Failed education systems lead to Arab states’ failures

Sunday 26/06/2016
Students attend a lesson as part of the “University for everyone” programme at the Diocesan Centre for Studies in Algiers, last March.

When university exams in at least three Arab countries — Egypt, Algeria and Syria — are leaked and students respond with scorn and ridicule, it confirms the notion that a failing education system leads to a failed state.

For Arab countries that are blighted by corruption and bribery, nepotism and double-dealing, it is only natural that this would also affect the education system. This, however, is some­thing that goes beyond educa­tion, undermining development and potentially crippling the state.

It is clear that the education system in the Arab world lacks a clear vision and approach. The Middle East is ignoring technical advances and developments in the international arena to help schools and universities produce well-rounded and knowledgeable graduates who can meet the needs of the local, regional and international job market.

Instead, Middle Eastern educational institutes are mere incubators for millions and millions of diploma holders but these university degrees do not qualify the graduates for any­thing. These are students who learn by rote without reaching any true understanding. They may possess nuggets of technical information but not true knowl­edge.

The higher education system in the Arab world is unduly influ­enced by the job market. There is less and less concern about producing curious and versatile graduates and more focus on the nebulous idea of employability.

Many higher education sylla­buses today are akin to fast food, rather than a truly nutritional meal, based on what is quick and easy, not what benefits long-term development. Students are looking for the quickest and easiest route to employment, and university professors are moving away from trying to impart a love of learning to simply imparting dry technical information.

Ironically, the pragmatic outlook of the employment sector has reached a dead end as, the more graduates there are, the more competition there is for jobs and, ultimately, the more unem­ployed graduates there will be. This situation is a time bomb that will explode, sooner or later, in the face of the state.

The biggest irony is that these failing states have failed to produce a well-educated, self-aware and well-rounded genera­tion capable of overcoming the challenges of the future and succeeding in moving their countries towards a new horizon of hope. The idea was that the state would help produce a new generation of graduates who would go on to have fulfilling careers but they have only created a new generation of automatons who are waiting around for whatever job they can get.

For many autocratic Arab countries, the education sector served as an opportunity to express national pride and make claims that the state had raised literacy rates and provided necessary services to the people. Arab universities in most coun­tries were once scenes of deep ideological, political and cultural discussions and were places to produce a generation of intellec­tuals and professionals who were at the same level, if not higher, than their European peers. Today, these same universities are factories for technical degrees.

The Arab world has also seen the rise of private education institutes and universities that provide balanced and well-rounded education but naturally can only cater to those who can afford their fees. This is a state of affairs that will have a dangerous effect on social integration and justice. Members of the same generation are being divided between those who can afford to attend a private school or university, obtaining a good education and therefore later securing a good job, and those who cannot.

In the past, public schools and universities were an important melting pot for all people, regardless of class differences, regional background and political or ideological outlook. This served as an important lesson in highlighting the idea of citizen­ship.

It is clear that the state has failed its education exam but what is the solution for Arab students who are seeking, and failing, to escape poverty through education?