Hidden from the spotlight for too many years and nestled within the rugged landscapes of Iraqi Kurdistan, a silent struggle is occuring. This battle is waged by a group of dedicated individuals, commonly known as non-contracted teachers. In their commitment to shaping the minds of the region’s youth, they have shouldered a monumental responsibility. Yet, their contributions have remained largely unrecognized, their efforts uncelebrated. This silence in acknowledgment is a stark contrast to the impact they’ve had on education. While the government’s inability to grant them recognition persists, these educators are caught in a difficult situation. They’re facing challenges that not only disrupt their lives but also impact the future of education in the region.

The Unseen Struggle:

 For an extended period, spanning years that have quietly slipped by, non-contracted teachers within the realm of Iraqi Kurdistan have been caught within the relentless grip of uncertainty. These educators grapple with the unforgiving weight of financial instability, compounded by a haunting absence of job security. Stripped of the safeguarding benefits and protective measures afforded to tenured teachers, they stand exposed to abrupt income fluctuations that shatter the balance of their lives. The lasting fear of suddenly losing their job, without any safety net to help soften the blow, keeps affecting their professional life. 

Moreover, they are not granted permission to pursue higher studies such as a master’s degree while they are working for the government, depriving them of an important developmental step in their professional growth. When it comes to female non-contracted teachers, things can become even trickier. They are provided with only 21 days of maternity leave, while their tenured counterparts enjoy 6 months of maternity leave. 

Adding to the complexity of their situation, some non-contracted teachers have endured this plight for over a decade. From 2021 onwards, a fixed system of salary has been implemented in which the lowest paying non-contracted teachers are paid 200.000 IQD (nearly $133 as of August 2023) and the highest paying ones (with a master’s degree) receive 425,000 IQD (nearly $ 283 as of August 2023). To make matters worse, sometimes they have been paid this already meager salary only every two months due to the government’s financial problems.

A Broken System and a Chain of Causes

The roots of this issue delve into the annals of history, tracing its path to the pivotal year of 2014—a time marred by the onslaught of ISIS and the budgetary cuts imposed by the Iraqi government. At that chaotic time, the regular hiring of teachers stopped suddenly, and this brought a dark cloud over the educational landscape. With the passage of time, a triad of reasons was pointed out by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as to why they were unable to hire these teachers. The first reason emerged as the Iraqi government cut the budget allocated to the KRG. This led to a financial crisis, strangling the resources that could have otherwise breathed life into the stagnant employment process. Simultaneously, the ongoing war with ISIS, a significant and challenging issue, compounded the government’s reluctance to expand its workforce, leading to a cycle of restraint. Just as the puzzle seemed complicated enough, the unexpected disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the KRG’s hesitation, casting a pall over all prospects of swift resolution.

Escalating Numbers: A Rising Tide of Struggle and Dedication

An aspect of the story of these non-contracted educators is written in the changing numbers—a saga that speaks of both struggle and commitment. As the chronicle progresses, it reveals a striking transformation. By the year 2017, approximately 11,000 non-contracted teachers were engaged in the public sector. However, the passage of time witnessed a significant transformation. Fast-forward to the year 2023, and the numbers have drastically changed. A body of 36,000 educators now stands at the forefront, making up a significant 25% of all public sector teachers. These numbers are more than figures; they symbolize the hopes of educators who, for a decade or more, have been the silent guardians of education, facing various professional challenges.

Another aspect can be seen in the personal anecdotes of individuals who have experienced this firsthand. Take Goran, for instance. He has been a non-contracted teacher for 6 years. He told me that he refused to work in private institutions on several occasions even when they offered him higher salaries because he felt that his students in the public sector needed him more. Although he is fully dedicated to contributing to the progression of education in Kurdistan, he has been denied to participate in a teacher pedagogical training program offered by the Ministry of Education on the grounds that he is a non-contracted teacher, and according to the Ministry of Education, these teachers are not allowed to undergo such training! 

Impact on Education and Society: A Ripple Effect

The implications of this oversight reach beyond the scope of their individual struggles. This challenge extends beyond non-contracted teachers—it’s about the future of education in Iraqi Kurdistan. It affects both education and society directly. As their struggles fade from the spotlight, the very quality of education faces a precarious future. The lack of job security threatens the motivation that keeps these educators going. With instability looming, even the most talented might consider other options, leaving a gap in the educational field—a gap with consequences much larger than just numbers.

This situation brings a somber atmosphere to the schools. The uncertainty of non-contracted teachers’ positions, the feeling that their jobs could be in danger at any moment, shakes the core of the schools. The ongoing changes, such as teachers coming and going as they search for better opportunities, weaken the consistent environment that students need. The process of learning, which relies on careful guidance and steady progress, faces hurdles when these educators decide to leave. The classrooms once filled with echoes of inspiration, become spaces of uncertainty, and the students find their support structure destabilized, their educational journey harmed by disarray.

The Battle for Recognition and Gender Dynamics

In the face of challenges, the non-contracted teachers have taken action instead of staying passive. They’ve gone on strikes several times as a way to express their growing frustration and demand fairness. While they use these strikes to voice their concern, they come with their own consequences. The consequences, however, are far-reaching; each day of striking means students miss out on valuable learning hours. This contradiction underscores the balance between immediate needs and long-term objectives, emphasizing the pressing need to address the situation these educators face.

Remarkably, the world of non-contracted educators has turned into a place where gender dynamics play out without much notice; the majority of non-contracted teachers are women. This isn’t by chance_ it reflects the complex patterns in Kurdish society. Traditional norms in this culture often position men as primary earners, causing many of them to move on to better-paying opportunities. This change results in a greater proportion of women filling these non-contracted positions.

Advocacy and the Road Ahead

In 2017, some non-contracted educators united to form the Board of Non-Contracted Teachers, recognizing the strength that comes from working together. This group emerged as a means to advance non-contracted teachers’ aspirations. It serves as a platform to voice their concerns and facilitate communication between their challenges and government authorities. This board has negotiated with the KRG several times, consistently addressing the challenges that these teachers have faced for a long time. 

Also, a joint committee from both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance and Economy of the KRG was established in order to evaluate the situation. They collected data about the number of these teachers and the possible financial burden on the government if they were to be officially hired. The result of their work was delivered to the Council of Ministers, but no final decision has been made as of the date of writing this article. The board of non-contracted teachers has announced that their patience is running thin and that they “will have their own reaction if their demands are not met by the government.”