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Education that empowers Jordanians to stand on their own feet

Ruba Saqr
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.
What use is education if it fails to help vulnerable Jordanians reach the turning points they need to change their dire circumstances and, possibly, their destinies?اضافة اعلان

Reimagining the Jordanian educational system can genuinely provide disadvantaged students and the low-income communities they usually come from with the mental and psychological tools to break free from the vicious cycle of illness and poverty.

To help the vulnerable get out of the clutches of hardship and impoverishment, educators have a moral duty to embrace creative and critical thinking in order to solve the real-world problems of marginalized youth and children.

It is quite daunting that at-risk children and teenagers are expected to waste 12 years of their lives recycling their communities’ attitudes of lack and helplessness, while being subjected to theoretical information that is completely irrelevant to their contexts and circumstances.

Lamentably, such informational spoon-feeding is mistakenly promoted as “education”. In a country that seeks economic and political reform, education needs to be reengineered in a multitude of ways to convert it from a broken machine into a vehicle for real social and economic change.

Stuffing young students’ brains with useless data is a road to nowhere. Education needs to stop recreating the gloomy scenario of vulnerable schoolboys and girls returning from school to their rundown homes only to face a harsh reality, and probably violence and abuse by the often frustrated or mentally ill adults in their lives.

It makes no sense for schoolteachers, in their classic aloofness and one-track mindedness, to require vulnerable and weak children to learn pointless data (by heart) about things that will never matter to them, when those poor children could barely muster the strength to fend for themselves in hostile environments eroded by ignorance and poverty.

Can information that gets deleted from the students’ brains the minute they step out of the exam room change their lives for the better?

Lackluster education that neglects giving students wings is a waste of valuable time. Rooted in fatalism, it is a channel for reproducing self-defeating prophecies, painful realities, cycles of social and domestic violence and cruelty, and mindsets stuck in notions of scarcity and deprivation.

What underprivileged children need is powerful leadership and mentorship that can help them, with kindness and empathy, move from an attitude of scarcity to a positive prosperity mindset. As such, empowering schoolchildren with practical life skills is the answer that can help them challenge, and triumph over, their bleak reality.

A drastic shift in our educational system can empower vulnerable Jordanians to turn their lives around. Rather than establishing typical mainstream schools across Jordan’s impoverished areas, why not create an alternative schooling system that offers children the tools to dream, hope and aspire for a better future?

Schools in impoverished areas need to be turned into “empowerment centers” that can transform the attitudes of small children, adolescent students and their families into psyches of resilience, productivity and hope.

Instead of futile curricula that place too much emphasis on measurement of their scholastic performance, students can be offered uncomplicated courses in Arabic, English, math, and physics without having to waste energy and time on impractical details that miss the mark.

To this end, there are three fronts to focus on: looking after the mental health of at-risk youth and improving their overall emotional and psychological resilience; providing them with soft skills (or what schools in the US call “home economics”) like family finance, writing receipts, paying bills, and staying organized; offering them a host of useful vocational skills that match their individual aspirations and abilities – such as agriculture and farming, carpentry and craftsmanship, sewing and tailoring, and hospitality and cooking.

Older students in this kind of alternative and needs-based learning environment can then graduate to advanced courses that teach them entrepreneurial skills, such as coming up with a basic business plan, writing a proposal to request financing for their small business or family-owned farm, and improving their sales and marketing skills.
Our educational system lacks this nuance. It treats classrooms as workshops for soon-to-be-forgotten facts, rather than spaces meant to inspire the youth to overcome the circumstances holding them back.
Growing the students’ potential and learning capacities will help steer children and teenagers in disadvantaged communities toward employment (or self-employment) opportunities that match their newly acquired mental, physical and psychological abilities.

Our educational system lacks this nuance. It treats classrooms as workshops for soon-to-be-forgotten facts, rather than spaces meant to inspire the youth to overcome the circumstances holding them back.

Telling children born into poverty that they have what it takes to move mountains – if they put their mind to it – is a powerful message that outweighs pushing students into an educational hierarchy that is obsessed with exams and grades.

That is why our educational strategists need to start adopting transformative learning models that can alter the learners’ convictions and behavior in positive ways. New learning models tailored to the needs of the various local communities will help teachers transcend their traditional role as mere information spreaders. This will allow them to metamorphose into emotionally intelligent mentors and motivators who can empower a new generation of optimistic, persistent, and productive members of society.
Telling children born into poverty that they have what it takes to move mountains – if they put their mind to it – is a powerful message that outweighs pushing students into an educational hierarchy that is obsessed with exams and grades.
This means that the Ministry of Education will also need to develop employment eligibility guidelines which ensure that only those with a balanced outlook on life, and the ability to inspire students, are admitted into the educational ecosystem.

Teachers who themselves are demotivated are incapable of inspiring their students to adopt positive attitudes, and should never be part of the educational sector.

Having said that, nuance and vision are the furthest thing from our government’s mind. The first announcement the Ministry of Education made in response to recently launched plans to reform the public sector was about “building more schools”. This is such a worrying indication that the upper echelons of our educational structures are trapped in a mentality of “quantity” rather than “quality”.

Like a broken record, the state and the public sector keep on recycling the same bankrupt vision that has driven our educational institutions into the ground.

We need leaders with searing vision, stamina and drive to advance the development of our learning institutions. Such talented and dedicated people are among us, but for some unknown reason, they are left untapped.

In February, former minister of youth Fares Braizat wrote an opinion column for Jordan News, titled “Radical education reform”, in which he shed light on the root problems plaguing education in Jordan.

“The role of the state in education is supposed to be enabling and skilling,” he wrote, adding that, ironically, the current educational paradigm produces “weakly skilled – yet educated – youth”.

Broadening the youth’s horizons from a very early age, and opening them up to possibilities that move beyond what they see and experience every single day of their lives can work wonders to free them from the shackles of poverty.

Nothing compares to opening the eyes of the struggling youth to the potential of a turning point. Unconventional and insightful mentorship programs can most certainly put them on a path toward turning the tide.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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