Life After Liberation: Students Return to Libyan Schools

The 42-year reign of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya ended in August 2011 after months of a violent revolution, but its effects will undoubtedly be felt for years to come. That fact was evident when schools in the ravaged country's capital, Tripoli, began to open in September. Just what can these confused and scared students expect in the weeks and months ahead?

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Four Decades of Dictatorship

Muammar Gaddafi rose to power in Libya in 1969 following a bloodless military coup. The self-proclaimed 'King of Kings' immediately abolished existing laws and rules and imposed his own ideologies upon the Libyan people.

Known as a brutal leader who imprisoned or sentenced to death those who opposed him, Gaddafi was tied to several terrorist acts, including the bombing of a Berlin nightclub in 1986 and the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

The uprising against Gaddafi began in February 2011. Peaceful demonstrations soon gave way to civil war, with rebels backed by NATO forces fighting against Gaddafi's military. Rebels took over Tripoli in August 2011, effectively ending Gaddafi's rule, and the former leader was killed during a battle in his hometown of Sirte in October.

Out With the Old. . .

As schools in Libya reopen, officials are faced with the physical and ideological scars of the former regime's rule and with the task of erasing signs of both. Gaddafi propaganda on the walls must be covered with paint, lessons must be reviewed, inexperienced instructors hired only because of their loyalty to Gaddafi must be removed, school names adopted after Gaddafi took control in 1969 need to be reconsidered and repairs must be made to artillery-damaged walls.

Most notably, Gaddafi's 'Green Book', a publication outlining his views and philosophies upon which school curricula was based, need to be removed. Some of these books were recently observed burning on the playground of one school.

Mohammed Melek, principal of the Anniversary of the Revenge High School, told The New York Times in October: 'We need to plant in (the students) the love of the country, the spirit of reconciliation and forgetting the past.'

. . .And in With the New

Now students must be taught about the new revolution. Other changes, too, must be introduced. For instance, Western ideas, long banned by the former dictator, can once again be taught. Languages like French and English, also restricted under Gaddafi's rule, can now be used.

What might be most difficult is erasing the years of division between tribes and regions that began with Gaddafi. The idea of a unified Libya is a new one, and it's likely that not all of the interim government's National Transitional Council (NTC) flags raised at each school will convince every Libyan to embrace the concept.

Why? Because there are still many who are loyal to the past leader. Those people, school officials note, must be reached out to and encouraged to reform. For students as well as adults, this can be a difficult transition. For example, references to Gaddafi as a great leader would likely need to be revised. Many acknowledged the confusion this would bring to the students.

Singing the Praises of the New Libya

With the curricula largely undecided and mass confusion on the faces of the students returning to school, some classrooms have turned to song to help the students adjust. Many are new revolutionary songs or slogans created during the recent upheaval.

But whatever their origins, the songs are a start. For a country in desperate need of a fresh start, the sound of the children's voices drifting from the war-torn school buildings can only be a welcome one. And possibly appropriate as well; some believe the changes necessary to rebuild the country must start with education.

According to a UNICEF Situation Report issued in September, 'Education will play a critical role in creating a vibrant and dynamic civil society in Libya.'

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