Syrian Kurdish administration starts online education during anti-coronavirus curfew
QAMISHLI, Syria (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish self-administration in northern Syria has launched online lessons and lectures for schools and universities to meet educational needs amid the curfew that has been imposed by local authorities to stop the spread of the coronavirus, officials said on Monday.
Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Rohan Mustafa, co-president of Rojava University in Syria’s northeast Qamishli city, said the university began this new program with online lectures on Kurdish linguistics and literature, given by professors based not only in Qamishli, but in several countries around the world.
“The online courses of Kurdish linguistics and literature that started last week will end on May 15, and meantime we are preparing programs for the other colleges and departments,” she said.
The online education schedule is published on the university’s website and all its social media platforms, she added.
At least 14 professors from the US, UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, and the Kurdistan Region are giving online lectures in the course on Kurdish linguistics and literature.
Mustafa also explained that at the end of each course, every student will be asked to prepare a final project, whether a presentation, research, or article, based on the course material.
As for elementary and secondary education, the self-administration education authority has started to cover some courses of the 12-stage curriculum in live-stream lessons, after which the videos will be available to be downloaded or watched online.
Mohammad Khalil, a teacher of physics from the northern town of Kobani, told Kurdistan 24 that the online course is not the optimal method of learning, but it is a good solution for the current situation during the curfew to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are broadcasting the lesson and then making it available for the students,” he said. “But there is no interaction between the teacher and students, which makes the learning process less efficient, although it is better than being totally denied education now.”
The Kurdish-led authorities in Syria have taken several measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic to their region, where the health system has been debilitated by almost a decade of civil war.
On March 23, a full curfew was imposed in the region to prevent the spread of the virus. Last week, the curfew was extended until April 21.
Last month, the Kurdish administration in northern Syria announced the lockdown of all institutions, including schools, institutes and universities. Thus, it has tried to find a temporary alternative to continue educational activities in the areas under its control.
So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in northeast Syria, even as local authorities have been hampered by a lack of testing facilities.
There had been a testing laboratory in North and East Syria. However, it was lost in October 2019, when Turkey invaded the Kurdish-majority city of Serekaniye. Turkish shelling of the hospital in the city left the laboratory inoperable, as a report of the Rojava Information Center explained on April 5.
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declined to support the local administration—although the UN, including its Secretary General, has warned about the danger that the virus poses in conflict zones.
"This has left the northeast without having a single coronavirus testing kit, and the World Health Organization has refused to work with the local authorities here," Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24.
Consequently, the Kurdish administration in North and East Syria was obliged to send coronavirus tests to Damascus, but authorities there refused to receive them.
The Syrian government is widely seen as doing a poor job in dealing with the virus. The Ministry of Health in Damascus has reported only 26 infections, with two deaths. Given the far greater numbers that other countries are reporting, including in the Middle East, the Syrian figures are not credible.
Syria’s close ally, Iran, for example, has reported over 73,000 cases and over 4,500 deaths. Iraq has reported over 1,300 cases and 76 deaths.
However, two parties have stepped in to provide assistance to the self-administration. Early this week, two PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing machines arrived in northeast Syria from the Kurdistan Region to help Syria’s Kurdish–led authorities test for coronavirus infections.
In addition, the US-led Coalition against the so-called Islamic State has provided $1.2 million in medical supplies and equipment to help protect staff at hospitals in Hasakah and Shaddadi, as well as to combat the virus more broadly.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie
(Additional reporting by Kurdistan24 correspondent in Kobani, Redwan Bezar)