And there is much work to be done. Teachers receive dismal salaries, and little, if any, training. Corporal punishment for students is rife. Officials say that new school construction has been mostly nonexistent for 20 years while the population grew, leading to overcrowding. (Making matters worse, during the revolution hundreds of school buildings across the country were damaged or mined, looted, or used as makeshift munitions storage depots, prisons, or housing for refugees.)
And while teaching standards were low, 9th and 12th grade exams were purposefully made so difficult that only 30 percent of the students would pass and go on to secondary and higher education. That left 70 percent of them to drop out of school altogether or go to technical training, says Wafa Bugaighis, an official with the transitional leadership’s Ministry of Education who helped develop the ministry’s plan for getting education back on track.
“There was a systematic destruction of the education sector,” she says. “There has been no training, no investment, no upgrading.”
Textbooks were infused with Qaddafi regime ideals to train obedient citizens. The most blatant was a subject called “The People’s Society," in which students studied, among other things, Qaddafi’s Green Book laying out his political philosophy. But his propaganda was also woven into history textbooks, which teachers say almost totally omitted mention of the monarchy that Qaddafi’s coup overthrew.
“A huge period was missing” from the history books, says history teacher Abdel Salam El Imami. "I didn't know who tried to unite all of Libya after colonization – it was the monarchy." But under Qaddafi, he couldn't teach that to students. In Arabic language lessons, the text to be studied often contained stories about the leader.