Jordanians divided on educational reform

Sunday 09/10/2016
Students at a primary school in Amman.

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.”