Guided by UNICEF, a school flourishes in rural Iraq

This story was originally posted by Medium

6 December 2015 - Taq Taq is a quiet country town of about 30,000 people nestled in the mountains of northern Iraq. Early Monday morning the main street bustles with stores selling everything from carpets to plumbing supplies to vegetables.

Tucked away on a back street is Taq Taq Friendly School. Its brightly painted walls welcome the school’s students for another day of learning. The school teaches a wide curriculum, including science, English, Arabic, human rights, and social studies, in two daily shifts to accommodate all students.

The school has undergone a dramatic transformation. In 2012, it was drab and run down, with unsanitary washing facilities and insufficient equipment.

Omar Abdullah, Taq Taq’s principal, decided to remake the school following the guidelines of UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Schools and Community Based Management, which gives communities and local administrators more responsibility and freedom to plan. Child-friendly schools also embrace innovative approaches to working with students, such as positive discipline which disavows corporal punishment.

Principal Abdullah gathered his staff and childrens’ parents together and they committed to renovating the entire facility from top to bottom, doing most of the labour themselves.

“Four years ago this school was in a terrible situation. We didn’t have clean water or sanitary restrooms or even proper desks. It really needed a serious upgrade. Fortunately we have a lot of people with talents and abilities in our community, and they were willing to help. Our school looks simple now, but it is much better and it took a lot of hard work,” he says.

The school was rebuilt with new gender-segregated restrooms and classroom walls were renovated and painted. With community help, the school got new desks and musical equipment, most of it purchased by the staff and parents themselves.

As well as the physical changes, the staff and parents committed to ending physical violence. There is no corporal punishment at this school, something for which the students are thankful.

“I love my school and the teachers are good. The principal has created this environment and it’s a good thing,” says Zhin, 10, an eager 5th grade student.

Taq Taq Friendly School stands in stark contrast to other facilities in the town where students still suffer physical violence.

“My friends at other schools tell me that their teachers get very angry with them and hit them because they haven’t studied. But in our school there’s no hitting because the teachers are very good to us. They treat us like sisters and brothers,” says Mohammed, 10, another happy student in Taq Taq.

Principal Abdullah says not only does physical punishment not work, the long term consequences are unacceptable for future generations of Iraqis.

“Teachers who hit children need to re-think what they are doing. They should look back at their past and look at the teachers who use non-violence and compare the results. How many children have they caused to drop out or become child labourers? How many are without jobs?” he says.

The bright, happy atmosphere of Taq Taq Friendly School and its rich cultural curriculum of music, sport and dance is a testament to the success of the child-friendly schools approach, which encourages educators to consider the whole environment of the child and make school a place where children flourish and learn.

“Our principal has made our school very beautiful. You can see how beautiful it is,” says Zhin. “I love coming to school more than being at home.”


Chris Niles is a consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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