Friday, April 04, 2008

Educational reform, Jordanian style

Parliament recently amended the education law. The amendments included a controversial ban on so-called cultural centers from teaching students ministry of education curricula.

Students go to these centers to improve their chances in getting good grades on the dreaded tawjihi (high school exit) examination. The tawjihi is a pivotal point in the lives of Jordanians. Their prospects for education and work are made or broken depending on this test. It is not surprising that students would want to try and get any edge they can, and they are willing to pay for this extra edge.

So, why does this bother the ministry of education? On his justification for amending the law, the minister of education said simply that teaching the education curricula is the job of schools, and not these centers. He added that “some” of these centers distorted the curricula, requiring this ban. Other justifications included the charge that the centers discouraged teachers from giving their best in the class room, as these same teachers often also work at the cultural centers. He said that this is not fair to students who do not go to the centers.

Without going into the response of the cultural centers themselves, I would say that perhaps the ministry of education needs some instruction on simple problem solving techniques. Let’s say that the fact that students for some reason are not learning at ministry of education schools. Now, since the ministry also does the tawjihi, they can control perceptions on how well they are doing their job by simply adjusting the results to improve success rates. No problem. It is no wonder that the ministry is reluctant to abolish this backward examination. They don’t want universities running entrance examinations.

But the students know that they aren’t learning well, and they don’t want to trust the MoE to pass them. So, they either go to the cultural centers, or the more financially able get private tutors. Now, this is embarrassing. The idea that 80,000 students need extra help to learn the ministry curricula is a clear indication that there is something terribly wrong.

Now, what is the problem? The reaction of the ministry suggests that they are embarrassed by their demonstrable failure being exposed (they are not embarrassed by the failure itself). So, to rid themselves of this embarrassment, they deal with the symptoms (the cultural centers) rather than with the problem (their teaching is poor). The assumption that teachers will start teaching better if they are prevented from also teaching at the cultural centers is tenuous at best. I mean, maybe the teachers have a vested interest in their students paying them to do a good job (because their salaries are low). However, it doesn’t follow that if you lower their standard of living they will do a better job. Moreover, the ministry could simply prevent their teachers from teaching at the cultural centers, without shutting the centers down.

Of course, this is assuming that improving teaching is the primary concern in the first place. If that is the case, many other things need to be done. The government knows exactly what these are. They will cost money. Shutting down these centers is a much cheaper option.


At 8:28 PM, Blogger Tala said...

What i know is that students go to these centers because the instuctors are more familiar with the kind of questions that will come in the test "i dont knw how" the problem is that the student wants grades not understanding otherwise you will see students studying in centers in earlier levels, the teacher wants money, many teachers work in 3 schools as a freelance "Tawjihi" subject teacher and gives guarantees to private schools administration that they will hit the records with highest grades this year in addition to private tutoring, you dont really get to build a student/teacher understanding or genuine care for what they are learning rather than shifting to totally different method of teaching in the last two years. instead of understanding a subject it is requred to literally learn exact procedures to apply when you face certain type of question in a standard form of answer, and this phenomenon extends to universities when they study past papers and go to centers to teach them the type of questions to expect in international exams ccna for example. but come to think of it, is this knowledge? BIG NO

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those centres, the one i attended in the summer vacation before my Tawjeehy provided those 16 year old spoty kids with a chance to meet with their dreaded teachers in an informal way and meeting with some other Tawjeehites from other schools. Furthermore, i still, to this day, remember the cotton legs of the two sisters in the second floor above a shop owned by a man who made a fortune mending metal contairs to be used to get water from wells or to be used in Jableh. Markaz Al Hashemy Al Thaqafy closure in Irbid will affect not only its owners but also Cafeteria El Shabab and Al Sharq Konafeh.

e goverment

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a smart move at all. Actually, it's a very stupid move if I may say so.

I can see the conflict in interest for a teacher that teaches both at a school and at a center, but I don't think this means that a blanket ban on teaching tawjeehi curriculum in centers is correct.

I think the law should state that teachers should teach equal hours at the school and at the center and they should be instructed to teach the same material.

This way there would be no reason for someone who goes to a school that teacher X teaches in to enroll in that teacher's class at an outside center, while students who don't go to that school can enroll in the center to benefit from that teacher's expertise.

Is this going to affect current Tawjeehi students?

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Tala: The educational system rewards rote learning and discourages innovative thinking and learning of real world skills. The students don't want to learn because nobody is challenging them or rewarding them for their curiosity. Teachers are underpaid and unappreciated. Parents only want their kids to achieve a high mark. In the end, the students have to play by the rules set by the system, the teachers and the parents. Kids are not genetically different from previous generations, but how they are being treated is leading to a disinterest in learning and an obsession with grades. Closing the cultural centers will not help the situation. Changing the rules of the game will.

Anon: I am not sure what your point is. You went to a bad center. Why did you keep going?

At 10:25 PM, Blogger Mohanned said...

Maybe it is just a move to add some taxes on those centers? I don't know the details of the issue, but the whole educational system needs not an overhaul but a whole reengineering effort.
And one more thing we have in jordan, every new minister starts his own policy..Instead of us having a long term plan we just deal with what we have now and let the future minister deal with whatever mess the previous one left behind. I don't want to sound repetitive but unless there is true accountability then nothing will happen.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger Tala said...

anonymous 2,

if the teaching in the center is the same for the schools then there should not be a problem, but its no way possible, now take math for example in the scientific stream, if you look at the curriculum, its a combination of calculus 1 and calculus 2 merged together, when the ministry sets the questions for the exam, they ask college professors to write them down and mainly its from the calculus book taught at college, now the type of questions in the exam requires more than what does the book suggest. thats why teachers in centers start articulating on how many difficult set of problems can they expose the student to before the exam, so he wouldnt waste time trying to figure how to solve it, (the main point is that students learn procedures by heart) so they will give 2 hours 3 days a week class to explain and practice as much as possible and giving extra problems something like 200 problems a section. so when a regular student at school sees these notebooks, he will end up signing up there because you know, you need 94% to be an IT, Engineering, Med School student at JU.

and after this student becomes a JU student you can still feel a gap in his understanding to calculus, because he learned how to become a calculator without understanding the theorem of calculus.

both cases, still banning the centers is indeed stupid.


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