Schools in the Libyan capital are gearing up for a very different kind of academic year: replacing repeated oaths of allegiance to the autocratic Guide, Moamer Kadhafi, with lessons in democracy.
“We feel so happy because we are free,” said Rafa al-Sharif, 15, wrapped in the flag of Libya’s former monarchy, which was adopted by anti-Kadhafi forces as their banner.
Sharif said she is eager to learn about King Idris, who ruled Libya from the time it was first united in 1951 until he was overthrown by Kadhafi in 1969, “because he was so kind. He wasn’t like Kadhafi. Kadhafi is a criminal.”
With classes due to resume on September 17, the interim minister of education and teachers in the capital are rushing to modify curriculums to reflect the new political reality of “Free Libya” after six months of war.
“It is necessary to change the school programme because the previous one kept Libyans ignorant in support of the regime,” said fighter and father Jamal Ban Issa.
Kamila Ali al-Mshawat, the director of a middle school that some of Kadhafi’s children attended, is ready to set a new tone in her classrooms, with 200 new enrolments alongside 400 returning students.
“Kadhafi wanted people to be ignorant and allowed no dialogue. We had to present him as a god. Everything was focused on the Green Book and Kadhafi,” the headmistress of Hayder al-Saati school told AFP.
The Green Book, first published in 1975, was a mandatory and central part of the educational curriculum under Kadhafi.
It set out his political philosophy, which rejected liberal democracy and capitalism. It extolled a concept of direct democracy through popular committees, though this was limited in practice because Kadhafi maintained a firm hand over all political decisions.
While in other countries children sang and learned the colours of the rainbow, Libyan kids were taught that all colours paled in comparison to green, the regime’s favourite.
“There will be a new tone,” said Mshawat, adding that it would only take about two weeks to transmit the ideas of the revolution since every household in Libya knows that times have changed and that Kadhafi is gone.
Portraits of the former “Guide” were taken down but a red and black Bedouin tent, a reminder of shared heritage, still stands in the school.
Drawings on the walls range from desert landscapes to sketches depicting urban warfare.
Things have changed fast. Despite a few interruptions at the outset of unrest in February, classes in the capital continued through July, each day opening with the ritual chant of “Allah, Moamer, Libya and nothing else.”
Some parents worry it is too early to send kids back to the classroom.
“Children in general are not ready for a new school year because they’ve just gone through war,” said Mohammed Maryud, a father of six.
“We used to tell our children the blasts were thunder but because it never stopped they realised it was bombs,” he said.
Many are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress.
“We will let the children get their anger and fears out through games like chess which helps calm the nerves,” said sports teacher Ali al-Marim.
The interim education minister told AFP he has formed committees to train teachers in basic psychology to help children through the transition and working groups to review the new curriculum that was prepared in Benghazi.
“Tripoli is a special case because the propaganda of the regime was so strong and the city went through a lot,” said Suliman al-Sahli.
“Some people still don’t come out to celebrate in the streets because they fear that the old regime will return. Until now people are afraid because they don’t know where Kadhafi is.”
The new curriculum will draw on the Singapore model which prioritises maths and sciences, he said. History and social science classes will replace modules exalting the previous regime with ones focused on citizenship and democracy.
Sahli said teachers who taught subjects saturated with pro-Kadhafi propaganda were playing a leading role in the revision of the curriculums since most of them had specialties they were not allowed to draw on before.
“We are preparing programmes that promote democracy and tolerance,” he said.