Developing World Mentality: Is “The Government” Really to Blame for the Poor State of Public Education?

Classroom in North Africa

“To the point! The government is committing a crime…,” was the commentary posted following an article deploring public school conditions in a North African country.

The article spoke about deplorable conditions students face in public schools, especially those now built in rural areas.  The article explains that schools are neither heated nor cooled, nor is transport provided.  Many students have to walk one hour to school and risk being assaulted  on the way.   There are no libraries, playgrounds, or lunch facilities.  Schools have no money to pay for photocopies or other materials.  Students use chalk and slates.  Cheating is rampant.  The rich are now going to private schools, and those who cannot afford private schools–the lower classes–go to public schools.  The author concludes, “Students and teachers want to bring about positive change, and stakeholders provide little, or no support.

Conditions in the rural public schools ARE truly as described.  But is that the government’s fault, as is both implied and stated, by both the author and the commenter?  I say NO.

Twenty-five years ago, literacy in the author’s country was only about 35 percent.  There were no schools at all in rural areas.  In the past fifteen years, the country has built thousands of public schools all over the country, and even in rural and mountain areas that never had them before.  They have sent teachers out to all these areas.  The students attending are the first generation to have any sort of education at all.  In this country, schools and teachers are not paid for by local property taxes (as is the case in America).  Schools are financed by the government, and teachers’ salaries are paid for by the government.  (Higher education degrees are also free to students and paid for by the government, for students who complete their high school degree.)  The current result of all this building and staffing is that the literacy rate in the country has essentially doubled in one generation (67% in 2011, of those over age 15).

At the present time, it appears that it has stretched the country’s finances to build all of  these schools and pay all of these teachers.  In an effort to contain costs, the country has cut back on some opportunities for teachers to pursue free Masters’ and Doctorate degrees, which has caused numerous strikes and protests by teachers in the past two years.  Their main argument, as reported in the news is, “We have our rights!”

Looking again at the current difficult and deplorable state of the country’s public schools, again, is that the government’s fault?  Are the schools this way because society and the government do not care?  This thinking is faulty.  Before public school conditions can improve, the schools needed to be simply built, and staffed with teachers.  This building and staffing phase is still taking place, although it seems they have now reached the most rural areas of the country, at least with primary schools, and now with some middle schools.  But many more schools are still needed because so many schools are still too far for children, and especially girls, to walk safely.  There is not even a thought of trying to provide transportation for public schools.  I predict it will be at least another generation before there will be sufficient money for public schools to begin to improve in any of the areas the author of the other article mentions.

Meanwhile, if any parent has sufficient money and resources to send their child to a private school where conditions are better, and can also transport their child to school, why would they not do so?  Of course we all want public schools to improve, but why should we subject our own children to a dangerous and poor education if we have the opportunity to do better for him, or her?

There are many private charity groups in this country who organize the purchase and gifting of school bags and school supplies (neither provided by public education) to poor children, because their families cannot even afford to give them pencils.  This shows me that there are, in fact, many private citizens who do care about the plight of the underprivileged in this country.

It’s very common in North African countries to blame “the government” for everything that is wrong in society.  This blame is misplaced. (If it were not for the government’s efforts this past generation, these schools would not even exist.) Governments, and school systems, are instead, a reflection of a society and its values.

As a Western person living in North Africa, I see that the main objective of the Arab Spring movements is less about toppling governments, and more about throwing out class system privileges and gaining equality of opportunity in life, about creating a meritocracy.  The author who is complaining about the deplorable state of public education is actually and correctly wanting his students to have the same equality of opportunity provided to middle-class students.

–Lynne Diligent

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2 Responses to “Developing World Mentality: Is “The Government” Really to Blame for the Poor State of Public Education?”

  1. amseghir Says:

    There are some points which I agree with, but as a teacher from a North African country, there are also a few points I don’t agree with.

    Let me start with what I agree with. First, nobody can deny that, in my country, the government has built so many schools in so many distant and rural areas of the country. Second, It’s totally true that education, including higher education, is free. Third, I also agree that the government is still trying to cover as many parts of the country as possible.

    However, these facts do not exonerate governments from their responsibility in the decline of education in many North African countries. The problem is that governments seem to believe that their only role in education is to build schools and hire teachers. WRONG! governments need to make sure many conditions are satisfied if they truly care about education. Building a plywood room on a mountain’s peak and sending a poor teacher to teach there (usually with no electricity, no roads, no internet and cell phone networks, and even no shops!) is just insane. How is that teacher supposed to feel there? What’s even worse is that they sometimes appoint Arabic speaking teachers in villages where only BERBER is spoken! I’ve heard many stories of teachers who had this problem. My late uncle was one of them. These teachers can’t communicate even with adults, let alone children.

    Moreover, the government has been IMPOSING the percentage of students who MUST pass from a level to the next. This simply means that if you are a primary school teacher and you have a class of, say, 45 students, by the end of the year, EVERYONE of these students MUST pass to the next level regardless of how well they did in their exams. Why? Because the governments imposes a 99% or 100% success rate in primary schools. What’s even more saddening is the reason why the government imposes this rate is twofold: a) BECAUSE NEW CHILDREN WILL NEED THOSE SEATS! b) To send falsified numbers to the Europeans who fund our educational system through their loans. Now, does this sound like an argument of someone who actually cares about EDUCATION?

    What I feel these countries’ governments are doing is that they just want to get rid of their societies’ pressure by building schools and hiring teachers. For instance, our school was built in 1985 and we still have the same chairs that were used 30 years ago! Our classrooms are too crowded, but they tell us to accept things as they are. The educational level of the majority of the students is too low because they were made to pass, but the government blames us for this situation.

    Another problem we have is that of teachers who were trained to teach a certain subject but end up teaching a different one because there’s a lack of teachers of that particular subject. I have a friend who is originally a teacher of Maths, but who was forced to teach Sciences because they school had enough Maths teachers but had a shortage of science teachers. when he protested, he was told to just keep the kids in the classroom and read to them from the book!!!!

    Now let me get to the point where you mentioned the teachers’ rant about their right of pursuing higher studies. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for any person in the world to seek ways to develop professionally and financially. When teachers start working, it doesn’t take them a long time to realize the profession will not satisfy their basic needs. Thus, many teachers start thinking of escalating the social status by getting promoted. If, as a teacher, you wait for your promotion the “normal way,” you might have to wait for TWENTY years to move from a $500/month salary to a $650/month salary. But if you have a higher degree, you can do that in 2 years! So, this is why many teachers, including myself, are interested in pursuing their studies.

    And YES! Education IS a right. The UNESCO states that “Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights.” The “Right To Education” article on Wikipedia states that “The right to education is a universal entitlement to education, recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a human right that includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally by the progressive introduction of free higher education.”

    The point I’m trying to make here is that by building schools and hiring teachers, governments do try to help people get educated, but that’s NOT enough to make a system work. The variables are just too many, and limiting them to schools and teachers is a defective and incomplete approach. It’s like saying that giving kids money and keeping them under a roof is what good parenting is all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Wow, Amseghir, thank you for these extensive comments. One thing I did not know is that the government imposes universal pass rates in primary schools. Now I finally understand how so many students can arrive in middle school still not knowing much of anything, particularly in rural areas. Regarding free university education, honestly, I feel jealous that developing countries can provide that, when even in America, we can’t. Some people even take decades to be able to pay off their steep loans for a college education. You make excellent points, and have given me material here from which to write several new articles. Thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail!


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