BRIDGING THE EDUCATION GAP
Once a world leader in medicine, mathematics and science, the Arabic–speaking world today struggles to meet the education, health and societal needs of its citizens. Brutal conflicts have left millions out of school and add more pressure to schools systems in host countries that are now running shift schemes for local and refugee children. As SAT‑7 launches its SAT–7 ACADEMY education channel this September, we consider some of the important “education gaps” in the Arab world.
According to the United Nations Development Program, school systems in the Arab world perform poorly in productivity and quality against international standards. Schools, especially in rural areas, are overcrowded and underequipped, teachers lack training and children leave school with low levels of literacy and numeracy.
True, the region has its high flyers. But most come from wealthier families and attended private or international schools. Many countries have two-or three-tier systems with only the top tier offering high quality schooling. For example, SAT‑7 blogger Nancy says that schools in Egypt fall into three categories: free public schools, language schools requiring modest fees, and expensive international schools.
“Our public schooling system has been suffering for decades,” she says. “Teachers are very poorly paid, work in very poor conditions, and most have never been taught to respect students. Students who don’t follow the rules face corporal punishment and humiliation.”
While the language schools are better, they focus largely on memorisation so that students can regurgitate the “correct” answers and pass to the next grade. Only the international schools concentrate on “instilling critical thinking skills and building character”.
With factors like these in mind, SAT‑7 ACADEMY will aim to do far more than teach basic literacy and numeracy to children.
“Children need to be taught to think for themselves, be equipped and encouraged to question, to be creative and to learn basic life skills,” says SAT‑7 founder Dr Terence Ascott. “The concept is more holistic and much more concerned about the values, attitudes and character of the next generation in the Arab world. It is concerned to see them grow up well and to shape a much more inclusive, creative and democratic society.”
When SAT‑7’s Needle and New Thread programme tackled the Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt, one caller stressed the importance of education in countering extremism. Kareem said, “Education and teaching young children is the basis where we should start to promote love, forgiveness and tolerance. Children are being taught at a young age to hate the other. This creates hatred, violence and consequently terrorism.”
Involving parents will be essential to promoting the growth in critical thinking and values–based education that SAT‑7 wants to see. Nancy’s observations about parents in Egypt explain why: “The pressures in our education system are intensified by parents who place the grades their children acquire [above] any knowledge or learning attained. Children are often punished, and humiliated when they fail to achieve high scores.”
Parents have needs
Parents have educational needs too. The devastating wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya that have displaced and deprived millions of children of an education affect their parents in other ways. Some tell us how they are watching our My School English programms simply to learn a language that will be useful to them. But physical and mental health issues can also be huge and access to healthcare is often very difficult. Refugee parents can feel overwhelmed by the demands they face and the lack of social and government support structures they once had.
The challenges faced by adults and children across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) bring about significant needs. Parents need support to create the best environment for their children. Families displaced by war need the knowledge and skills to rebuild their lives. SAT‑7 makes God’s love visible by providing programs that challenge, inform, and educate – for life.