Education in the Arab Countries – Part Four

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Hasan A. Yahya , a writer from Palestine

Reform of education is a long-term process that requires focused objectives, perseverance in their implementation, and the application of the knowledge gained from the experiences of others. Much like successful economic development, reform should incorporate successful practices. There is no shame in this whatsoever; to improve its business management styles, the U.S. imported practices from Japan.

Several Arab countries have experimented with different types and styles of educational institutions. These experiences must be shared and reviewed in an open-minded way to adopt the best for a particular local setting. It is important to note that although Arabs constitute only about 20% of all Muslims, they set the trend and wield a great deal of influence. Modernizing Arab education would reverberate throughout the rest of the Islamic world.

In so doing we must study cases of education reform in developing countries that have reshaped their workforce in record time. These cases include countries of varied sizes, such as Korea and India, or varied political systems, such as China and Costa Rica. They also encompass largely Islamic countries with varied cultural characteristics, such as Malaysia and Turkey. The objective is not to mimic any one of the cases, but to learn how to implement reforms in the most efficient way.

In terms of the emphasis on education topics and paths, the experience of the West must be taken into consideration. Relatively small countries like Ireland and Finland have made vast advances by educating their workforce in modern science and technology. This has elevated them to leadership positions in innovation and production, raising their per capita income. Today, Finland exports products whose monetary value is equal to the exports, apart from oil and gas, of all twenty-two Arab countries.

Western countries should be willing and eager to help the Arab region become knowledgeable and partake of the modern world. This helps to ease the pressure of migration of vast numbers of youth from the region to Europe. It also ameliorates the potential for the growth of radicalism, which threatens the whole world. It further allows the West to benefit from Arab minds in the global renaissance of knowledge, which knows no borders. A leading role in this must be played by the United States.

U.S. education enjoys much respect in the Arab world thanks to the reputation of motivated Americans who elected to live in Arab countries as educators. In addition, the U.S. is held in esteem as the world leader in science and technology since the time of the first Apollo lunar landing mission of thirty-five years ago.

American educational institutions are universally popular through two tangible and visible ways: First, the presence of the American University campuses in Cairo, Beirut, Sharjah, etc. Second, it is commonly perceived that the vast majority of the most prominent local educators, government officials, intellectuals and successful businessmen and women are the products of American education.

To capitalize on these perceptions, the State of Qatar has recently decided to spend much of the country’s wealth from oil and gas on education and health. Starting in 1996 the Qatar Academy was established, followed by the Academic Bridge Program to prepare graduates of local and regional high schools for high caliber university education. Qatar then invited several U.S. universities to establish schools there, including Cornell, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M, and Carnegie-Melon. The trend of benefiting from U.S. education continues by reforming the government run Qatar University. It serves as a reminder that U.S. educational institutions can venture into the Arab region without fear of loss of funds or of compromising admission criteria or the quality of the offered curricula. (618 words) www.askdryahya.com


–          Khaled al-Maeena, “A Report which Should Open Arab Eyes,” Arab News, July 5, 2002.

–          Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, quoted in a U.N. press release, “U.N. Human Development Report Finds Arab Countries Lagging Behind,” July 3, 2002.

–          http://www.escwa.org.lb/information/press/un/2002/july/3.html.

–          Sal-ama A. Salama, “Facing Up to Unpleasant Facts,” Al-Ahram Weekly, July 11-17, 2002.

–          Thomas L. Friedman, “Arabs at the Crossroads,” The New York Times, July 3, 2002.

–          Robert Fisk, “UN Highlights Uncomfortable Truths for Arab World,” The Independent, July 3, 2002.

–          Victor Davis Hanson, “A Ray of Arab Candor,” City Journal (Online), July 3, 2002, at http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_7_3_02vdh.html.

–          Al-Jazeerah English

–          BBC Arabic Reports