Saturday, September 28, 2013

Education for Citizenship in Arab Countries - One Perspective

Amman, Jordan (Photo Courtesy of Visit Jordan)
 Teachers in Arab countries are facing a significant transformation of their profession. In a recent Carnegie Paper by Muhammad Faour and Marwan Muasher, titled "Education for Citizenship in the Arab World", the authors explain that thus far, education reform in Arab countries has meant improvement to buildings and infrastructure, improvement of math and science test scores and bridging the gender gap.  Until now, education in the Arab world has been tightly controlled by Arab governments, and the goal of Arab education has been to preserve the ruler's grip on power. 
Thus, as Faour and Muasher state, "Whole generations in the Arab world were ingrained with the notion that allegiance to one's country means allegiance to the ruling political party, system, or leader, and that diversity, critical thinking and individual differences are treacherous" (3). With the change in governments in some Arab countries underway, the authors call for citizenship education to take a more prominent focus in all Arab educational systems so that students are taught to responsibly contribute to democratic political systems in their countries.  



Faour and Muasher express a need for teachers to "promote a classroom culture characterized by critical thinking, collaboration, and social responsibility."  They acknowledge that quality teachers and teacher training are imperative to the success of citizenship education in the Arab world.  They say that "recruitment and pre-service and in-service training for any new program in citizenship education will be challenging" (14).
            
 There are several factors to consider in regard to the transformation of Arab teachers' responsibilities.  The first and most important is the protection of teachers' rights as they are asked to launch new initiatives that involve critical thinking and the introduction of multiple perspectives in their classrooms.  Fouad and Muasher assert that this generation of potential teachers has been educated to be "docile citizens" (14) and they will fear the repercussions of inviting students to speak out and attract controversy.  Teachers may need to become aware of their own biases toward certain belief systems and values before they can comfortably allow free and fair discussions to take place in their classrooms.  Modes of research and communication must come under their review so that teachers can determine how to meet instructional goals of democratic citizenship that fit comfortably in Arab culture. They must resolve potential bias that they are introducing western values into their classrooms. 

Protest in Cairo, Egypt.
(Photo courtesy of BusinessInsider.com)
 While the authors' perspectives bring attention to the importance of education in helping individuals understand their role as citizens, they do not address the importance of values-based education in many Arab countries. Rather than introduce to Arab classrooms ideas that many will suspect are westernized perspectives on democracy, it would be better if Arab-defined democratic values were given prominence in the classroom instead.