The clapping of hands, the stamping of feet and the spontaneous giggling are back as hundreds of Libyan children returned to their schools in Benghazi, the epicentre of rebellion against Moamer Kadhafi.
Several schools in the eastern Libyan city have reopened after eight months of closure, with young boys and girls singing a new national anthem and breathing what they call the “air of freedom” for the first time.
“I smell freedom when I come to school now,” said 13-year-old Bushra, dressed in a black school uniform and a white headscarf as she spoke to AFP in the compound of her Okba bin Nafa school in Benghazi’s Al-Laithi neighbourhood.
“The tyrant (Kadhafi) is gone and the entire atmosphere has changed. There is a new spirit in the school,” said the girl who dreams of studying medicine in the United States.
Schools and colleges in Benghazi closed immediately when the anti-Kadhafi rebellion erupted in the city in February. The city’s colleges and university are still closed.
The children as well as their teachers say they now look forward to coming to school and to singing the new national anthem which kick-starts their day.
On Thursday, an AFP reporter witnessed the Oka bin Nafa school reverberate with the new national anthem, which used to be the national song during the days of the king before Kadhafi came to power in 1969.
As the national anthem is sung, a young boy slowly hoisted the new green-black-red Libyan flag in the centre of the compound.
No more can one see posters or pictures of Kadhafi which used to fill the walls of school buildings, or writings from his “Green Book”, the collection of political, social and economic thoughts that guided Libya during his 42-year rule.
The school walls are now full of poems, paintings and sketches drawn by the children.
“We tore his pictures and posters,” said Eman al-Ejnaf, a smiling 14-year-old girl of class nine, who spoke fluent English.
“We hated him. I thank all those guys who fought against him and I hope that things will change after what we did,” she said, adding that her school had full attendance with all students present since it reopened last week.
There is an atmosphere of optimism prevailing in the school as teachers too claimed they are now motivated and their work is no more “just a routine job.”
“There were lot of restrictions on us before. We were told not to make any changes whatsoever,” said the school’s acting principal Ghalia Zekre Al-Harabi.
She said previously government inspectors used to make regular checks to ensure that Kadhafi’s teachings were “enforced” on the children and teachers were told to follow a set pattern with no scope to make any changes.
“We used to feel restricted. There was no creative freedom. There was no respect to teachers, no good salaries. It was all destructive,” she said.
But since the toppling of Kadhafi, her hopes are soaring.
His teachings from the “Green Book” which used to fill dozens of pages of school textbooks have already been scrapped, while the National Transitional Council, Libya’s new ruling body, is working on a new syllabus to make sweeping changes in the educational system of the country.
“What we need are right books according to children’s age, right equipment that inculcates the right system and a free and friendly student-teacher culture. This is what we need in new Libya,” Harabi said as boys and girls marched to their classrooms behind her.