Libyan children are returning to schools closed for months by civil war to find one teacher gone - Muammar Gaddafi, whose portraits have been stripped from classroom walls and once-revered words erased from the curriculum.

For decades, lessons based on his teachings were mandatory and his sometimes bizarre ideas permeated everything from history lessons to Arabic textbooks.

Educators are now scratching their heads over how to fill the gaps left by the expunging of the former dictator, the education minister said as more than 1.2 million children returned to schools Saturday.

The subjects of political awareness and community studies have been cancelled, Minister of Education Suliman al-Sahli said.

There are suggestions for substitute subjects and ... proposals are still under study, he said.

The history subject has been cancelled and replaced by a new one put together by experts in this area to give us real history.

The start of the current school year, which should have been last September, has been postponed to January. The last school year overran its schedule by months, because schools were closed for so much of the nine-month civil war which ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule. This school year will have to be be shortened.

NEW BOOKS

One of the first things the now-ruling National Transitional Council did after taking up arms against Gaddafi was to set up a committee to wipe his teachings from the curriculum.

The three-volume Green Book, which contains Gaddafi's musings on politics, economics and everyday life, used to be required reading for schools. Quotations from it used to adorn classroom walls, but all have now disappeared.

The book laid out his Third Universal Theory which seeks to chart a course between Islam and socialism.

Children were tested by their ability to learn by heart as much quotes from the Green Book as possible.

A typical final exam question would be to explain the economic benefits of a rule promulgated by Gaddafi: The house belongs to the dweller, meaning that tenants renting houses had the right to take over the property if they wish to do so.

At Tripoli's Salam Primary and Middle School, Seif al-Din Mustafa, a sixth grader, said he was happy textbooks related to Gaddafi were gone.

The teacher used to hit us if we ... couldn't understand, he said.

Lamya Abdul Salam, 11, said the curriculum had been difficult to grasp.

Now we wish they would improve the curriculum and make it more useful, he said.

Abdul Majid Ghonia, director of curriculum at the Ministry of Education, said the entire stock of textbooks in ministry warehouses related to Gaddafi's regime would be destroyed and replaced with 453 new textbooks.

The content of those new books, however, is as yet undecided. The challenge now is to agree on alternatives to Gaddafi's versions of history, society and morality.

We need to completely rethink the subjects taught in our schools, especially the cultural and political aspects which were abused by Gaddafi's regime to serve its propaganda purposes, said Suleiman Khoja, a senior ministry official.

Khoja said the government would organize a national conference to discuss ideas for alternative textbooks.

We will not start that process (of replacing textbooks) without the participation of people who can come up with a new vision, he said.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib and Taha Zargoun; writing by Mahmoud Habboush; editing by Andrew Roche)