Education in the Arab World

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Tadween Editors | 0 comments

[University of Beirut. Photo credit: A.K.Khalifeh]

With a series of articles that range in focus from universities in the Gulf to Hezbollah’s private schooling, the Financial Times released a special report on 20 October 2013 highlighting education in the Arab world. Unfortunately, the Financial Times is under a paywall, where users can only access up to eight articles a month unless they pay a subscription fee. As there are ten articles in the special report, above the restricted limit for free users, Tadween has created a roundup of the articles with links to the original pieces below.  

Arab World Conflict Adds to Teachers’ Problems
By Borzou Daragahi

Corruption and poor standards have kept education systems in the Arab world at the bottom of the ranks, but violent conflict, according to Borzou Daragahi, has also had a severe impact. Car bombs in Baghdad, air raids in Syria, and checkpoints in the West Bank interrupt students’ ability to go to and from school or focus in the classroom. “You only have to look around this region and at Syria in particular to see the appalling impact armed conflict has on education,” says Simon Ingram, UNICEF head of communications for the Middle East and North Africa. Unfortunately, increased financial investments in education throughout the region do not seem to be paying off, as some of the state economies in the region continue to suffer and populations continue to grow, countering any investment’s influence. According to the report, investing heavily in early childhood education and providing greater access to girls might improve the overall quality of education in the region, but that does not solve what many see as the biggest problem for the region’s education systems: an over-reliance on memorization instead of problem solving as a learning technique.

State Education: Bias Towards Rote Learning Stifles Critical Thinking
By Heba Saleh

Across the Arab world, while more severe in Egypt and less so in Lebanon, Qatar, and the UAE, children are required to memorize curriculums rather than develop thinking and creative skills. According to the 2013 Global Competitiveness Report, Egypt places at the bottom of 148 countries ranked according to their quality of primary education, while Yemen places second to last and Algeria and Libya at 131 and 132. According to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report published by UNESCO, the poor quality of education in the region ensures that students are barely able to learn the basics.

Egypt’s Teachers Enjoy Lucrative Sideline
By Borzou Daragahi

Overcrowded classrooms and the pressure to memorize curriculum in Egyptian classrooms have created a side business in education that is viewed as a necessity for some students. “In order to get any attention, you have to pay for the teacher to tutor your kids,” Ms. Hassan, a house cleaner and mother of three who lives in Cairo, tells Borzou Daragahi. “If they don’t take these extra classes, the teacher will fail them.” Paying teachers extra for tutoring hours has become an extra expense for many Egyptian families and has created a “shadow education system” of private tutoring that is impossible to regulate or influence. 

Hezbollah Mahdi Schools Mix Maths with Doctrine
By Thanassis Cambanis

For the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, investing in education has been a priority since their founding in 1982. Their private education system, the Mahdi schools, is expected to develop well-trained students that are loyal to Hezbollah’s ideology. “Hezbollah has become the single most powerful political organization in Lebanon, in part because of its extensive network of schools, hospitals, and other social services as well as its powerful militia,” writes Thanassis Cambanis, and the Mahdi schools are a cornerstone of Hezbollah’s “Society of Resistance.” 

Arab School Textbooks Rewritten After Regime Changes
By Borzou Daragahi

While most education systems across the Arab world have prescribed particular views of histories to classrooms and textbooks, based on the beliefs of autocratic regimes, some textbooks are beginning to reflect the changing political atmosphere through modification. In Egypt, pictures of Khaled Saeed, whose death by the hands of police in Alexandria in June 2010 sparked massive outrage, now appear in textbooks and in Libyan students have the option of studying minority languages (Amazigh, Tabu, and Tuareg) in school whereas before Arabic was the only recognized language. Tunisia’s education ministry has begun revamping coursework to eliminate traces of authoritarianism and some Syrian educators in refugee camps are beginning to depict the al-Assad family as tyrants. Yet, while these small changes appear promising, the region lacks any substantial or broad-sweeping change within its education systems.

Arab Students Bemoan Poor Quality English Tuition
By Farah Souames

In North Africa, French remains a central language to classrooms and education despite the rise of English as an increasingly dominant language worldwide. Some students and institutions consider a dedication to French impractical, and schools specializing in English have multiplied across the region as the demand to learn the language grows. “Learning the language has become a necessity,” says Tahar Yahiaoui, general manager of the Berlitz Language school in Algeria, of the growing demand for English. According to Yahiaoui, Berlitz will be expanding its language school to encompass other Algerian cities in order to meet the demands of businesses that want their employees to speak English. Tunisia has progressed farther than some of its neighbors in making an English education accessible, with some universities offering courses in English and the public education incorporating English lessons into coursework. Despite attempts to meet the growing demand, however, some students feel that the quality of their English education is not sufficient enough to make them fluent.

Classical Arabic Language Being Forgotten
By Farah Halime

Despite being born and raised in the Arab world, many young people are no longer able to fully comprehend the classical Arabic language. A reliance on Arabic dialects and a struggle to master English in school has turned many students away from being able to study or master formal Arabic, known as Modern Standard Arabic. While formal Arabic is not used in every day conversation, it is heavily relied upon in the business world and used by the media and in public speeches. As Arabic dialects are becoming more prevalent for communication among youth, formal Arabic looses its usefulness for most. “Pursuing academic areas that young people feel will benefit them career-wise and financially often means simultaneously sidelining a good handle on classical Arabic,” writes Farah Halime. “As a result, many young Arabs struggle with basic Arabic reading and writing skills, depending instead on their own dialect to express basic requirements and feelings, or even a hybrid form that either interjects English words into Arabic sentences or [Arabize] English words.”


Western Universities’ Reputations at Stake in Gulf Links
By Simeon Kerr

Education establishments in the west and in the Gulf states are facing their own set of crises. In the west, funding cuts are threatening reputations of academic excellence of some institutions, whereas in the Gulf an overabundance of finances and poor education standards have created a dilemma. Through partnerships and education-based alliances, some of the top schools in the United States and Europe have built campuses in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Some academics have argued that stronger ties will raise education standards in the region, but others have warned that self-censored academics in a different environment will have a harmful affect on the credibility of these institutions. Recent events, such as Dubai’s reported decision to prevent the entry of an academic from the London School of Economics because he was too critical of events in Bahrain, hint that academic freedom is not a given in the Gulf region, even if these new schools are based in western standards.

Saudi Arabia’s Women Graduates Hit “Wall of Tradition”
By Abeer Allam

Despite a reputation for curbing women’s rights, in 2011 Saudi Arabia announced the opening of the world’s largest women-only university, creating a new avenue for women’s education in the country. Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, a 5.3 billion dollar venture, has become part of a push that embraces the education of women as a turn towards modernization and an attempt to nationalize jobs that often go to expatriate workers. However, despite these hopeful changes, women face many challenges while looking for employment, particularly the traditional belief that women belong at home and not at work. “Saudi Arabia, which has a population of nineteen million plus nine million foreign workers, cannot afford to keep women out of the workplace,” writes Abeer Allam. “The jobless rate among women is 26.9 per cent, four times that of men.”

Doha’s Education City is a Boost for Locals
By Simeon Kerr

Qatar’s Education City, established by the Qatar Foundation, has become the Gulf region’s biggest educational experiment. The makeshift city hosts eight branches of overseas universities, such as Georgetown University, as well as think tanks and Qatar’s top high school. The main goal of this educational investment is to provide Qataris with a better education as well as students from around the region.

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