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.
“In our Kingdom there are 500 schools in desperate need for basic infrastructure and repair. ”
But before I write my comment <I like to Ask her majesty the Queen few question .
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Alurduni: While your questions are valid and I won’t claim to speak for anyone, I will say this from a personal perspective: finding the core reasons as to why the status quo is what it is, may be a valid pursuit if it is in the interest of altering those elements to create a more fertile environment for growth. However if it is merely a pursuit for blame, then we’re stuck in that archaic cycle which does very little for the present tense and the future tense, it does very little for the students that need help today and the students that will need help 5, 10, 20 years from now. And in my opinion, that’s the only thing that matters right now: the “where we go from here?”
Bloggers, with their ear to the ground and influence with people who have resources, should be among the very first to be volunteering. To be honest, there is no reasonable excuse not to.
As you mentioned in a post a few days ago, there are PCs sitting in boxes in rural schools awaiting people to come and teach the kids how to use it. To wait until the teachers know how to use them will take another generation, we need to go straight to the students.
I would like to challenge every blogger in Amman to go visit Ruwwad and talk to them about volunteering teaching computer literacy. Everyone can do it. I’ve arranged for English teachers to volunteer there, and I’ve got four kids with no live-in helper and I work. Ya’ll have no excuses.
After you get your feet wet at Ruwwad, then it is time for some creative thinking about how to best impact from there.
I’d like to challenge every blogger outside of Amman to donate funds to Ruwwad, as well.
If one person impacts the life of one child, it makes a difference for that child. They desperately need mentors and role models. Her Majesty is absolutely right: EACH PERSON MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Others will see what you are doing and want to join in.
The time spent on one shopping trip, watching one film, smoking one sheeshah, could impact the future of a third generation Palestinian child who currently has no hope. Ashan Allah, ya shabaab, He is the one you will have to answer to about how you spent your time.
kinzi: sounds like you’ll be getting involved?
Nas, oh yes, can’t preach what you aren’t doing yourself. I’ve already been involved with Ruwwad and JRF, and look forward to seeing where I fit in with Madrasati. Even Mrs. Techno-saur has something to offer.
Thanks for the excellent post! I agree with you that for a ‘permenant educational revolution’ there needs to be both micro and macro initiatives, and while civil society initiatives, such as the latest madrasati, are inspiring and effective, their impact will remain limited without real structural reform. Both need to exist together like you mentioned.
And the first way to achieve that harmony is to prioritise education in our budget. The amount our government spends on education is alarmingly disparate as an article by Yusuf Mansur demonstrates (http://www.jordantimes.com/index.php?news=4450) and I quote:
“The quality of spending is also a problem because over 70 per cent of the budget goes to pay salaries for the 30 per cent of the labour force it employs, 10 per cent for government retirees, and 11 per cent to pay back the debt.
A quick arithmetic would demonstrate that the government is left with less than 10 per cent to spend on physical and human infrastructure (education, housing initiatives, IT readiness, education, health, etc.), all services that are due for an overhaul.”
The current budget rewards the lazy; the government employees who work till 2 doing nothing all day and get around 100 days off a year with all our public holidays. The majority of their sons see this and they want nothing more than the easy, lazy, get money while doing nothing and smoking a lot job that their fathers have. This in itself is a hurdle to sustaining creativity and inspiration in youth.
If we are to develop fully as a nation, then 70% of our budget should be spent on education, not our government employees. The 70% should be used not only to improve building structures, but to build libraries, train teachers (possibly abroad) and most importantly, renew the curriculum. Regarding the missing jigsaw pieces you indicated, I feel one big jigsaw puzzle missing from our education has been our own history. Other than the revolt against the othomans I dont rmember properly learning about our history in school. sadly, it was only when I left Jordan and went to a (Western) university, that I discovered in my library hundreds of books on the scientific inventions of the abbasids, on the timeless works of arab philosophers from ibn sina to ibn rushd, all which are very relevant today if we are to ever get out of the rut we have been stuck in.
Sorry for the long comment!
Mentioning the royal family and any sort of reform in the same article hurts its credibility, even if it is 3000-word long. If you feel the need to write something about being invited to another Royal PR fanfare please stick to the usual empty praise for such empty initiatives.
Deena: I believe if there was a real commitment as I described above, the government along with the Royal family, could easily get funding for it without even touching the budget. Your long comment suits the long post, so don’t worry about that.
Musa: Thanks for the interesting perspective, although it is unfortunately reflective of the mindset many of us are still stuck in. Isn’t it possible to be invited to such fanfare and be critical of it at the same time? Moreover, isn’t it possible to have hope in an initiative and its ability to do good, while pointing out one’s reservations about it, instead of casting it as “empty” before it even gets off the ground? The initiatives I mentioned in my post have all been met with a great deal of success and their impact is undeniably imprinted on thousands of school children, which I’ve seen first hand. They were all labeled as “empty” and “folly” from the moment they were born to this moment today.
There are real problems we need to point out and keep on pointing out for as long as we breathe. And they all deserve much more than 3,000 words.
p.s. it’s actually 1,947 words including those of the Queen, but thanks for the extra vote of confidence.
Nas,,let us follow very simple logic and reasonining,,If I build a house and few months later the house collapsed ,don’t you think the people that live in That house ought and need to know the reason why the house collapsed?,so in the future they can plan a better strategy to build the house back safe and sound ,Iam not trying to blame anybody, I merely trying to shift the discussion to who is the responsibly party in this case, because after all who wants to live in danger zone again and again and again?
Alurduni: and i said that yes i agree with you, looking at past mistakes in an attempt not to repeat them is a genuine pursuit. my trouble is with looking at past mistakes merely to asign blame, which I don’t see yielding the kind of benefits we’re looking for
If we can’t learn from “our” past mistakes ,how are we going to build a better eduction system?
If we don’t try to correct what happened in the past ,how are we going to build or persue an eduction system that is based on critical thinking?
Nas â€“ thank you for that, but I have to disagree with you : â€œthe government along with the Royal family, could easily get funding for it without even touching the budgetâ€. Any spending from outside the budget would undermine the sustainability of any project: depending on â€˜one-offâ€™ funding opportunities will only serve as a short term solution, not a long term overhaul that is very much needed. This in turn undermines the possibility of a long-term commitment and constant and continuous planning.
Also, not prioritising education in our budget, and handing the file to individuals outside government, no matter how capable and well informed they are, undermines accountability, which is crucial for a project that requires reflection, criticism, constructive solutions, and most importantly, the participation of all citizens. Education should be a national project, prioritised in the government agenda, open to proposals from the public, not an elitist one, no matter how well intentioned.
Alurduni: ok, see now i’m wondering if the educational system has failed you as well. can you pause for a moment and read what i wrote and try to understand that i am agreeeeeing with you. is that possible? is that too much to ask?
Deena: “Education should be a national project, prioritised in the government agenda, open to proposals from the public, not an elitist one, no matter how well intentioned.” i agree with that, however even the biggest “national projects” and “national priorities” are funded from various parties. Where do you think a lot of the budget funding comes from? That being said, what I’m referring to, is a long term plan that is made as national priority with massive funding that is even beyond the limits of our own budget. Infrastructure in Amman is a good example of what I’m talking about, only even bigger.
The will to change is what we miss. The mindset you mentioned is totally true, many are stuck with doubt and draw conclusions from previous or unrelated issues.
I think that what we miss more is the social agreement, the definition of the relationship between the state and the citizens. The state is offering and structuring a lot within the economic scope and its social impacts, whether successful, failed, or undetermined results.
The citizens are quiet reluctant to defining the state as to what it offers. The citizenship and loyalty are chartered to the government instead of the country, thus tendency to serve and offer to the nation or local society is linked -if any- to favoring a governmental policy that one is benefiting from. Accordingly, the good efforts are not surrounded or backed up by the nation due to disbelief, disconnection to personal benefit. As well, taking law and rights enforcements into each own hands as many think that they are on their own resembled in continued fear of the future and related actions taken to secure it by sole plans that foster no development.
Fundamental corrections in life aspects as education requires more fundamental change in ourselves being the state or the citizens where trust need to be renovated -for those who lost it-, a fresh start where the state will assure people their rights to get involved and where the people will stand up as citizens, fight for their citizenship with all they got, believe in continuity of life “if not for my time, the later will enjoy”, and accept diversity of people within.
Madrasati will see light as you said naseem, and people like you have a lot to offer.
Deena<<I totally disagree with the article you posted by Yusuf Mansur because the author only put the blame on the small government employee and minimize what the government has done to our education ,and it exonerates the humongous political elites of corruption and nepotism,and i think .it is not fair or accurate assessment of the problem that we are really facing.
hmmm …. so i can’t touch the part where it says education is the solution … well let me say it’s a byproduct and not the solution but oh well.
I take it the spirit of the post here is that we need a massive educational reform plan that involves all parts of the society and depends on integrating NGO’s with governmental efforts that will create funding for god knows who, and will tackle things on a macro level.
if what i took from it is correct…
one main issue is what deena tackled is the budget, without governmental commitment to funding and allocating it part of the budget then there would no sustainability to it.
you said “That being said, what Iâ€™m referring to, is a long term plan that is made as national priority with massive funding that is even beyond the limits of our own budget”
thats fine but there is no way that a national project in terms of education not be included in the national budget thats just wrong. going over the budget and depending on grants and give aways from others that are not guaranteed will introduce a high level of uncertainty about budgeting and planning and hence higher risk of failure. better work diligently with what you have rather than pray for a miracle.
the other option for a sustainable expansion of the budget is through taxation. income to our government is mainly generated through taxation (privatization perhaps) , so that would entail extra taxing for instance. am sure that would be counterproductive on so many levels.
asking NGO’s and private institutions more than they can deliver yes they do serve a great purpose in aiding the system, but they are never meant to be part of the system. hell they are called non governmental and private institutions. so the main load falls upon the government the harbor of the system and they are responsible for the patch work. the alternative is to privatize the educational system (kind of what ur implying since really if you are asking private institutions to partake that much in it they are going to demand profits, they are not charities and NGO’s operate on tight and limited budgets as it is). even the most stupidly lassez faire country in the world didn’t go ahead with fully privatizing its educational system. not sure if its even a wise thing to do.
culture the culture is change resistant, and that has been the achilles heal in most educational reform attempts, you always have the islamists parading the anti islamisic nature of the reform no matter how subtle it is, christians too… beduoins, farmers and every one from A-Z in the country. on the other hand an integral part of the educational system is actually content and happy with it, and they act as resistant agent too that is even far more powerful than the former. from administrators to teachers to even parents, they like things the way they are for one reason or another and they are usually the ones with the biggest weight. they are benifiting from the system the way it is, whether it is the parent that makes his children skip school to help with the income or the teacher who likes the way the cafeteria operates since he’s in control over it and can care less about teaching since he really just doing it cause its an easy income stream to the administrator that gets to gain favours due to his position so you can’t deal at a macro level without tackling some integral macro issues… it will end up being an exercise in building castle in the sky
Educational systems by the time they would be fully implemented will be dated educational methods as they are are quickly becoming obsolete, and they are well due for a revamping of methods that survived since the 14th century grammar schools . a specialized society requires a specialized education system with more vertical movement than lateral that is hindered by the group. you can no longer afford to maintain the gap in education to employment, as it stands the majority of students are unable to work because the educational system and the methods used in it and the materials are disjointed from real life workers realities. that disconnect leads to diminish the utilization of potentials, the problem in the future wouldn’t be the tawjihi the problem will be having grades as a whole from where i see it. to bridge that gap the educational system should be cooperative and age independent, starkly akin to madrasa’s and platos views in which personal effort and access to information is prime, and experience over information is the goal, and an environment that serves as an impetus to critical thinking. the goal for an educational system is to allow the population realize its potential so rather than a strata of age groups it should be a strata of potentials. and technology is there to achieve a fair system which was problematic in the past although it gives rise to a few problems and i admit that.
anyways at the end this all is just a forward looking initiative and most likely will be tucked in as another google entry, if that even ! and probably we will remain behind the curve even if the reform is undertaken unless we unroot ourselves from current reality and look at the future a bit, even a glimpse would do us good.
for the time being the best thing to do at a personal level is volunteer and help those organizations trying to make a difference, just like what kinzi said, even though it does feel like you are trying to a somersault while ur legs are cuffed to the ground it still has a great impact. and probably the private institions could be and instigator of volunterrism if they actually dedicate incentives for employees who volunteer in their communities, by dedicating some days for volunteering every year … hell they even can play it off as a team work workshop and hit 2 stones with one bird ( yes i know the idiom is wrong but i trust u’ll get it)
ps. ur blog is no longer on qwaider.com, why is that ? and finally did u miss me ? shame i missed some good discussions here 😛
oops i guess i had so much pented up writing i turned this into a post my bad.
“thats fine but there is no way that a national project in terms of education not be included in the national budget thats just wrong.”
oh yes, I agree. Let me be clear about something here, what I stated in response to Deena was meant to be hyporbole, for the sake of proving the point that a well-designed plan that has full backing and committment from all ends of the spectrum could theortically (and likely) get funding without “touching the budget”. So yes, in essence, I agree with both you and Deena that much of it does need to be derived from the budget. Everyone needs to have some skin in the game.
“the alternative is to privatize the educational system (kind of what ur implying since really if you are asking private institutions to partake that much in it they are going to demand profits, they are not charities and NGOâ€™s operate on tight and limited budgets as it is).”
I disagree here. First, I am not suggesting we privatize. Like I pointed out, these NGOs and initiatives are meant to “aid” rather than replace (which is what I feel is happening now). But the private sector has a lot of skin in the game. This is the workforce they have to hire from and so they should be involved in its development. This is something that Fadi Ghandour has spoken about several times, even at the World Economic Forum(s), and I believe it to be true. Their companies cannot develop without that well-educated and prepared workforce. So it’s not about yeilding profits, but human capital. In other words, it’s an investment.
“so you canâ€™t deal at a macro level without tackling some integral macro issuesâ€¦ it will end up being an exercise in building castle in the sky”
I agree that culture poses a problem, as initiatives like Injaz have experienced. However, I also believe, that a rising tide floats all boats and that culture will be forced to change with the coming wave. It may not solve it entirely but it will solve most of the problems it causes.
“Educational systems by the time they would be fully implemented will be dated educational methods as they are are quickly becoming obsolete”
I agree, especially with the Plato allegory (pun intended). I think this is why if a macro plan is developed along the lines of what I envision up here in my head, I think it will have to be phased or at least extremely wary of the technical details such as access to information and what not. Keep up with international standards, or even surpassing them, demands as much in the 21st century.
“even though it does feel like you are trying to a somersault while ur legs are cuffed to the ground it still has a great impact.”
oh yes definitely they do. you’re absolutely right. and i tried to point that out at the beginning of the post. my argument however has more to do with the absence of the macro solutions. the micro projects do have an impact but they can’t be sustained because they can’t solve the macro issues.
“ps. ur blog is no longer on qwaider.com, why is that ? “
really? maybe i got kicked out or something 😛
“and finally did u miss me ? shame i missed some good discussions here”
it hasn’t been the same around here since you left! 😀
(welcome back?) 😀
I would like to add the issue of the quality of the teachers we have. Many of them are a product of a flawed higher educational system filled with makromas. Also The lowest achievers tend to become teachers-a brief visit to jordan’s university school of education will be revealing, if you ask where most of the problems and fights erupt from you will see that it comes from this part of the university. So what do you expect those teachers will produce?
Also, teachers’ pay is just hideous! And they work one of the toughest and the most important jobs on earth!
As for privatization, I don’t know, it can be a solution where the government pays the private company X amount of money for each student, but will it really solve anything? Coz I think management comes after reengineering, you can’t sell something that is broken, you have to fix it first, which sends us back to the core cause of the problem which from my point of view is the two points I listed above.
Mohanned: it’s kind of like the problem we have with islamic preachers. bad education = bad preaching. which is one of the reasons i’m very adamant about confronting the education problem in this country head on.
I don’t think privatization is a good idea, especially since Jordan hasn’t been the greatest privatizer in the world. However, one possibility is to privatize, or pretty much outsource, management. But i believe this would be more costly than fixing the problem yourself.