Monday, March 15, 2010

Education in Jordan

y Gail Burkhardt
Edited by Alexandru Cristea

Students in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are taking advantage of opportunities they never had before as the government and outside agencies work together to reform Jordan’s education system. Loans, grants, donations and government money fund and support a wide range of initiatives that focus on technology, curriculum changes, teacher training and school building improvements. Many of the initiatives began within the past 10 years.

In 2003, the Education Reform for Knowledge Economy (ERfKE) program began with a $60 million loan from the World Bank. Firyal Aqel, who spoke with us from Amman, said Jordanian Ministry of Education officials worked to change the country’s national school curriculum in the first phase of the program, partly using models from other countries such as the United States. Firyal Aqel is the executive director of the development coordination unit at the Ministry of Education in Amman, the country’s capital. The program’s first phase ended in 2009 and received a satisfactory rating from the World Bank.

Along with being an educational model, the United States provides financial and other support to education reform to Jordan including ERfKE.

“It’s for the United States’ interest to be in Jordan and develop its citizens and make sure the education system is strong. You can see that a lot of what Jordan is aspiring to do and change has already happened in the U.S.,” said Nour Abu Al-Ragheb, a Jordanian education specialist for United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is based in Amman. Aqel said that during ERfKE’s first phase, the Ministry of Education focused on early childhood education because prior to the program there were no public preschools. ERfKE helped implement preschool programs in the poorest areas of the country where residents cannot afford to send their children to private preschool.

According to USAID’s Web site, in Jordan, children go through two years of preschool, 10 years of compulsory education, and two more years of vocational training.

In phase two of the project, which will last six years, the Ministry will further develop curriculum as well as focus on special education and teacher training. ERfKE also will continue to build and renovate schools over the next 10 years, in addition to the 157 schools it built and 600 schools it renovated in phase one of the project, Aqel said. Meanwhile, the director of Madrasati Initiative in Amman, Danah Dajani, said that for the country’s more than 3,200 schools, there is about $2 million budgeted for infrastructure, which leaves the schools lacking funds for renovation and other programs such as technology and extracurricular activities. Madrasati means “our school” in Arabic.

“[Madrasati employees] go in, see what’s wrong and then talk to the school body to see what they need in terms of repairs,” Dajani said.

Dajani said the program, which was founded by Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah in April 2008, currently serves more than 200 schools in the central and northern region of Jordan and will add 100 schools to the south in April. She added that the program relies on donations from outside companies and aid agencies. The donations are not always monetary; some companies donate their products while others donate their time

“The private sector sort of component is very important beyond the money it’s also providing the exposure,” she said.

Dajani said that through the Madrasati volunteer program, mostly university student volunteers come to the schools to teach art, drama, music and sports to the students who would not have had these opportunities.

Madrasati and ERfKE collaborate with nonprofit organization Jordan Education Initiative (JEI) to provide technology to the schools.

Abu Al-Ragheb said it is important to put technology into renovated schools, because other schools may not have adequate electricity to support computers or the Internet.

Haif Bannayan, the chief executive officer of JEI said USAID provides JEI with 60 percent of its funding and support. Currently JEI, which is based in Amman, works with 102 schools with a budget of roughly $50,000 per school, he said. Other than monetary support, partner companies donate their resources. For example, Smart Technologies donated about 70 interactive whiteboards to schools in Jordan, Bannayan said.

Bannayan said the technology, such as the boards, computers and the Internet, gives Jordanian students a quality education and prepares them to use technology in higher education

“I don’t think you can a good education without good technology,” Bannayan said.

Abu Al-Ragheb said the new technology also changes classroom structure and teaching methods, which can be a challenge for teachers who have not worked with technology before. In Jordan, many teachers are viewed as the sole source of information in the classroom, but education reform is making classrooms more student-centered.

“We’ve seen teachers that have changed so much because they got it. They were able to change and see how it’s much better and it’s much more rewarding,” she said of educators adapting to a new teaching style.

JEI, ERfKE and Madrasati plan to continue to expand in the coming years and USAID plans to stay in Jordan to help implement more programs. For now, those involved in the programs are proud of how they have improved education for Jordanian children.

“Most of the students in these poor areas always said they wanted to work for the government in a civil servant type job or be a teacher it was what they always saw… now when you ask some will say graphic designer or aeronautical engineer,” Dajani said. “They are exposed to more self-confidence; they can do it.”

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