2005, dozens of international schools were established in Kurdistan Region, providing high-quality education and world-class environment for students, but in return for a substantial tuition fee.
The curriculum and the education system at these private schools are different from those at the public schools of Kurdistan. That is, the main teaching language is English, an issue that Dr. Frano Ivezaj, an Albanian-American educator who works as the principle of the British International School in Kurdistan, criticizes.
Dr. Frano Ivezaj worked as an educator for 35 years, after which he decided to contribute to the education on the international arena. He was one of the 10 worldwide recruited trainers by LeapEd on behalf of the Malaysian Ministry of Education. In 2015 being one of the two selected from US, among others from Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, he worked in reviewing worldwide curriculums and developing Prestasi-A Transformasi program for school leaders, which was a transformation program to train 100 Ministry of Education, elementary and secondary school leaders in Malaysia, to transform them into 21st century teaching and learning.
Now he is preparing a project for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to improve the education system at the private schools as he believes the current system is neglecting the mother tongue. In an exclusive interview with BasNews, Dr. Frano pointed out that teaching a second language at school should not be at the cost of the Kurdish language because it not only harms the language and culture, but it will also adversely affect the future generations’ sense of identity.
Below is the interview which was edited for clarity and length.
BasNews: How do you define language?
Dr. Frano: Interesting question. There are 25 elements to a culture. When you talk about a culture, think of a human being. The parts of the body are the elements of the culture, and the heart is the language. You kill the language, you killed the heat…Language is central to preservation and cultivation of cultural identity.
Why do you think Turkey is doing what they’re doing to the Kurds? This is intentional, [because] they want to assimilate them, so they eventually become Turks. Just like different groups in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s all institutional.
[But] what is sad here is [that] what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds, you guys are doing it to yourself in democracy here in Kurdistan.
Dr. Frano: [There are] Thirty international schools [and] they use only English, and they treat Kurdish language like a foreign language, only 2-3 hours [a week]. These are the future leaders. You think these kids are going to be able to read and write [their mother tongue]? But there is an alternative: The dual-language approach teaching. Teach the content, teach math, teach science, teach social science in two languages.
Another fact that we need to understand [is the issue of] Inferiority Complex — Albanians have it in Eastern Europe, and I’ve noticed that the Kurds have it too… [Inferiority Complex simply means that you believe] everything not Kurdish is better.
BasNews: What can be done to keep a language alive? What role the government of Kurdistan Region can play in that?
Dr. Frano: [Only through] Education. I only speak a few words of Kurdish. I have about 700 students, and I see parents, who are Kurds, and they are proud to say ‘Dr. Frano, my children speak English and I speak English with my children at home’. And I don’t agree [with that]. I don’t even agree with the [education] system that we have in place, and if I could I’d change it. I went to the ministry [of education] and I told them that I don’t want my students to get education in English and know nothing about Kurdish language and culture. They said ‘it’s a law Sir.’ I said can I start the pilot program? They said yes. So I hired a lady who is British-Kurdish, I put her in first grade. I told her that I want to use dual language approach… You could tell the difference in those little kids [after applying this approach].
I’d like to promote the cultural identity and make students proud of what they are, because the more they know the language, the history, [and] the culture, the better they are going to feel about themselves. I am not really in favor of what I see in the international schools because, you know… These kids come from well-to-do families, they pay $4,000 to $5,000 a year, and their mother tongue is slowly disappearing. And, as an educator, I cannot sit quiet and not speak up.
BasNews: There are many international schools established in the recent years in Kurdistan, and what they underline in their service is the fact that they teach in English only. Do you think it is at the cost of the mother tongue? How that is going to affect the future generations and what the government should do?
Dr. Frano: I have children of parliamentarians [at my school], I have children from well-to-do families, I have children [who] come with security guards; and I know that these kids are going to be the future leaders in Kurdistan. But they are not going to be prepared to run the country. I think a lot of these parents who’ve become reach overnight, they are spoiling the children. Of course we have good kids from well-to-do families, but the majority are spoiled, and they don’t see the essence of who they are, their identity, their cultural identity.
BasNews: And do you think the lack of mother tongue education has something to do with this lack of cultural identity?
Dr. Frano: Absolutely! Because the parents at home are not encouraging them, and at school it is only English. As I said earlier, when a minority — in this example the Kurds — is being suppressed by the majority over centuries, they [gradually] develop Inferiority Complex.
BasNews: Do you think the freedom and self-governance that we have in Kurdistan Region is wasted when it comes to serving the mother tongue? Do you think the Kurds in other ports are keeping the guard better because they are still under threat of assimilation?
Dr. Frano: Yes. Actually the less you have [freedom], the more Kurd you are going to be. I’m not just talking about Kurds, I’m talking about Albanians in Europe too. They want everything the Western. But if you look at a Kurdish family in a village for example [where] they are suppressed but they are together, their cultural identity is stronger than those who are rich Kurds or rich Albanians for example.
I went to the ministry [of education] and explained to them that you’ve got 30,000 kids [studying at international schools], and you are treating the Kurdish language as a foreign language. There is an alternative, there is away [to address that], and this is an issue that the parliament and the universities need to agree with. I am also not impressed with he quality of education in some of the private universities here, too. I explained to them [parliament and government] that you need to train the future teachers.
In the United States I had a school like this, it’s called FLECS. It was for Chinese, Spanish, and French. We used there the 90/10 model. But [for that I hired] Chinese teachers… So the regular teacher would teach the content [in English] and the Chinese teacher would teach the content [in Chinese]. We had a student [who had] never left Detroit. He went through this program while he did not know a word of Chinese in the beginning, but he was immersed 90% in Chinese when he was in Kindergarten; and slowly it went to 90% English and 10% Chinese. If you speak to him now, he speaks better Chinese than his counterpart in China.
So, this program has been proven. This is not a Dr. Frano idea. There are Americans who enroll their kids in Dual-Language Programs.
I have submitted another proposal [to the KRG] and it has been approved. I asked them to let me to adopt two public schools — we call them sister schools. I went to visit one of the schools last week, [there were] 700 students. In the middle of Erbil, no desks and no computers. That’s why I went to Barzani [Charity] Foundation to ask for help… And they were happy about this initiative. So, if my school is adopting two public schools, whose students need help, teachers need help, the buildings need help, why don’t the other [international schools] do the same. Because if you compare international schools and publics schools, it’s like day and night, and it’s not fair. The kids need equality in education.
BasNews: Do you think the negligence of the mother tongue in Kurdistan Region’s private schools has anything to do with Globalization? Or maybe Westernization?
Dr. Frano: There is too much Western influence in many cultures; but educators and intellectuals need to preserve and protect and cultivate [their] culture. The only way is to do that through the language. I’ll say it again: be multilingual, but don’t learn another language at the expense of your mother tongue. Because to me, if you lose your mother tongue, you’re not going to learn the second language the right way… I have students here, even staff members, who cannot write properly in Kurdish. It’s sad.
BasNews: We have two major dialects in Kurdistan Region — Sorani and Behdini. Speaking of the language of curriculum, how to handle this issue properly?
Dr. Frano: Albanians had the same problem. The Albanians in Kosovo spoke Albanian, but if they wanted to speak to the Albanians in the south, they would not be able to understand each other… But Albanians unified the language, and it took 20 years. Now, whether you are from Kosovo, or [anywhere else], the writing, the speaking, and everything is the same.
BasNews: So if the unified language is a mixture of all the dialects, then who makes decision on what to be included in the united language?
Dr. Frano: That’s a good question. The intellectuals and linguists need to get together and come up with how to unify the Kurdish language. They need to agree on [that], because you don’t want one side to carry more weight than the other.
BasNews: What about Kurds in diaspora? How can we help them to preserve their language as part of their cultural identity?
Dr. Frano: When I was in the United States, we opened schools in churches and mosques. I was the director of the Albanian schools in Michigan. Now, my grandchildren also go to Albanian school in London… there are 200,000 Albanians in Michigan alone, and we have cultural centers to ensure that [the new generation speaks the mother tongue].
You guys [here in Kurdistan Regional Government] need to do something, and they [the Kurds in diaspora] need to do something to ensure that there is the link.
BasNews: You have a proposal for the KRG? Can you explain that?
Dr. Frano: I talked to the ministry [of education], but they can’t do anything about it because they are fallowing the law. The parliament, and the higher institutions are the ones that need to address this issue. The parliament should change the law to make bilingual education mandatory in Kurdistan. You must teach in both languages. The idea is to teach the content — the math, social studies, sciences, all classes, teach it in two languages. And if we cannot find a teacher who speaks both the languages, we can hire a Kurdish and an English teacher for team teaching. It’s costly. So the universities here should train trainers [for the future].