Posts Tagged ‘Arab Generation Gap’

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

March 11, 2015

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

The Generation Gap in the Arab World

March 15, 2011

If anyone remembers the Generation Gap of the 1960’s in the United States, a similar phenomenon is now sweeping the Middle East and Arab World.

Here is an example:

Traditionally in Middle Eastern culture, women do not “date.”  A man who sees a woman he likes in the street that he is attracted to is supposed to go and propose marriage to her family before he is allowed to get to know her.  (This is one of the reasons why the incidence of cousin marriage remains relatively high–people ARE aware of birth defects caused by it; however, men are often afraid to take a chance on marrying a woman they don’t know at all.  So they settle for marrying their first cousin, whom they have been allowed to get to know in a family setting.)

Now, almost all young girls are in school with boys and talking to boys, even if they are in rural schools.

In the cities, many girls in schools are having boyfriends (which doesn’t mean they are actually dating) as in classroom romances between children.  Even if a girl doesn’t have a boyfriend, all of them have boys they “like” in the class.  Boys also have the girls they “like.”  All this starts in early elementary school.  By the time kids get into junior high and high school, kids in the richer high schools are actually dating.  In many cases, the mothers know their daughters have boyfriends, but they keep it a secret from the fathers (who tend to “go ballistic”). I n a few cases, the fathers know and don’t care, but this is very rare.

So, even girls in elementary school are having boyfriends even if they are not dating at that age.  Due to modern television programs from the West, many middle-school girls now ask their parents when they can start “dating.”  The most common answer which girls I know have recently been getting  from their parents is, “When you finish the university, and are ready to get married, then it would be OK to go out on a few dates, such as to a restaurant or a movie.”

This seems like a quite liberal idea to the parents and especially fathers who are answering in this way, as it is so much further advanced over what their generation was allowed to do (men currently in their 40’s).  Yet, to the children and teenagers, this idea seems so far behind the times as to be laughable.

So is the Generation Gap a real phenomenon?  Yes, I think it is.  It happened in America in a time of great social change; it is happening in the Middle East in a time a great social change.  In the West, the changes were driven by the pill;  and by sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

In the Middle East, the change is driven by education, particularly  of girls.  This is the first generation where girls are being educated even in rural and mountain areas.  Before, girls were kept in the house except to go to the market and public bath.  Now girls are out going to and from school every day, unsupervised and unaccompanied by their parents and family members while in school,  and free to talk with boys at school.   They have opportunities for freedom never before available to Middle Eastern girls.  So yes, the Generation Gap does exist.

Sex education is mostly absent in Middle Eastern societies (after all, no need is seen for it since girls are not supposed to be doing anything at all before they are married).  The result of this is that more out-of-wedlock pregnancies are happening.  Even pediatricians are being pro-active in bringing up the subject of birth control pills with high school girls and their mothers.

In my view, it takes at least a full generation for the Generation Gap to close a bit.  Teenagers will always want to be different from their parents, no matter how “hip” their parents were in their own time.  But this type of difference is far less than the amount of difference in a Generation Gap.  I predict that today’s Generation Gap in the Middle East will last another 30 years.

–Lynne Diligent

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