An oxygen deficiency and a blackout in education

Nabeel Abu Ata
Nabeel Abu Ata (Photo: Jordan News)
There is nothing worse than being denied a farewell to a perishing relative on their deathbed, let alone when the cause of death is medical negligence. Many in Jordan would make a case that the oxygen crisis at “Al-Salt Hospital” last March has — ironically — become a breath of hope for the reform of the public-health sector; before the level of devastation hit new highs on the infamous “Blackout Friday.”اضافة اعلان

Notwithstanding the dire need for change, Jordanians must refuse superficial reforms that do not tackle root causes. Such groundless reforms will be disaster camouflaged.

A closer look at the initial indictment list against the defendants in Al-Salt Hospital reveals grave mistakes that do not relate to the medical field, but more accurately, to the culture and education of those standing trial. The experts’ testimony used by the prosecutor office to file charges clearly alludes to the lack of skills in time management, meter reading assessments, demand and supply estimation, emergency preparedness, and most importantly a lack of physical presence at the workstation. All of which are not privileged “know-how” earned at elite medical, engineering, or nursing schools! Those are basic skills and work ethic taught throughout school years regardless of specialties.

Similarly, for the blackout incident, and despite the substantial government effort to evade accountability, there is a well-established public conviction that there was significant human error in failing to forecast and monitor the grid’s frequency synchronization that caused the power outage.

The public outrage at the civil service system, which staffs public institutions with ineligible personnel (on a first-in-the queue first-appointed basis), and which awards a lifetime of impunity to performance assessments or dismissal, is totally justified; Still, it is not the root cause of the problem.

There is a consensus that the primary reason behind the deteriorating public sector is the low quality of education, coupled with an apathetic culture that has plagued Jordanians at large.

Let us face it, education in Jordan needs surgical intervention leading to a reinvention and cannot survive on piecemeal reforms, which do not tackle the root cause of the problem: educators’ aptitude and the relevance of schools’ curricula.

In a country that boasts about its super young population of 2,145,000 students, attending 7,000 schools, the ministry of education failed to allocate more than 1 percent of its JD1,056,337,000 budget to capital expenditure; only allotting JD8 million of that to equipping classrooms with technical instruments. This quick glance at the budget leaves no doubt that the ministry’s main concern are the salaries of the teachers and the capacity of classrooms, not the excellence in education!

A candid discussion about education policies and ministerial budgets cannot be invisible to the political dimension embodied by the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement on appointing public school teachers since the 1950s, when the state welcomed their role to help fend off a tide of communism. The outcome of this long marriage of convenience resulted in the dominance of the movement over the teachers’ syndicate, a body of 135,000 men and women who have politicized their dissent with government policies and held the longest strike in the history of Jordan. The strike would not end before an unconditional increase in salaries was granted, casting-off any performance evaluation criteria to establish a merit-based raise.

It takes plenty of courage in the face of land-sliding public sympathy, to hold the majority of these teachers responsible for the diminishing comparative advantage and declining rankings on all “quality of education” indicators, but more essentially, the poor cultural upbringing of numerous generations.

In the absence of political action or an academic-led movement to adopt serious national discourse that does not only list shortcomings or praise a successful “Scandinavian” model; it seems that only Her Majesty Queen Rania has presented an overarching blueprint for reform. Focusing on empowering teachers and improving educational outcomes, the Queen Rania Foundation’s executive plan proved to be a relevant design aimed at reinventing education on the national level and localizing best practices.

The Foundation launched The Teacher’s Academy in 2016 to steer a much-needed independent assessment and certification program that ended up, informally, shaping the ministry’s career-path evaluation criteria. Furthermore, the Queen has capitalized on the outcomes of the National Human Resources Development Commission, which laid the building blocks of many changes in the national curricula and the way we invest in human capital.

This effort has triggered a grudge among the conservative camp led by the prominent Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian advocate Saleh Armouti who cynically questioned the modus operandi, influence, and finances of the Teachers Academy in 2018, mistakenly naming it “Queen Rania Center for Training and Advancement.” The Queen, unflinching, wittedly mocked the mistake in an unusual tweet and eloquently proclaimed her staunch leadership of this critical reform.

Building on that incident, the instigators of the 2019 Teachers’ Strike centered their arguments on the Teachers’ Academy. This time, the Queen broke her silence about the criticism in an open-hearted letter published in Al-Rai newspaper, in which she questioned whether her 26-year record of public service in child protection and improving the living standards for families was not adequately evident of her good intentions! The Queen concluded with a reaffirmation of her pride in the academy and factually refuted the rumors of profit making and property ownership.

There is a tacit identification but not a verbatim confession that the country’s education system is at a crossroads between two opposing agendas — that of the progressives and the conservatives. The progressive agenda promotes global human values, highlights local culture, underlines the tolerant principles of Islam while focusing on digitization, coding, hands-on experimenting, entrepreneurship, leadership in class, early-childhood integration, equal access to education, parental involvement, inclusion, and diversity.

The opposing agenda, adopted by the conservatives, aims to maintain the style of indoctrination that emphasizes patriarchy and strives to affix religious script to every topic in all textbooks. Also, and under the pretext of countering western influence and conserving the traditional society values, this agenda discounts enterprising education, belittles music, sports and cultural programs, disapproves of gender equity initiatives, and typecasts women in limited professional roles in society.

The current calls for political and public sector reform are more likely going to entice novice conservative voices and clergy-influenced politicians to flex their muscles on the education sector, leading to more damage. It is imperative that the progressives of Jordan come together to form a political party with the reinvention of education as its core program. The program should embrace the innovative plans already introduced by The Queen Rania Foundation to contrive a functional education system, paralleled with robust governance, clear inclusion measures, and sustainable budgetary guidelines.

“The Academy” is a suitable name for such a political party that should embark on canvasing and rallying Jordanians behind its mandate when it announces its candidates for the next parliamentarian election.  Perhaps only then, will Jordanians shake off their apathy towards elections to determine which path this country shall take in the next centennial — that of the “Academy” or the “Syndicate”!

Unlike the state of alarm raised by an oxygen shortage in a hospital or a nationwide blackout, the decay of education’s quality is perpetual and there are no loud sirens announcing it. We can only suffer the results in our factories, universities, businesses, parliament, and other institutions, while getting confused over accountability for so long.

 It is time for “The Academy.”

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