Kurds to learn English
Iraqi Kurds will learn English at primary schools from age five next year as part of a curriculum overhaul being introduced one academic year at a time.
Northern Iraq's Kurdistan regional government became independent, in effect, after its 1991 uprising. Most Iraqi Kurds under 25 have been educated in Kurdish and no longer speak Arabic.
Kurdistan is now reintegrating into a "voluntary union" with federal Iraq, a process given new impetus by the recent election of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, as president of Iraq.
The decision to teach English from an early age reflects the interests of a region rapidly emerging from years of isolation.
With a booming regional economy, many exiled families are returning. The Kurdistan Development Corporation, in London, is now recruiting English teachers to work in three "returned diaspora" English-medium secondary schools for those keen to build on the English they learned abroad.
Kamal Dray, of the English Language Teachers Association of Kurdistan (ELTAK), revealed the plan for five-year-olds in April on a visit to negotiate scholarships for teacher-trainers with UK universities as part of the region's curriculum reform.
Exeter university is expected to take the lead in UK partnerships with Kurdistan's ministry of education. Sheffield university is also offering scholarships and London university's institute of education is in talks about sending two teacher-trainers for a planned Kurdish teacher-training centre.
Kurdish teachers have complained about being kept out of the loop of UK initiatives for Iraq. ELTAK was hastily set up last summer in a Huddersfield hotel room by a team of Kurdish teachers who were in the UK for an intensive course in teaching English as a foreign language.
They heard that a British Council meeting with Baghdad on Iraqi curriculum reform was due to start two days later in Leeds. After a pound;670 phone bill, and a special early Saturday opening of local Iraqi passport offices, three delegates from Kurdistan were on their way to the Leeds meeting.
Communication has improved since. After a successful British Council visit to Kurdistan this February, the first consignment of textbooks donated under a British Council scheme is due to arrive in the border city of Dohuk any day, and free academic internet journal subscriptions go online in Kurdistan shortly.
The British Council expects to set up shop in Erbil, the region's capital, this summer.