Education in mother language saves communities from extinction

This series of reports [1] [2] [3] by Roj Hozan was published by Jinha Women’s News Agency on 21-23 February, 2022

After the Revolution in Rojava, the education system in NE Syria has been fundamentally changed. Mother language has been officially taught in all schools based on the principle of a democratic nation that protects the rights of all nations. Children are educated in their mother language and this saves communities in NE Syria from extinction and protects their cultural, artistic and historical heritage.

Mothers are the first teachers of their children. The first goal of education is to provide knowledge. The International Mother Language Day is celebrated in Rojava as well as all over the world on February 21. Before the revolution in Rojava Kurdistan, people learnt their mother language secretly. But today, people living in Rojava can receive education freely in their mother language.

International Mother Language Day

In 1948, the Government of Pakistan declared Urdu to be the sole national language of Pakistan, even though Bengali or Bangla was spoken by the majority of people combining East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The East Pakistan people protested it. On 21 February 1952, the students of the University of Dhaka arranged massive rallies to protest it but police opened fire on rallies and killed many students. 21 February was declared to be the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO in 1999. It has been observed throughout the world since 21 February 2000. February 21 is very important for the Kurdish people who have been struggling against the oppression and bans against their language for years. The mother languages of minorities have still faced bans all around the world.

Banned mother language in Syria

All people from different nationalities were deprived of the right to education in their mother language under the Baathist regime in Syria. The language of education was only Arabic and if children spoke their mother language with their friends at school, they were subjected to ill-treatment. Children learnt only the Arab language and culture at schools. For years, people from different nationalities faced an unjust system in Syria. The Kurdish people suffered the most from the injustice and oppression because speaking their mother language was considered a crime. People were jailed for speaking their mother language.

Before the revolution in Rojava Kurdistan, people learnt their mother language secretly because they faced oppression by the Syrian regime. Kurdish children, who learnt their mother language at home, had difficulties in learning Arabic at schools. They didn’t know anything about the history, identity, culture and language of Arabs. Since the revolution in Rojava Kurdistan, people from different nationalities and identities can get an education in their mother language. In 2013, Kurdish Language Institution (SZK) was founded. But people used Arabic words when they spoke Kurdish due to year-lasting policies of assimilation against the Kurdish language. But after the revolution, people have spoken their mother language in every part of life and they have many teachers, who can teach the Kurdish language to children.

“Communities preserve their existence through education”

Fatime Abdullah, an executive board member of the Democratic Society Academy, spoke to NuJINHA about the importance of education in the mother language.

“At the beginning of the revolution in Rojava Kurdistan, some of our moral values were protected by our mothers, but this protection was incomplete. Our society was divided by wrong education. Our people lived in fear, were not recognized and were taken away from all Kurdish values. But after the revolution, our society gradually united thanks to the right education based on the principle of the philosophy of the Democratic Nation. We founded our academies to protect our language and existence. Then education committees were formed to create a spirit of responsibility among people. Education is like giving a new soul to a dead body and brain. Communities preserve their existence through education. We can build a free society and future with the right education,” Fatime Abdullah told NuJINHA.

“Parents are the first teachers of their children”

Rojin Hinsen, an elementary school teacher, spoke to NuJINHA about the education system at elementary schools in NE Syria.

“Parents are the first teachers of their children. Education at elementary schools shapes the lives of children. When children start kindergarten at five, they begin to learn the letters, numbers, how they can communicate and play with their friends. Then, they begin to study at the elementary school; they learn their mother language, math, friendship, science, music, photography and sports. They learn both Arabic and Kurdish and then English. Our teaching methods are not like before. We support the students to come together and express their opinions. We encourage children to go to school. There is a love of teachers and students here, if the students love their teachers, they study more. The families of children trust us. We often discuss communication methods with them and take their thoughts into account. We try to educate children to build a free future,” she told us.

“All children receive education in their mother language”

Firyal Derwêş, a middle school teacher, told us that all children receive education in their mother language. “Secondary school students are going through a new education system. The Kurdish and Arab nations have the subjects but children receive education in their mother language. And we determine a plan and strategy together with students.”

Part 2 “Our aim is to build a democratic society”

Teacher Ala Dawud stated that they educate students according to the Democratic Nation system in NE Syria while NE Syria University Co-Chair Rohan Mustafa noted that they aim to build a democratic society through education.

Democratic education system prepares individuals for life by teaching them how to think freely, produce, protect human values, and become leaders and to love. This system consists of the preparatory stage for university, evaluation, research, project, and finally an exam stages. This democratic system is an alternative to racist systems and dominant mentalities in the Middle East. Students gain experiences in a democratic way and after their graduation, they use their experiences in their tasks and have a spirit of responsibility.

“Students are prepared for the future”

While the Democratic Nation system has opened academic departments for the next generations, it provides support to students so that students can enter university. Ala Dawud, a teacher in NE Syria, stated that the students are educated in many fields from the preparatory stage to the university stage. “First, we prepare our students for university so that they determine what they will study in the future,” she said.

“Our aim is to create strong personalities”

Noting that the tenth-grade students study all branches of science, Ala Dawud added that the students choose what to do in the future. Stating that the eleventh-grade students study geography, philosophy, history, mother language, and literature, Ala Dawud said, “They also study physics, chemistry, mathematics, society, and science. Our teaching methods with students are very ethical and conducted according to the grading system. We give students the opportunity to prepare themselves. Our aim in doing this is to create strong personalities.”

“All students have the right to education in their mother language”

Stating that they hold meetings with students, Ala Dawud said, “We evaluate the situation and inform the administration and families about the students. We want our students to gain experience with each other. The same system and materials are offered to Arab and Christian students and there is no difference among students, only the education language is different because we believe that all students have the right to education in their mother language. “

“Multiculturalism is important for us”

NE Syria University Co-Chair Rohan Mustafa told us that the Autonomous Administration has established many institutions and universities are the academic institutions established by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Noting that their aim is to support the students to continue their education lives, Rohan Mustafa said, “Our aim in the establishment of the universities is not only to provide students the opportunity to continue their education but also to create alternative universities against the sovereign regimes. We refuse the monism because multiculturalism is important for us.”

“We can build a democratic society through education”

Stating that there is a co-presidency system in university administrations, Rohan Mustafa said, “We also attach importance to the student community consisting of a women’s assembly and a general assembly, in which students express and participate in all aspects of the education process. We believe that we can build a democratic society through education.”

Part 3 Pioneer of the mother language revolution: Xaliya Ehmed

Xaliya Ehmed, who learned to read and write in her mother language despite all the oppression and prohibitions during the rule of the Baathist regime, realized her dream by getting her teaching certificate after the revolution. She calls on mothers to “Teach children their mother language.”

When we say mother language, we think of mothers because mothers are the first defenders and pioneers of the mother language. 50-year-old Xaliya Ehmed lives in the Sihil village of Tirbespiye, NE Syria. The biggest dream of Xaliya Ehmed, one of the mothers who draw attention to the importance of mother language during the revolution, was to read and learn Kurdish. She realized her dream by learning how to write and read in Kurdish.

“I always followed my dream”

Xaliya Ehmed told us how she began to learn her mother language, “We carried out our activities in the 1990s with the emergence of the Kurdish Freedom Movement. In those days, we faced many challenges as we were deprived of education in our mother language due to the traditions imposed on women. I dreamed of going to school but I didn’t have any opportunity. Despite everything, I always followed my dream. After the revolution, activities for education in the mother language started. My brother Farhan was one of the first students. He helped me to write and learn Kurdish. Every day, he taught me how to write and read in Kurdish. Then, I did a lot of research on the Kurdish language. My mother always spoke Kurdish at home; she was a defender of the Kurdish language.” 

She opened a madrasah to teach Kurdish

Xaliya Ehmed talked about what she has done for education in Kurdish. “When leader Apo (Abdullah Öcalan) was on the field, the Kurdish teachers secretly gave Kurdish courses in Rojava Kurdistan. The language courses were held in the houses of patriots, and we, as mothers, once again led the language revolution. We used to hide our books and pens under our clothes due to the oppression of the Baathist regime. They didn’t allow us to learn our mother language. We carried out all of our works secretly and managed to instill the love of the mother language in society. I learned my mother language but felt that I should improve myself. I opened a madrasah in my husband’s village. All of my students were young people.”

“I got my teaching certificate after the revolution”

Xaliya Ehmed noted that after the start of the revolution, teachers from Maxmur came to Rojava Kurdistan in 2013 and gave Kurdish courses for all segments of society. She had the chance to study Kurdish with professional teachers in her village once again, “I felt very lucky. At that time, I wasn’t a student, I studied to teach Kurdish. My aim was to grow up the next defenders of their mother language. When my friends heard that I gave Kurdish courses at home, they became very happy,” she told us.

“I realized my dream after getting my certificate”

Stating that she loves her students, Xaliya Ehmed said, “I chose the subjects for the students according to my imagination and thus I learned better. For the first time, I wrote Kurdish on the blackboard in Kurdistan after the revolution in Rojava. I continued to receive education in my mother language until I got my teaching certificate. My aim was not to get a certificate but teach my mother language. I realized my dream.”

Call on mothers: “Teach your children their mother language”

 Xaliya Ehmed called on all mothers. “They should teach their children their mother language. I saw how our children were subjected to injustice in public schools. In the past, people speaking their mother tongue in schools were subjected to torture. Language means mothers. My mother asked me to protect my language. I call on everyone to learn and teach their mother language.”