The children of Tigris - Indian Express In the opening sequence of the 1986 comic caper â€˜Clockwiseâ€™, we are introduced to Brian Stimpson (played by the incomparable John Cleese), the fastidious headmaster obsessed with keeping time. Ghassan F H Al-Shammari, principal of the Iraqi School, is a somewhat similar man. Time occupies a central role in his management of the school. The Iraqi School was established in Delhi in 1972. From 44 such schools worldwide, the number has slowly whittled down to 11. The school at Safdarjung Enclave has 230 students, from Class I to XII â€” 100 day boarders and 130 distance students from across India who come here to take their mid-term and final exams. It provides outstation students with syllabus and reading material, allowing them to enrol in local schools to experience the rigour of a classroom. It has 23 staff members, mostly women. After coming to India, Ghassan took a PhD from Delhi University. His wife is pursuing a PhD in Arabic from Jamia Millia Islamia. The students in Ghassanâ€™s school are from Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. â€œPost-1991, things changed. Post-2006, things changed again. The government has allowed only one Arab school. We get the syllabus from Iraq. Now, we will also be able to get staff from Iraq to teach. Iraqi education is known for being difficult in the Middle East. Our students make it to good universities. The education is on par with Indian syllabus in sciences,â€ Ghassan says. The summer programme, currently underway, consists of classes for English, computers and art. Ghassan started the programme this year as he believes itâ€™s very important the children learn to speak and write English. Even in regular classes, Ghassan has increased the timeslot for English; other subjects are taught in Arabic. The children are taught Arabic, computers, sciences, mathematics and history. English teachers are also the most popular among students. â€œThey are like friends to us,â€ says Hassan, a Class XI student. His favourite, Mohanned, came from Palestine four years ago to teach English and mathematics. Their Facebook pages mirror the childrenâ€™s pride, enthusiasm and achievements. Abdur Rehman is an outstation student from Aurangabad who was here for his Class XII Board exams. His father is a businessman in Basra. He was here with his mother, who is pursuing doctoral studies at Aurangabad. He wants to become a mechanical engineer, which he says would give him the technical know-how to handle his fatherâ€™s business. He has been around the country, visiting Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi with his mother. â€œI like India, and I think itâ€™s because India is the East too. Our civilisations are similar, and weâ€™re comfortable here,â€ he says. In his four years as principal, Ghassan has occupied himself with improving the standards of the school and providing children with opportunities to interact with fellow students from Indian schools. On his initiative, children now actively participate in school festivals across Delhi. They have put up cultural shows at Bluebells, Springdales and St Maryâ€™s. Ghassan has planned a two-month Arabic language programme for Indians, from July to September. Science subjects are vital to the curriculum. Religious education, says Ghassan, is not a priority here. The school is self-financed, charging an annual fee of $600 (Rs 33,000). Some students, like the ones from Palestine, are given discounts and the timeline for fee payment is relaxed. While praising the standards of Indian education, Ghassan minces no words on Indian lethargy. â€œTime is of great value, and nobody seems to know that here,â€ he says, somewhat annoyed, somewhat amused. And Mr Clockwise may just be right.