Knowledge and education are the backbone of every society. Knowledge is power and critical to development of any country; also, knowledge is one of the few human resources that does not perish, but rather proliferates through consumption. The competition between nations for ground-breaking research, innovation and technology is intense as history witnesses. The right to education was first embodied in the human rights declaration of 1948 which declared that every child has as much right to education as they do food and shelter.
I chose this topic for my Model Arab League (MAL) research paper recognizing the importance of education and understanding it is the one deficit in the Arab world responsible for many other deficiencies in Arab societies ranging from poverty to restricted political and individual freedoms. The MAL conference gives me a venue to show my inner sentiments; I have a great enthusiasm for educational reform and I often think and dream of how we can improve our failed educational systems.
In this humble paper I have attempted to identify the most pressing problems concerning education in the Arab world and the subsequent effects on Arab society while providing some possible solutions. This prognosis and prescription will hopefully bring to light a very serious problem while offering sincere remedies to recapture a glorious Arab intellectual past. Every drop of rain is equally important among the millions of others, so I hope that this will not go in vain.
... : BRIEF DETAILS OF COLLABORATING PARTNERS. A. Gurukul Education Society In the following pages brief details of collaborating parteners ... or Institution for advancement of education and knowledge in arts, science, social science, knowledge of public hygine, literature and ... are different from the rural community. The education at the Institution provides deep knowledge & computer skills. 6. ...
Hafiz Muhammad Naeem
CIMAL 2006 (AEDF)
A Brief History of Education in the Arab World
The Arab world has a long intellectual and educational tradition. It has a tradition of expending human energy and resources on the search for all forms of knowledge. That is why, one thousand years ago, the most developed part of the world was the Arab world. The Arabs, in fact, led the world in many areas of knowledge.
The catalyst for the blossoming of education in the Arab world was the pronouncement of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he said, “it is the duty of every Muslim man and woman to seek education. The prophet founded mosque school and under his influence Arabs pursued knowledge for its own sake. The use of Arabic, the language of the Koran, spread with Islam and gave a common means of communication to people over a vast area, thusly allowing for the rapid transfer of information. The Arabs translated and preserved teachings from Greece, India and Persia and from these texts a mass revolution in education began during the Abbasid dynasty. Academies built up impressive collections of books and knowledge was freely shared. As Arab influence spread to Spain and beyond, knowledge transfer based on Arab learning and scholarship helped to advance education in Europe, and introduced empirical methods to research. It is worth noting that all this progress was not just by Arab hands but it was the fruit of all Muslims who came to the Islamic state from different parts of the world and helped in the development of the knowledge.
After the 15th century the level and quality of education started declining and the Arab world could not keep up with the new sciences that were being advanced in Europe. The story of this educational deterioration is interesting; Arab rulers made each other weak by meaningless wars between one another which distracted their attention from education thusly leaving them behind and contributing to the demise of their intellectual contributions to an ever modernizing world. Europe, however, was advancing rapidly in all fields of knowledge which helped them to realize their colonial aspirations to conquer many parts of the world. Thusly it can be said that the weakness of Arab nations contributed to European colonization of the whole Arab world. During colonial times the state of education in the Arab world continued to decline and some would even say fully vanished because the occupiers did not want to see any improvements in the field of education; their priority was looting the wealth and resources of Arab lands and extracting human resources inasmuch as they needed native lackeys to help maintain order in their colonies.
... of modern health care in Lebanon and the Arab world. Innovative modern education and the absence of American government imperialism in ... medium of modern instruction-that discriminated against Arabs even as it offered them educational opportunities that they readily grasped. * ... as interviews with natives threatened to expose a fundamental problem of the Zionist project in Palestine: By what right ...
Despite imperialist efforts to keep Arabs down, Muhammad Ali, upon taking power in Egypt, started new educational policies and sent educational missions to France which helped breathe fresh life into the educational system not only in Egypt but throughout the rest of the Arab world. Muhammad Ali’s accomplishments aside and despite the decolonization of the Arab world in modern times the level of education in the Arab world remains frighteningly low. Half a century after being liberated from colonial rule Arab countries have a dismally low literacy rate and lack the resources to pursue advanced or applied sciences.
I will now provide a brief outline of what I see as the most pressing problems in education facing the Arab world today.
The Problem of Education in the Arab World: an Analysis.
When we look at Arab educational systems we find many problems, some of them are endemic to all systems and some are related more specifically to some Arab educational systems. In the Arab world we find many drawbacks in the educational systems and these are often related to economic, social and political problems. I can not discuss all of these problems in great detail because the scope of this paper is limited but I will highlight particularly debilitating issues in education. The educational process starts with the admission of a child to school. Schools need buildings, teachers and equipment and these things require funds. The following outlines the problems we face concerning education:
2. Classroom Size,
3. Teaching Methods & Pedagogy,
5. The State of Science Education,
6. Quality of Education,
7. Policy Making Problems.
We will start with funding; it is worth noting that in provision of funds the Arab world differs between the gulf region, rich of petrodollars, and the rest of the Arab countries which have modest economies. Collectively speaking the Arab world does not spend enough on education; according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statistics Arab countries spend less than 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education and scientific research, in contrast to the developed countries which spend about 10%. This reveals a big gap between developed countries and the Arab world. The actual spending on education and research has declined after 1985.
... special education is truly effective for EBD students because of the choice of interventions or the teacher’s ... teachers of students with EBD need to be uniquely trained specialist who possess distinctive skills unlike those of general or special education teachers ... interventions that are beyond interventions designed for general education students. Although the authors briefly mention the frequencies ...
Insufficient funding affects all aspects of education beginning with infrastructure all the way to the quality of education. According to Al-ahram daily newspaper, lack of funding results in the lack of buildings and this reduces the number of class rooms which forces too many students into classes and forces schools to work in shifts. Insufficient funds lead to sub par salaries for teachers which affects on their productivity as they are often obliged to earn from other sources in order to live with basic needs.
The funding for research is like nothing, “In Egypt alone we have thousands of Ph.D. holders capable of doing research, trained to do research, and they have near nothing in scientific research support funds,” Mr. Farouq el-Baz says.
According to a survey we took of college students, about 70% blamed insufficient funding as an obstacle in education reform. They went on to say that the aspects of education most affected by a lack of funding are: the building of new schools, salaries of teachers and the provision of educational equipment and material.
2. Classroom Size:
The actual rate of enrolment though not as high as in the developed world but the lack of buildings and institutions leads to higher enrolment in existing arrangements which deprives many students from the right of education thus violating the human rights declaration of 1948. The educational system does not have enough premises and staff for new pupils therefore they are compelled to sit in large groups and overcrowded classrooms. One example of this can be seen in Egyptian universities. According to formal statistics, the faculty of law at Cairo University is comprised of about 30,000 students and one can not imagine how students arrange to get in lecture auditoriums and listen to the lectures and how much one can benefit from these lectures. Likewise, the faculty of commerce is comprised of about 50,000 students. These shocking figures show the seriousness of this problem and the story is not much different in other Arab countries.
... educational value. These are the students that will continue to prosper throughout their lives because they realize the extreme importance of education ... underpaid teachers and professors prepare to educate these ingrates as their living, and it's exasperating for the students to ... Maybe their teachers didn't teach them in the way that they learn most efficiently, or maybe students just become bored ...
Effects of this problem: The huge number of students whether in schools or universities affects the quality of education, less interaction between students and teachers, many social problems like quarrels between students render the education meaningless.
The reasons for this problem: Political and economic reasons.
Political reasons: The government wants to please all people by showing that it provides free education, so it puts pressure on institutions to admit more students than can be adequately handled. These governmental educational institutions are dependant on the government for funds so they can not resist.
Economic reasons: The government does not have enough funds to build new universities and to hire enough teachers so it is putting students in big groups in existing institutions.
3. Teaching Methods and Pedagogy:
Teaching methods play a big role in the educational process. The methods of teaching used in the Arab world are traditional and new methods are usually ignored. The teaching relies upon rote learning and does not take into account new methods such as research and practical learning. Also, a large number of instructors are not qualified. It should be noted that it is those who earn their high school diplomas with low grades who are oriented towards faculties of education and teacher training colleges. They are also the product of the prevailing education system based on memorization rather than an education directed towards critical thinking and creativity. They, therefore, apply the same system upon their graduation, once serving within various educational institutions.
Teachers usually think that their role ends by delivering lectures and students are liable for everything from comprehension to application. The teachers do not care about homework and in college they do not ask their students to prepare any research papers; the result is that students do not know how to conduct research and so their educational level is low. The ignorance leads many students to take special lessons in difficult subjects, that in part increases educational expenses and wastes a lot of time of students. Old teaching methods affect the relations between student and teacher by limiting their interaction. Because of this the education lacks quality.
... taken by the Ministry of Education to solve the problem of truancy among Malaysian school students which are, impose a truancy ... Education is to assign every school in Malaysia to provide interesting and beneficial programmes for students such as sports and games, educational ... provide programmes for students, and encourage teachers to improve their teaching methods to make sure our country can produce ...
According to our survey about 65% of the students concentrate on this aspect of education but mention other problems such as: unqualified teachers, gap between teachers and students, lack of teacher training programs, lack of respectability and esteem for teachers by society, media and the government, lack of innovative teaching methods and special lessons.
This is the most important element of the whole educational system as the curriculum identifies what the aspirations of the nation are and to which destination this curriculum is leading. According to the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2003, “some researchers argue that the curricula taught in Arab countries seem to encourage submission, obedience, subordination and compliance, rather than free critical thinking. In many cases, the contents of these curricula do not stimulate students to criticise political or social axioms.” Unfortunately the curriculum in the Arab world lacks new information and is not updated periodically in an accurate way. University texts are usually prepared by the professor of the subject and it depends on him or her when the book will be updated. Thusly, many times because the professor is busy the book can go a very long period without any edition changes leaving students to read old information.
Alternatively, in developed countries many professors and students actively and jointly participate in preparing school texts which leads to a higher quality of text. Also, students are more likely to stay interested in the text. This is in contrast to Arab countries where the quality of texts is so low students have a hard time following them and fail to be interested in them; thus affecting their learning.
... problems in today's society with the education system are endless. So many students are deprived of the quality of the education ... a bad need of change. Students deserve to have the education they need to prepare them ... becoming more and more of a problem as the student population continues to grow. Classrooms are ... in control of the country one day and they should have the education to help prepare them ...
According to our survey about 99% of the students interviewed expressed their dissatisfaction with the curriculum and stated that it is outdated and must be changed as soon as possible.
The aspects of curriculum, students pointed out, which have drawbacks are: the bulk of useless or unimportant information, the disorder of the information, the amount of information as compared to time in which to learn it, the fact that the curriculum is outdated, the use of foreign languages in teaching, concentration on rote learning as opposed to practical learning.
5. The State of Science Education:
In the words of Farouq el-Baz, “The teaching of science in the Arab world is a disaster right now. Science education has not been given the support or significance it should have. Among Arab leaders there is a belief that science and technology, research and development are something that only rich countries can do, and it’s a very defeatist attitude”. The spending on scientific research is less than 0.2% of the Arab Gross National Product (GNP).
The Arab scientist can not find any laboratories or centres to conduct research so they leave the country to pursue opportunities abroad and this creates a deficit in the field of science and technology.
6. Quality of Education:
The whole process of education is shaped to prepare people who can take the reins of the country and can compete with other developed and developing nations with the goal of accomplishing the highest possible growth of their country. When we analyse the situation in the Arab world, we see that the goals of prosperity and growth are not achieved. Who is responsible for this? “The experts conclude that the low quality of education is the main reason. Students graduate from schools and universities but they do not know much about their field and can not perform their duties in their field actively. How do you measure quality? No one can absolutely define it in calculable measures, however, one simple way to gauge quality is to look at the health and vibrancy of a state’s society and economy”. A good education always gives back but a poor level of education is a burden more than a benefit to society. The discussion thus far reveals that a high quality education can not be achieved without a full reform of the educational system.
7. Policy Making Problems:
Another problem in education that Arabs face is the fact that Arab countries do not have clear policies about education or the goals they want to accomplish. This indecision and lack of focus is largely responsible for the failure of the educational process. According to AHDR 2003, “Education policies in many Arab countries lack an integrated vision of the education process and its objectives. Furthermore, these policies are characterized by inconsistency and a lack of direction. Problems, such as those relating to the content of the curricula, forms of examination, evaluation of students, and foreign languages cannot be settled without formulating a well-defined vision of educational goals and necessities”.
One example of indecision in policy making occurred in 1997 when the ministry of higher education of Jordan was abolished reasoning to give more liberty to universities and to save expenses spent on the ministry, however, in 2001 the ministry was revived again reasoning to make more integration between universities, This example does not need further explanation and adequately conveys the state of planning in Arab states. Another problem is the adoption of different educational policies and the multiplicity of systems and methods in the Arab countries, which almost totally isolates these countries from each other. Such a state of affairs weakens cultural and intellectual ties among these countries and reduces the opportunities of exchanging expertise and capabilities with a view to expanding and improving education within the frame of shared intellectual and civilization backgrounds.
One glaring example of bad Arab policy in education has been identified by Mr. Labib Sabie, a writer for Ahram, who states: “In many universities in the rest of the world it takes a whole year to search for a president, but in the Arab world a university president is appointed in one day and sometimes even less”.
Students too are grimly aware of similarly disturbing policies in education. According to our survey about 50% of the students voiced concern over problems related to systems and policy. Included in these concerns were: the negative impact of bureaucracy on the educational process, intelligent students being ignored and the lack of integration between governmental departments.
Some other problems:
The Enrolment Rate:
The average gross enrolment ratio for the Arab region is as low as 15.8%, while the average for all developing countries is 30.9% and the world average is 46.7%. The literacy rate varies from country to country but as a whole Arab literacy at 60% is well below the world average of 80% and the developing countries average of 73.6%.
Education of women:
The Arab world has made progress in this regard but still the gap between male and female literacy is wide and needs more reform. Women account for nearly two-thirds of the region’s illiterates. In particular, rural areas lack convenient arrangements for women education and so it is understandable why international society is calling on the Arab world to empower women.
Political aspects of these problems
When education is in a state of deterioration in a country it leads to problems in every field. When people are not literate they can not fully understand their political and social rights and duties. This lack of understanding leads to grave human rights violations by the government against the people; rights such as the freedom of speech and expression. It leads to less democracy and a government which undertakes subversive activities that the people are not aware of. This leads to corruption inside the country which induces a circle of sluggishness thusly contributing to the waste of a country’s precious resources; of which educated minds top the list.
All of this is true about the Arab world, because of low level of education governments dare to curb people’s freedoms and steal their rights. Sadly, the people do not know how to protect their rights or resist against the government and so a state of chaos has emerged in the Arab world. Though people are trying to protest against their prospective governments, these governments are fighting back. Confusion often prevails which leads to extremism and in some cases to terrorism.
Political corruption and the restriction of people often instigate an exodus of a nation’s best and brightest scholars. These intellectuals leave the country to avoid these political problems and to pursue opportunities in other countries which do not exist in their native lands.
Different political groups try to use universities as their platforms but the government tries to prevent them from doing so. In the end universities often lose their autonomy which negatively impacts the whole educational process.
It is worth noting in this section the Alaa case. Alaa, a secondary school girl, described her inner political feelings in the free essay writing portion of an exam. Consequently, her exam was abolished and she was sentenced to one year deprivation from study. Only upon public pressure did the president interfere revoking the sentence and allowing Alaa to pass. This case clearly describes the drawbacks of educational policy making and curbing the freedoms of people.
After all, I believe if the educational process is organized in a good and practical way most problems can be adjusted or solved.
Economic Impacts of Educational Problems
Every economy stands upon bright minded, well educated and highly experienced people; the educational system is responsible for that. A poor quality of education hinders this and as a result the Arab world is importing experts from overseas at an extraordinary financial cost upon already struggling economies. Poor education hinders the ability to establish new industries because the state can not produce skilled workers. For instance, we can see that petrol is the main export of the gulf area but raw petrol is exported, if these countries have advanced refineries and factories, from that raw petrol they can make hundreds of goods.
Social Impacts of Education Problems
The education of a country is responsible for the growth of social society and all social sciences. The low levels of literacy and poor quality of education has led to a crisis in this field leaving Arab citizens far behind the citizens of developed countries. They have low levels of reading, internet usage and participation in social activities.
Every thing in this world rests on hope and we hope that we can obtain success in solving education problems in order to give future generations the reality of a better future. The reform procedure needs to be approached from every angle from political reform to the provision of school buildings. I now turn to possible solutions. We can divide our suggestions in different categories:
2. Civil Society Participation
3. Cooperation with Other Countries
4. Curriculum Reform
5. Teacher Training Programs
6. Science and Technology
In the Arab world universities and schools are usually operated by the governmental authorities which results in complicated bureaucracy. The universities and schools should be given liberty in important decision making, to operate independently, and control educational process inside the institutions. There should be independent boards which control these institutions. The role of government should be to oversee this whole process and if there are any drawbacks or violations the government should take necessary steps to correct that.
2. Civil Society Participation:
The government should allow and encourage the role of community organizations to build new schools and universities as this can help in solving the problem of overcrowded schools and universities. When people feel that they are an active part in the development of their country they will have more enthusiasm in reforming society in general and education in particular. According to our survey about 70% of the students interviewed demanded resolution of the funding problem; specifically to raise teacher salaries and the construction of new schools and universities.
3. Cooperation with other Countries:
All countries of the world innovate and experiment to enhance the capabilities of their educational systems in order to produce more useful and productive students. The Arab world should cooperate with developed countries to see how they improved their systems and on what rules these systems are working. This cooperation would help to solve many problems. Many countries are ready to help but the problem is in the Arab world there is an unwillingness to take benefit from the experience of other countries. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is also helping but now the need is to participate more actively with international organizations so we can make progress in our endeavors.
4. Curriculum Reform:
The current curriculum does not improve or develop the research abilities of students. It relies on rote learning, or memorization, and needs to be replaced with modern methods of teaching which employ research and create in students the eagerness for invention and discovery. The curriculum needs to be updated on a yearly basis in order to reflect new inventions and discoveries. Text books should be written in a more interesting way eliminating useless material. The curriculum should also be compatible with the needs of students and should be reflective of the traditions and needs of the society. According to our survey about 99% of all the students demanded an updated curriculum, an improvement in the practical aspects of education, a reform of the examination system, the elimination of useless information from the curriculum and a change from the semester system to system of hours.
5. Teacher Training Programs:
Teachers are the essence of the whole educational system; however, in the Arab world their performance is not compatible with international standards. They need to be trained more in order to educate students in a more useful and interesting way. There should be teacher workshops on a regular basis and teachers should be paid competitive salaries so they can concentrate solely on teaching rather than searching for additional work. Additionally, new teachers should be hired to accommodate the high number of students.
According to our survey about 65% of the students demanded the establishment of more teacher training workshops, the hiring of qualified teachers, innovation in teaching methods and demanded an improved portrayal of teachers in the media.
6. Science and Technology:
The fields of science and technology require huge attention in the Arab world. The teaching of science and technology is mostly theoretical. This needs to be changed with more practical training. It also requires more science laboratories and research centers where scientists can conduct their research and scientific activities. The establishment of laboratories and research centers is not enough in itself but the need is to create an atmosphere where these people can feel that their research is fruitful. The economy should be directed to the utilization of research discoveries and inventions; this can be done by whole planning of the country. If the economy can not absorb these discoveries and scientists, this can backfire and the credibility will be at stake, which is the current situation. There is also need of active cooperation between all Arab countries to open their doors for all Arab intellectuals so they can work together.
Problem of Arab scientists abroad:
Thousands of Arab scholars and scientists are working in foreign countries merely because they can not find a convenient workplace in their home countries. To solve this problem we need to renew our infrastructure and create a healthy work atmosphere in Arab countries. Only then can we ask these scholars to come back and serve their countries. Another reason they go abroad is the poor political conditions in the Arab world. The solution for this drawback is obvious to reform our political system.
Some more reforms:
The reforms suggested in AHDR 2003 are as following:
“Disseminating a high quality education for all, giving priority to early childhood learning; ensuring universal basic education for all and extending it to at least the 10th grade; developing an adult education system for lifelong learning; improving the quality of education at all stages; giving particular attention to promoting higher education, and instituting independent periodic evaluations of quality at all stages of education. Embedding and ingraining science, and building and broadening the capacity for research and development in all societal activities.
Four main complementary policies are urgently needed for a serious reform of higher education: Reform of Governance, restructuring of the whole educational system, expansion of higher education, quality assurance of education, sufficient and sustained funding for quality education and quality research; improved access to knowledge for students through information & computer technology (ICT); and enhanced remuneration for teaching and research staff. None of these measures will succeed, however, without the overhaul and development of curricula at all educational levels, coupled with appropriate teaching methods that develop critical thinking and creativity.
According to our survey, Individual suggestions:
To raise the awareness about education, to prepare the students for serving the country, to specify the goals for students, to organize the study time instead of wasting it, and to encourage parents to participate in the educational process.
I have analyzed and reviewed the most important problems facing Arab educational systems like funding, curriculum, teaching methods, and many others, and I have tried to present some solutions. However, we can not achieve all these reforms unless we reform our whole system, political and economic. We have to implement democratic principles in order to give people their freedoms so that they may show their opinion without any fear of state security forces. If we let people conduct their freedoms we can make progress in all fields. There is also an urgent need to change old bureaucratic systems which are hindering the progress of the Arab world with new, flexible and productive systems. I have not lost hope in Arab culture but it needs intensive work to catch up with the developed world. Hope is everything in this world and we are living on hope.
1: Arab human development report 2003 (AHDR) published by UNDP.
2: Medium term strategy 2002-2007, UNESCO 2002
3: Education today, newsletter of UNESCO’s education sector, No. 17 June-September
4: Munir Bashshur, Higher education in the Arab world, UNESCO Beirut Lebanon 2004
6: Arab education in crisis, Tuesday 21 October 2003, aljazeera.net
7: Arab education reality and prospects, Organisation Islamique pour l’Education, les Sciences et la Culture – ISESCO -Hay Ryad, Rabat, Royaume du Maroc 2003
8: The Arab World’s Scientific Desert, the Chronicle of Higher Education, March 5, 2004, www.chronicle.com
9: Abdlatif Yousef Al-Hamad, Director General and Chairman of the Board of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, The Arab World: Performance and Prospects, this is a lecture delivered by him in September 21, 2003, on the occasion of the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in Dubai.
10: Alexander W. Wiseman ,The impact of the “gulf state phenomenon” on education in Iran, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia , the University of Tulsa, 28 September 2005
11: Ronald G. Sultana, Higher education in the Mediterranean: the university between tradition and modernity, Faculty of Education, University of Malta.
12: Bro. Enrico Gonzales, Comboni Missionary, School system and education in the Arab world with special reference to Egypt.
13: Saouma BouJaoude, Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) American University of Beirut Lebanon. UNESCO international science, technology & environmental education newsletter, VOL. XXVIII, No. 3-4, 2003
14: John Daniel, UNESCO assistant director-General for education 2001-2004, Education for all in the Arab world: past, present and future, this lecture was delivered by him on the Meeting of Arab Education Ministers on Education for All, Beirut, Lebanon, 19-23 January 2003.
15: Al-Ahram daily, Sunday 25 June 2006 page No.3
16: Literacy and Adult Education in the Arab World, UNESCO Regional Report for the CONFINTEA V, Mid-Term Review Conference, Bangkok, September 2003.
Page of contents
A brief history of education in the Arab World2
The problems of education in the Arab World: an analysis 3
Teaching methods and pedagogy 6
The state of science education8
Quality of education9
Policy making problems9
Some other problems11
Political aspects of these problems11
Economic aspect of these problems 12
Social impact of education problems13
Civil society participation14
Cooperation with other countries14
Teacher training programs15
Science and technology15
Problem of Arab scientists abroad16
Some more reforms16