Author’s Note: The following post is a critical look at the Jordanian education system. It is unapologetically long, as I believe education is one topic that needs all the words it can get its hands on. Your comments, in the context of the greater and much needed debate, would be highly appreciated. Thank you.
Yesterday afternoon I attended a ceremony at the University of Jordan where HM Queen Rania received an honorary doctorate from the institution. Besides all the usual royal pomp and circumstance often associated with these events that have become void of meaning for me personally, I was pleased that she took the opportunity during her acceptance speech to launch a new educational initiative I found fairly interesting, dubbed “Madrasati” (“My School”). The context of the initiative is that every member of society has a role to play within their community, and she spoke at length about civil society and volunteerism which our country, thankfully, is really improving on and I can safely say that there is a rising spirit within Jordanian youth for community service, and that’s a start.
This is a rough translation of the Queen’s speech where she briefly describes the initiative:
…In our Kingdom there are 500 schools in desperate need for basic infrastructure and repair.
â€œMadrasatiâ€ is based on the principles of participation and partnership. We need this partnership in education to rehabilitate the schools for our future generations. The initiative relies on private schools and companies to help renovate public schools. We also need every Jordanian to help us create an environment capable of absorbing the energies of our children, building their personalities, and fostering their talents. This will be an initiative where teachers become inspirers and guiders who expand their studentsâ€™ horizons and provide them with the tools they need.
From what I understood, the idea is that people, specifically youth play an active role in renovating Jordan public schools with public participation. I don’t know the details, or the exact plans and when I do you’ll be the first to know. In any case, I thought
I would take the opportunity of this occasion to discuss education as a whole in Jordan with this initiative in mind, and perhaps it’ll inspire some much-needed dialog.
First of all, what’s unique about this project is that it has royal backing, from both the Queen and the King and for those who are unaware, there is perhaps no greater source of credibility in the country than getting that kind of patronage. Call it what you will, but that credibility is translated in to political capital that goes a long way towards implementation, and in the end that’s what really matters.
Second of all, to speak from personal experience, in the past year or so, I’ve become exposed to various NGO programs that are all attempting to approach the problem of education in the country in various ways. From INJAZ’s work in public schools and teaching kids to look at a globe and imagine a world beyond their curriculum, to Maharat which trains university graduates to actually be prepared for the real world that refuses to hire them, to Ruwwad, which has played an active role in its local element to renovate public schools and train teachers. And various others.
Most of these initiatives are great, and they’ve all yielded enough valid results to even convince me – the greatest cynic known to man – of their viability and even sing their praises. What they all have in common, especially those guided by the Royal family, is that they have vision; something we still need in this day and age. Though as Jordanians have discovered, often time vision is just not enough and so I will always have my reservations about a few things.
As I’ve mentioned before throughout the lifespan of the Black Iris, education is the silver bullet. You would have an easier time convincing me the Earth is a cube, than convincing me otherwise. If you want to talk about reform, poverty, crime, unemployment, investments, freedoms, change, and just about anything you can think of that inflicts a positive and dramatic impact on the very soul of this or any other country: it is education.
Despite our “impressive” standing in the region, Jordan is still suffering. Lets face facts for a moment.
We still have kids who are dropping out. We still have kids who spend only 2 or 3 hours a day at school before they go wandering the streets in search of a livelihood. We still have a system where kids are dictated to. We still have a system where students are told to memorize and not think. We still have a system that is restricted when it comes to resources like computers, Internet, books, sports equipment, etc. We still have a system where what you learn in a classroom during high school will rarely help you develop into a well-cultured, student-of-the-world.
We still have a system of under-trained, under-paid teachers. We still have a system where there are cases of abuse. We still have a system where students have no real guidance (councilors). We still have a system where students are mentor-less. We still have a system where students are not allowed to dream beyond the come-what-may limitations of the inevitable Tawjihi and what opportunities the result of that system may or may not offer them.
And this system is not limited to an area. It is not limited to 10 or 20 or 500 schools. It is fairly widespread, and many of the aforementioned elements are applicable to every single public school that simply falls under this overbearing umbrella of a system.
And when you’re dealing with this kind of system, you are really dealing with a jigsaw puzzle. There are 1,000 pieces, that represent 1,000 problems, and currently we have 1,000 organizations trying to solve that puzzle from different angles.
However, there are certain pre-requisites that need to be fulfilled prior to these attempts. There needs to be a proper infrastructure and that is something that surely involves a renovation of the entire school curriculum that addresses the increasing demands of the 21st century. In other words, to refer back to that tiring jigsaw metaphor, there are essential missing pieces of the puzzle and to ignore them is to go down a road that really never ends; an unsolved puzzle.
This goes back to my previous argument concerning implementation and evaluation of public policies in Jordan, which can translate to a single word: sustainability.
So when it comes to policies and initiatives that govern just about anything in Jordan, but specifically education in this case, my primary reservation is about sustainability. Is this an initiative that will have a large-scale impact and more importantly, can that impact be sustained in the long run?
Moreover, can we have a genuine push for educational reform in the country?
And I’m not talking about promises of reform, and plans, and master plans, and blueprints, and super-ultra-master plans, and power point presentations, and programs, and trial balloons made of lead, and speeches, and initiatives with a 2-year shelf-life, and so-called education reformers, and what have you.
I mean a true, genuine commitment that is well-funded, and I mean really well-funded by the government, the people, the private sector, and even the world, to simply overhaul the status-quo and turn it into a world-class educational system that produces world-class students and by default, a world-class workforce for the 21st century?
Is that too much to ask?
Not tiny changes, not small-scale, but massive. Not micro, but macro. Comprehensive. Sustainable. Durable. Applicable.
To gather intellectuals and educators from all over the world, to start a dialog, and in that moment, sit down and draw a massive “plan” that has the full backing and commitment for sustainable implementation.
The Queen said something I found interesting: she emphasized the role that we, as citizens of this country, play when it comes to making it a better place. And I agree with this notion.
However, even the most committed Jordanian citizen will often find him or herself pushing on the ocean in hopes for change that happens in retreating baby steps. Anyone who has ever worked for an on-the-ground initiative, or has even done volunteer work, can take pride in their accomplishments as a citizen, yet sooner or later they will come to that conclusion that the odds are simply too great and that putting a band aid on a crack in the dam is not going to hold back the water.
By the same token, many of these initiatives are micro projects that are meant to complement the macro programs. Unfortunately, in the absence of the macro, we are left with the micro: one person in the grand scheme of things trying to make a difference, and however poetic we want to be about it, in the grand scheme of things, one person is not nearly, not nearly enough.
There is indeed a missing platform.
It’s like those who constantly encourage the youth to be politically active and engaged, along with those who demand anything other than “complacency” from us, yet forget that we have no platform to express such activeness. We have no mechanism, no safeguard, no guarantees. Only people pushing us towards the edge of a cliff and filling us with promises of flight.
And the same goes for education: there’s a whole lot of micro, but not enough macro to make the difference; a platform that is not nearly enough to work on.
It is on the government, and indeed the Royal family, to play that vital leadership role, which in turn provides a proper platform for change; something others can build on. I look at the promises that were made nearly a decade ago and I see little has changed in the education sector in Jordan. We have more private universities and more private schools, but that’s about it. The primary public system has been producing the same students and with modern corporations entering the market, we are witnessing just how ineffective and unprepared those students are for the global challenges these corporations bring with them.
If the system was really changed, and not in increments, not in baby steps, but I mean a complete renovation of the infrastructure – a new platform – I can only dream of how high the building can go. I can only imagine what some NGOs in this country, like those mentioned earlier, can accomplish en masse, and not just piece by piece; jigsaw by jigsaw.
I don’t want to sound like a Marxist, but to borrow from Trotsky some poetry: what we need is truly a “permanent revolution” for the educational sector.
If we’ve learned anything as Jordanians, it’s that we are clueless to the problems that will arise throughout this century. However, if we are raised within a system that challenges us, that motivates us, that inspires us, then I truly feel the next generation will achieve things my 20-something peers could only imagine.
If that system, if that change, if that metamorphosis, if that moment starts today, then I guarantee the next generation will be able to face whatever problems come their way this century.
And in such a state, these new initiatives will play only a small complementary role as they should, rather than the respirator they are often made out to be.
And with that…I hope Madrasati really takes off and can bring some change to the status quo until that status quo is truly challenged in its entirety. I will personally be looking forward to getting engaged with the program in whatever way I can.