Student uses education as weapon in fight against Islamic State

A Glasgow student has returned to his native city of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan inspired to embrace the ideals of a ‘learning city’

February 2, 2016
Statue of Kurdish poet outside Citadel of Erbil
Traditions of learning: statue of a Kurdish poet outside the castle at Erbil

A new learning initiative may play a role in taking on “the ideology of Islamic State” and building a different sense of Kurdish identity.

Sherwan Taha has recently completed a one-year master’s at the University of Glasgow on teaching adults. In August 2014, both his father and his brother volunteered to fight against IS. Greatly distressed by what was happening, particularly when his father was wounded in battle, he contemplated going home to “do something for my region or even to join the Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters]”. 

It was at this point that he attended a lecture on international adult and continuing education where Michael Osborne, professor of adult and lifelong education, described the idea of “learning cities”.

These are defined in the Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities as places that mobilise resources for goals such as “promot[ing] inclusive learning from basic to higher education” and “re-vitalis[ing] learning in families and communities”. There is also a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation quality mark for cities that reach certain standards.

Instantly fascinated, Mr Taha realised that he could do something for Kurdistan by promoting the ideals of the learning city in his native Duhok.

He foresaw three major benefits, he told Times Higher Education. The project would “create links between universities and communities”. It would provide assistance to displaced people and refugees from the rest of Iraq. And it would help “combat the ideology of IS” and forge a distinctive but inclusive form of Kurdish identity, with “more libraries and museums to show people about their heritage and customs”.

After consulting Professor Osborne, who is also the European director of the network of learning cities known as the PASCAL International Observatory, he secured the support of the local governor in Duhok and attracted similar interest from the capital, Erbil. He prepared the paperwork to become an active member of the network and even sent delegates to the PASCAL conference in Sicily last October.

Now back in Duhok, Mr Taha is continuing his “education and peace work project” while teaching English and communications skills, although he is looking for “an international donor to provide support” and take the learning cities initiative to the next stage.

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Print headline: Learning cities: Glasgow student uses education as weapon in fight against Islamic State

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