06/10/2022, 10.48
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Baghdad, controversy over ministerial proposal to abolish mixed classes

The measure would concern primaries, later high schools and universities. Controversy on social media and "strong opposition" from civil society, opposed to "Islamisation". Saad Salloum: the divisions "are contrary to our culture", but it remains a "controversial" issue.  



Baghdad (AsiaNews) - A proposal put forward to test the reaction of public opinion, as had happened on other occasions in the past, and which this time too has raised fierce controversy online and on social networks between those in favour and those against. Last month, the Iraqi Ministry of Education envisaged the separation of the sexes in classrooms, first for primary and secondary schools, then a later extension to higher grade students.

The proposed norm has the support of Islamic-inspired parties and radical circles, but is opposed by civil society. 'The discussion comes up every now and then ,' Saad Salloum, a journalist and associate professor of political science at al-Mustanṣiriyya University in Baghdad, explains to AsiaNews, 'and meets with strong opposition in high schools and universities. 

According to the ministry's intentions, it would like to introduce a ban on mixed classes in the primary cycle of education in favour of strict gender separation. A preliminary test, according to some observers, to gauge public reaction before extending the same rules to a higher level. The divisions would also affect teaching staff in single-sex institutions, with female teachers for girls and male for boys. In the case of a transfer to another institution, the transfer would only be allowed if the gender of the student matches that of the institution, while mixed transfers would be frozen. 

One of the bastions of education in Iraq is that of gender mixing, which has been established in recent decades in spite of the various governments that have alternated in power. However, since the US invasion in 2003 and with the advance of Islamic-inspired parties, pressure has increased on the executive and the institutions to have a law introducing separation voted in Parliament. An attempt to force their hand, however, has met with strong resistance in civil society and in part of the teaching staff, who strongly defend the concept of a secular education free from religious conditioning. 

Debates on the subject, says Saad Salloum, "emerge every now and then" but there is "strong opposition" among a substantial part of Iraqis, and it is not by chance that the measure is designed for the first cycle. 'In higher institutions,' he emphasises, 'where the pupils are older, it is impossible to imagine a separation. Nobody would want to accept it, neither the students nor the teachers'. For the proponents and those who support it, he continues, 'there are not only religious motivations' but also 'educational issues' that do not seem to be sufficient to appeal to the masses and the ministry itself 'has not yet taken a clear position' on the controversy. 

Depending on the areas of the country or the different cities, there may be "different" acceptance and growing "support" for the proposal, which is also linked to "news events that have occurred in some public schools in the country". The reference is to 'peculiar and controversial' episodes, including the dissemination of a video of an end-of-year party in a public school in Baghdad, which raised controversy due to phrases and attitudes deemed obscene.

However, the majority is convinced that eliminating mixed classes is not the correct solution, but only the consecration of an Islamised society. "The divisions," Prof. Salloum concludes, "are contrary to our culture and a part of the country has reacted with resentment, so much so that the ministry immediately hastened to clarify that it would only apply to particular institutes. Among teachers there are those for and against... what is certain is that it remains a debated and controversial issue' that cannot be addressed or resolved based on an emotional reaction to controversial facts. 

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