Libyan children are returning to schools closed for months by civil war to find one teacher gone — former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, whose portraits have been stripped from classroom walls and once-revered words erased from the curriculum.
For decades, lessons based on his “teachings” were mandatory and his sometimes bizarre ideas permeated everything from history lessons to Arabic textbooks.
Educators are now scratching their heads over how to fill the gaps left by the expunging of the former dictator, the education minister said as more than 1.2 million children returned to schools on Saturday.
“The subjects of political awareness and community studies have been canceled,” Libyan Minister of Education Suliman al-Sahli said. “There are suggestions for substitute subjects and ... proposals are still under study.”
“The history subject has been canceled and replaced by a new one put together by experts in this area to give us real history,” al-Sahli said.
The start of the current school year, which should have been in September last year, has been postponed to this month. The last school year overran its schedule by months because schools were closed for so much of the nine-month civil war that ended Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. This school year will have to be be shortened.
One of the first things the now-ruling National Transitional Council did after taking up arms against Qaddafi was to set up a committee to wipe his teachings from the curriculum.
The three-volume Green Book, which contains Qaddafi’s musings on politics, economics and everyday life, used to be required reading for schools. Quotations from it used to adorn classroom walls, but all have now disappeared.
The book laid out his “Third Universal Theory,” which seeks to chart a course between Islam and socialism.
Children were tested by their ability to learn by heart as much quotes from the Green Book as possible.
A typical final exam question would be to explain the economic benefits of a rule promulgated by Qaddafi: “The house belongs to the dweller,” meaning that tenants renting houses had the right to take over the property if they wished to do so.
Abdul Majid Ghonia, director of curriculum at the Ministry of Education, said the entire stock of textbooks in ministry warehouses related to Qaddafi’s regime would be destroyed and replaced with 453 new textbooks.
However, the content of those new books is as yet undecided. The challenge now is to agree on alternatives to Qaddafi’s versions of history, society and morality.
“We need to completely rethink the subjects taught in our schools, especially the cultural and political aspects which were abused by Qaddafi’s regime to serve its propaganda purposes,” said Suleiman Khoja, a senior ministry official.
Khoja said the government would organize a national conference to discuss ideas for alternative textbooks.
“We will not start that process [of replacing textbooks] without the participation of people who can come up with a new vision,” he said.