Failing the Future

الأربعاء 13 حزيران 2007

kids

In the coming weeks, Jordan’s students will be heading to the tawjihi tests. We take a look at how the educational system works, and some of the major challenges facing education in Jordan.

Written by Ramsey G. Tesdell

This article is the first in a three-part series focusing on education in Jordan. This piece concentrates on primary education.

A growing disparity between private and public primary education in the Kingdom is contributing to divisions in society and furthering social tensions among citizens according to education officials and experts.

Challenges facing students in public schools are diverse and involve many different levels of the educational system. Officials assert that a series of problems including an outdated curriculum, inconsistent funding, and a scarcity of qualified teachers are driving students who can afford private schools away from the government school system.

“Our biggest problem”, said Anmar Kaylani, the dean of the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Jordan, “is the old educational system.”

“The current primary system doesn’t prepare the students academically for stringent college studying,” Kaylani said.

Jordan’s students take the Tawjihi exam at the end of their final two-years of secondary education andteacher and students upon passing are awarded the General Secondary Education Certificate. Depending on the score, students qualify for admission to community colleges or universities.

Musa Shteiwi, a professor of sociology at the University of Jordan argues that the Tawjihi system forces students to memorize and discourages creativity, which affects their abilities to think on their feat and hurts their future education.

“Lack of critical thinking and the emphasis on memorizing hurts their ability to continue their education. When they get to the university, they can’t function, and the university suffers from unprepared students,” said Shteiwi.

Shteiwi, also said that the pressure to achieve a high Tawjihi score has a negative effect on the students in other ways. Entire families feel the pressure if a student is studying for the Tawjihi.

“The Tawjihi is a nightmare for students. It’s the only criteria for acceptance into the university. The pressure from the test creates many psychological problems.”

Economist Yusuf Mansur says that while the Tawjihi gets most of the blame, the problems run deeper. Students are set on a particular track and the decision of what to study depends on their test score.

“It’s not just the Tawjihi test, but also the rules and the system built around the test that are the real problem,” Mansur said.

According to Mansur the employability of students suffers from the track system in which students are allowed down certain tracks.

“Employers care about how you analyze, write reports and work in teams. In the US for example, there is a slew of Liberal Arts degrees. The graduates are so well rounded they can do any job. This is in unheard of in this part of the world,” Mansur said.

Education officials and sociologists warn that the growing gap between the government schools and private schools is helping further the societal tensions among residents.

Many private schools teach foreign educational systems including IGCSEs, SATs, and International Baccalaureate. Students in these systems must fulfill Tawjihi requirements to attend university in Jordan or work in the country. students at mashreq international

Tamara Malhas, the managing director of the Mashrek International school asserts that while there are programs to improve the educational system, including efforts to develop the curriculum, the initiatives are slow and not grounded in the reality of the situation.

One of the problems that Malhas outlines is the conditions that many students are forced to learn under in public schools outside of Amman. Schools without electricity are given computers equipment through campaigns to increase computer literacy in the Kingdom.

“The situation in some schools is terrible, yet they had computers that students never used. Many schools are rundown, classes are combined, bathrooms are filthy, and no electricity. Sometimes the schools didn’t have enough desks for all students. Some of the desks were broken with nails sticking out of them,” Malhas told 7iber.com.

Mansur also discussed solutions to some of the problems facing students at the primary level.

“Education in Jordan should emphasis analytical abilities, communication – reading and writing – and teamwork skills. The ability to speak on your feet is crucial. All students currently do is memorize the book and take the test,” said Mansur.

The availability of qualified teachers is also a major problem according to Malhas and Shteiwi. They argue that in addition to poor building conditions and inadequate school supplies, government schools face the problem of finding well-qualified teachers who are willing to work under these difficult conditions.

school with unused computers
The picture above shows a rural school in Jordan with computers (still in boxes behind the students) given to the school by an educational fund to improve computer literacy. This school doesn’t have electricity.

“Teachers have extremely low income and no privileges therefore it is rare to find teachers who are intrinsically motivated. Their priorities are getting food, heat, water and other goods for their own families who are usually underprivileged,” Malhas said.

Shteiwi told 7iber that education suffers because the teachers aren’t adequately supported. “Many of the best teachers have selected to work in the private sector because the wages are better,” Shteiwi said.