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William Kelly

Tripoli University

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The revolutions sweeping the Arab world has so far knocked out dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and has others on the ropes in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

While the origin of the revolts are basically economic, they have taken on a common call for freedom, democracy and an end to tyranny. While there is a threat from the military in Egypt and radical Islamics in every country, all of the issues come to the table at schools, and as education resumes at Tripoli University, the young women outnumber the men, mainly because many of the school boys were killed in the course of the revolution.

Seldom does an entire nation get the opportunity to revamp an entire system of education, going from a very controlled style to one of more freedom and openness.

Under Gadhafi, the Amazing language of the Berbers was suppressed, and is now the first thing being taught in the mountain Berber towns who were the first rebels to reach and liberate Tripoli, and now have captured Saif Gadhafi, the London School of Economics educated son of Mummar Gadhafi. Unlike the Misratha rebels who captured, tortured and killed Gadhafi, the Berber rebels are treating Saif with dignity and intend for him to receive a fair trial, if that is possible, given that there is no established government or judicial system in place.

Meanwhile, at Tripoli U., they are wondering what to do with the professors who cooperated with the tyrant, and with their new found freedom, they are teaching religion, though not Christianity or Judism, yet, and the students are going on strike to demand better conditions and promised textbooks.

I think that the current Arab revolts will someday be recognized as a significant major event equal to the Cold War or World War II, but is not being studied as it happens the way it should be.

When I took my first class in Political Science 101 at the 11th grade level, the teacher - a Jesuit Father Clinton Walsh, had us write a constitution for our final grade, and now the people of Libya are writing their own constitution, and few people are paying attention.

Revolutionary Program: Revolutionary University of Tripoli

TRIPOLI, Libya— On the first day of lectures since July, Tripoli University appeared a much-changedplace last week. Gaudy "Free Libya" slogans were daubed on the walls, the red,black and green revolutionary flag fluttered from the angular architecture, andyoung women outnumbered men in the busy corridors.

"A lot of guys died at the front," said Arwa Muntasser, an18-year-old medical student in a bright hijab and Free Libya jewelry. "A lot ofmy classmates were killed in the revolution."

Their absence is the bitter price paid for the sense ofanticipation tangible among teachers and students here, a nervous hope that thenew era will sweep away a culture of indoctrination and corruption fostered inschools and universities by former leader Moammar Gaddafi.

"We have 120,000 students and about 5,000 teaching staff, ina country of 6 million," said Faisal Krekshi, Tripoli University's new head. "This willtell you how vital this structure is. This place could be the nucleus of arebuilt country."

Stability is holding for the moment in Libya,which was shaken loose from Gaddafi's 42-year grip this year by a bloody,internationally backed uprising. So the country has begun the process ofrebuilding its institutions, which many believe the whimsical leader deliberatelycrippled to eliminate threats.

Creatinga coherent army is important, if only to employ the armed revolutionariesstill on the streets, but for those looking to the future, improving educationis even more crucial — and more difficult.

"Gaddafi had this system so that the end result would bethat people would be ignorant, so they would not be educated, so they would notbe against him," said Khadija bin Musa, a computer engineering teacher atTripoli University who said she was forced to use what she consideredold-fashioned teaching methods.

"The students just memorize. There is no analysis orunderstanding," she said, adding that the former government "didn't want peopleto think . . . to be creative or to read."

When Gaddafi came to power in a 1969coup, he built universities and schools and encouraged modern teachingmethods and curricula. But as he cemented his dominance, publishing his GreenBook of political theory and building a cult of personality, hechanged educational goals drastically.

By the 198os, the study of English and French was forbidden,and science, mathematics and medicine were being taught with less emphasis ondemonstration, according to teachers. Often, they said, students were able topass exams by writing patriotic slogans on the page or pulling strings with arelative close to the government.

"He didn't want Libyan people to be talented andprosperous," said Sammy Sunni, a 23-year-old student, referring to Gaddafi. "Itis quite sad that someone thinks in this way. . . . It is alsoinsanely stupid."

In schools, reading primers featured passages from Gaddafi'swritings, while Islamic studies classes paired his words with those of theprophet Muhammad. Younger students devoted whole weeks to singing songs aboutthe leader, drawing pictures of him and marching through neighborhoods chantingslogans, teachers recalled. For older ones, study of the Green Book wascompulsory.

Teachers' fate

Such classes were emblematic of all that was hated about theold way — "I always had the feeling the teachers didn't believe" inGaddafi-style education, said Sunni — and their disappearance underscores thequestions facing education reformers now. What subjects should be kept, andwhat changed? Which teachers were too pro-Gaddafi to continue teaching, andwhich should be allowed to stay

The curriculum is the easy part, said Suleiman al-Khoja, anEducation Ministry official. The Green Book is gone, except as a historicalartifact. Gaddafi-free versions of the reading and religious studies books arebeing produced. Math and science will remain untouched for now.

The humanities are more challenging — especially modernhistory, which in the Gaddafi era skipped the partsof the 1950s and '60s when Libyahad elections and a parliament. In particular, senior academics have warnedteachers against glorifying the events of this year's uprising in a wayreminiscent of Gaddafi's own cult of revolution.

But the most pressing matter is the fate of those teachersdeemed close to the former government — and how to identify them. Educatorsused to have to present credentials from one of Gaddafi's revolutionarycommittees to get a job, though many now say they hated the committee and liedto get the papers.

Others, facing calls to leave, protest that they had to workwithin the system to do any good at all. Khoja himself wrote parts of thecurriculum under Gaddafi, describing it as a frustrating process in which theleader interfered frequently.

"We had to be part of the regime to make a difference," hesaid, while conceding that he may not be able to keep his senior ministry post."Some people say we helped Gaddafi's system stay longer, and in a way I acceptthis, but in a way I say no, I didn't do everything he said."

Those who taught the Green Book have been suspended on fullpay while their fate is decided. Some educators and ministry officials spoke ofthe possibility of reconciliation and rehabilitation, but several suspendedteachers said they feared violent repercussions if they told their stories.

A new educational era

Another problem teachers face is high expectations.University students have already gone on strike to complain that promisedbooks, buses and allowances have not materialized.

Tripoli Universityused to have offices for the secret police and Gaddafi's favored son, Saifal-Islam, as well as networks of informers. Transforming it into a true centerof learning will take time, said the dean of the medical school, Mustafa M.Gawass, although he applauded the idea of students striking — somethingunthinkable a year ago.

The new educational era could take other forms, as well.Many Libyans now rejoicein the freedom to be more openly devout and say they would welcomemore a Islamic tinge to learning. Fatima Tayyar, a schoolteacher, wore voluminousblack clothes at Eid celebrations this month, a sign of Islamic piety frownedon in the past.

"I can't wear this in Gaddafi's time and I couldn't talk tothe students about religion," she said. "Now I am free. . . . I wantto teach religion, and the students want to learn it."

But Hassan al-Damluji, of the British-based educationcharity Achievement for All, said that subject matter is less important thanteaching methods. As long as children are encouraged to analyze, he said, theywill build the skills to make up their own minds about the world they seearound them.

"Whether they are taught Gaddafi dogma or Islamic theology,if the next generation are taught to think for themselves by well-informedteachers they themselves will work out how to best build their country," hesaid.

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