(il)Literate, But Still Not Educated

الإثنين 09 آذار 2009

Written by Ramsey Tesdell

Jordan boast one of the most educated populations in the Arab world and with one of the highest numbers of literate people, it is hard to argue with that claim. But in a new world where information and critical thinking takes precedence over simply being able to read, Jordan suffers dramatically from a strategic lack of critical and creative thinkers; partly because the system is designed to stop critical thinking, and partly because those who can, escape if they can.

It is quite possible that I work in one of the most educated places in Jordan. The number of letters tacked on to the names of the people working there could probably wrap around the world a few times. PhDs in this, Master degrees in that, and fluency in two, three, and even four languages is the normal, not the exception. These people have write books, publish articles, edit journals, and write regularly for prestigious newspapers.

But this story is not about these educated folks.

This is a story that starts in the kitchen, where a few employees hang out – smoking, making tea and coffee for the PhDs, and flipping through newspapers and magazines. This is where Yesin spends his days, oscillating between smoking, coffee, and playing card games on the computers. His story starts like many others, a large family with few resources. Public schools weren’t paying the family bills, so Yesin had to quit and start making some money so the family could eat. He was a janitor, scavenged garbage, and now finds himself making coffee and tea. He lives near Sweileh.

Yesin is surrounded by knowledge and is just 20 years old. But Yesin can’t read.

Its hard to ignore something that literally jumps up and smacks in you in the face, where ample amounts of opportunity and knowledge are juxtaposed with a lack of opportunity and little or no formal education. You’ve got experts in economics, politics, and tribalism working with people who can barely spell their own name.

In a country that boasts so many educated folks, it makes one wonder how someone like Yesin fell through the cracks. With so many initiatives ‘modernizing’ Jordan, its a wonder that there wasn’t a place for this kid to be taught how to read, but there is a place for him to bring a fresh brewed cup of to an office. It seems the youth initiatives failed, but not because they were poorly planned or executed, but because it worked perfectly.

The ICT initiative wasn’t designed to bring creative and free thinking workers into the work force. It was designed to create a cheap and mindless work force that didn’t innovate, but relied on outside innovations. Not only that, it was pushed so hard, and so many joined, that now there is an abundance of skilled workers in the field, with very little creativity to apply their new found skills.

Even these initiatives failed someone like Yesin, in a country where the middle class is currently shrinking and the reliance on foreign aid is increasing. The educational system is currently rigged to support the status quo. The expensive private schools develop a curriculum that allows for critical thinking and creativity, and this population then leaves the country, leaving behind a multitude of problems without the people to solve them.

Talk of economic reform, political reform, or any other type of reform is cheap when the system is designed to maintain the status quo and deny opportunities to those like Yesin.

Despite Jordan’s educated(literate) classes, true education requires more than the ability to read. Literacy is a good start, but critical, creative, and free thinking are required to compete in today’s information economies. But when a country can’t even teach its entire population to read, don’t expect much of any improvement in critical thinking skills.

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