Jordanians divided on educational reform
Amman - The Jordanian Ministry of Education’s removal of some quotes from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad from elementary school textbooks has angered teachers and parents and led to calls for the minister to resign.
The Jordan Teachers’ Association said in a statement that recent amendments to the curricula harmed Islamic and Arab values, as well as the Palestinian cause. The association said it would form a committee to deal with the issue. The Education Ministry called that a “targeted campaign” that politicised education and challenged the efforts to improve education in the kingdom.
“They did some serious changes in the books for example in religion, whole verses from the holy Quran and sayings by the Prophet Mohammad have been removed and, in Arabic literature, a picture of an unveiled woman was placed instead of a veiled one,” said a teacher at a public school who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Meanwhile, in third grade Arabic-language textbooks, a Quranic verse was replaced by a text on swimming. In civics, reference is made to acknowledge Christians as a demographic component of the population with pictures of churches as well as mosques,” she said.
Early this year, Minister of Education Mohammad Thneibat, who is also deputy prime minister, stated that the presence of political will and positive change by the society formed a strong push towards educational reforms in Jordan.
“We have a joint effort by many around the kingdom calling for reforming the educational sector,” he said during a lecture in Amman.” We might agree and disagree on certain issues but at the end we all agree that there is a need for reforms. There is a lot of criticism by non-specialised people while the committee of specialists worked hard; the ministry is following up on whatever is being written whether positive or negative and taking their points seriously.”
A number of rallies, including a sit-in at the Education Ministry, protested the changes to the curricula of a school system that has more than 1.9 million students in 6,924 schools and more than 100,000 teachers and principals. Students in several governorates burned tyres and blocked entrances to schools with rocks in demonstrations against the changes to the curricula.
“I believe they should have studied the issue more and thought of the impact it will have. I know that some schools are planning to have a strike soon just to show the ministry that they don’t approve the changes,” said first-grade teacher Hiam Mahmoud.
“I believe the ministry has created an unnecessary crisis. If the previous curricula were encouraging terrorism, then the unnecessary changes the ministry conducted are not the correct answer to address this issue.
“No one is convinced with the terrorism excuse, however, I see it as a systematic approach to change the mentality of the children and erase anything that is related to religion. We heard many calls for an open strike and we are still waiting.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front also objected to the changes, calling them “an affront to our heritage and values aimed at distancing future generations from their religion, their Arab identity, their history and traditions”.
It urged the government to cancel “negative alterations and focus on genuine scientific developments introduced by Jordanian academics”.
Batool Ahmed, a mother of three, said: “We are proud of our history and no one complained before about anything in the books, so why now they are doing this?”
“Home is a school by itself and we know how to teach our children the essence of life and how they should treat their friends and even strangers. The ministry is making us doubt our education system more through the changes they made. I think they should think twice before making any changes to any book,” she said.
But Mohamed al-Khateeb, dean of the Faculty of Sharia at Jordan University and a member of the higher committee to study the Islamic curricula, said deleting some verses from the Quran was not done simply for its own sake and that the process was part of the framework to focus on values within Jordanian society.
“The committee studied well each letter and word and what is happening now, especially the objections by some people, [involves] a personal agenda against development. The committee will work on revising these points and give their opinion,” he said.
A group called itself Yes for Developing the Curricula supported the changes, saying in a statement: “We are a group of education experts, thinkers, teachers and artists who have examined a number of the new textbooks, including the Arabic language, civic education, Islamic studies and science and believe that they are positive.
“The changes improve the image of women, encourage cultural and religious pluralism and enhance the national and Arab identity.”
The royal family has also spoken out on education reform efforts in Jordan.
In 2015 a speech launching the national strategy for human resources development in Amman, Queen Rania stressed the need to prepare students for an evolving workplace. She pointed out that “less than 10% of the Ministry of Education’s budget is allocated to the development of the educational process compared to 40% in a country like Finland”.
“Let us equip our schools with technology and e-learning tools so that our students become fluent in the language of the century,” she said. “We want curricula that enrich learning and expand horizons of knowledge, so let us establish a curriculum centre to implement the latest educational methods and curriculum development techniques — a model adopted by many top-performing countries.”