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Rethinking education

Feb 14,2019 - Last updated at Feb 17,2019

Unemployment and underemployment are on the rise in Jordan. Multiple gaps of knowledge and skills are among the many factors that hinder youth’s economic and social mobility, as well empowerment.

Why have our educational institutions struggled with meeting emerging requirements on how knowledge and skills are shared and disseminated among youth in public schools and universities?

There are, clearly, many answers to this key question.

One of which is the economic downturn that has negatively affected the quality of educational services, resources and tools, and that has stalemated the pace of reciprocity between the constituency and stakeholders in the educational sector on the one hand, and the exponentially changing ecology of learning on the other.

Another is the overall deficit of leadership and vision at the various levels in the educational institutions. The intellectual exodus into Gulf countries in the last three decades and the local migration of competent staff from the educational sector into alternative high-wage sectors had all contributed to scarcity of competent teachers as well as administrators, thus depriving the sector of quality human resources.

A third answer, which is not getting enough attention, is what American professor and cultural theorist Donna Haraway calls “informatics of domination”, namely the turning of students into recipient and passive learners through the educational hierarchical system that shapes the “positioning” of the learners to be recipient and passive learners.

A fourth answer is the emergence of multiple gaps that are penetrating the deep and surface structures of education to generate more nuances, pitfalls and paradoxes in the educational paradigm.

Then there is the matter of gaps. First is the gap between private and public education. This has, and unfairly so, expedited the rootedness of social stratification, triggered by the huge gap of quality education and resources between private schools and public schools.

The gap between societal needs and labour force demands and the output of schools and universities is another alarming gap. Another problematic gap is the one between the competence and the performance of learners, since knowledge earned in public schools and universities is, in most cases, not transferable into psychomotor skills or experiential and active education.

This century, where walls are falling apart and obliterating material and immaterial boundaries, is disrupting all traditional structures and patterns and encouraging the reproducibility of new modes of learning and thinking in a world transformed into an infinite galaxy of polymorphous information networks. Learning does not simply happen within an individual but within and across networks, according to the "connectivism" theory.

The “deterritorialisation” of the learning environment, which was limited to the compartmentalised schools and universities, is diversified to be inclusive of multiple spaces of networks of learning.

For all of this, there is a real necessity to rethink learning in our schools as per the new emerging lived realities of the so-called millennials and “digital natives”. Their ways of learning in a diversified open space of communication, knowledge and information are presupposing the restructuring of the learning environment, making it inclusive, collaborative, creative and decentralised.

Technology as a tool of learning can turn into a hindrance if not employed efficiently and effectively. Digital gamification of sciences can be an opportunity for learning or a serious threat. The smartphone is now considered by some scientists to be an extended “brain” of the learner: if it is not managed smartly and effectively, it will form new negative pathways in the learner's mind. To this end, any transformation should be carefully designed, operated and implemented.

Other efforts should be invested in disrupting and eventually busting the regulatory focus of society on some old myths: the myth of the supremacy of sciences over humanities and social sciences, the myth of the centrality of the academic track over the vocational track, the myth of theoretical learning over field-related, cooperative learning and the myth of "serious and disciplinary learning" over learning driven by active education and positive psychology.

None of this has been operationally implemented in our public schools, or even in most of our universities.

Currently, what is highly needed is building and enhancing the learner’s ownership of the tools of his/her own proactive life-long learning, of his/her ability to navigate virtual spaces and regulate abundance of sources of information and knowledge to learn how to live, choose, communicate and learn.

What came to be called “Hirak Thiban”, which refers to the uprising and sit-ins of the Thiban area’s youth in Madaba Governorate, and other uprisings came to alert us to the many defects in the educational system and its inability to meet the current educational goals.

We are all paying a very high price for all the existing and emerging gaps and threats in the educational sector. Our silence is a betrayal to the youth.

Collective and collaborative efforts across public and private sectors are highly needed.

Young people are the future of Jordan. Investing in them and empowering them adequately is investing in the well-being and the future of Jordan. This is where our efforts should be channelled.


 The writer is an associate professor at the American University of Madaba and dean of the Faculty of Languages and Communication.

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