From Iraq to Sunderland: Learning from the best

A pioneering University of Sunderland project is aiming to help improve education for thousands of Iraqi children

Teachers and lecturers from schools and universities across Iraq have been visiting Sunderland to learn about approaches to teaching and wellbeing in education.

In a country which has suffered unimaginable trauma in recent years, many Iraqi schoolchildren are still struggling to come to terms with the after-effects of war and mass political and social unrest.

Learning how to best support these children while offering them a full education is just one of the reasons 15 Iraqi academics and teachers spent seven days visiting the region as part of the joint venture between Newcastle-based charity, Children Bringing Change, and the Childhood Studies team at the University of Sunderland.

Hyder Alzubaidi is a teacher in a secondary school based in Waset, eastern Iraq.

He said: “When you come here you realise how much there is of everything, so much culture, so much learning, so much opportunity. It has been amazing.

“In these seven days we have learned important lessons that we can all take back to our schools and universities.”

One of the aims of the visit was to improve the quality of education for children in the country by focusing on emotional wellbeing and creative approaches to learning.

Aida Alobaidi

Aida Alobaidi is a lecturer at the University of Waset and has been working there since completing her PhD at Bristol University.

She said: “What you have to remember is that so many of our children have undergone trauma, and this visit has helped us learn how to deal with and support that trauma.

“This has really opened out eyes to the help we can give, seeing how Sunderland helps to improve their students’ wellbeing.”

Research shows that at least 20% of primary aged children in Iraq are not in the education system at all, and there is no alternative provision for them.

Children in Iraq are taught in a very traditional way, relying on rote learning with little creativity, and with no differentiation and limited understanding of supporting learners with additional needs.

Pupils who do not pass the annual exams have to repeat the year – or fall out of the system – and children with behavioural issues or additional needs tend to drop out of education entirely. There is no official monitoring of children missing from education at this early age.

Dr Lynne McKenna (centre), presents certificates to the Iraqi delegation

Under the direction of Dr Lindey Cookson, Principal Lecturer in Childhood Studies at the University of Sunderland, the group took part in a week of intensive training focusing on pupil wellbeing and the creative aspects of children’s education, neither of which are currently recognised within the Iraqi education system.

Dr Cookson said: “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with the Children Bringing Change charity to develop this exciting new programme of activity for educators from Iraq. We have focused on ‘small steps for change’ and, after a very busy and successful week, delegates are now returning to Iraq with workable ideas to begin to transform educational practice for children in their local areas.”

Dr Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, added: “‘The Faculty of Education and Society were very pleased to host the delegation from Waset University during this week.

“Alongside the excellent input from our Childhood Studies team, the delegates have also had the opportunity to visit some of our partnership schools. They have been most accommodating, and ensured that the delegation were able to see good practice which reinforced the lessons learned from their lectures and seminars at the University.

“I am delighted that, following the success of this first visit, the Chancellor of Waset University has announced his intention to continue to work with the faculty to develop further links, with the ultimate aim of improving the education system in Iraq.”

The group also got the chance to spend some time in North East schools, including primary, secondary and special needs.