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Reimagining the future of education in Jordan

Jan 23,2022 - Last updated at Jan 23,2022

By Wajih Owais and Min Jeong Kim

Today, as the world commemorates the fourth International Day of Education under the theme “Changing Course, Transforming Education”, Jordan’s education system is still dealing with the consequences of a global pandemic that is still very much affecting learners across the Kingdom. 

It is widely acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has had adverse effects on development gains and has exacerbated pre-existing challenges in the education sector; with Jordan being no exception. 

Almost two years after an entire generation of Jordanian students, children and adolescents have had to grapple with such a wide-scale disruption to their education, and overall well-being, it may appear premature to think about concepts of change, and transformation under these exceptional and unprecedented circumstances.  

But with crisis comes opportunity. An important chance to build back better, and reimagine key pillars of our society, such as our education system.

To seize this opportunity, reimagining the Jordanian education system must be done based on two foundational principles, as highlighted in UNESCO’s global report on the Futures of Education released last November. 

First, we must continue to ensure that the fundamental right to quality education as established in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is maintained at all cost. 

Jordan has enshrined the right to education under Article 20 of its Constitution, stating that “Basic education shall be compulsory for Jordanians and free of charge in government schools”. Strong national commitments to maintain the right to education during the COVID-19 pandemic have been made such as enabling opportunities for education through distance learning, and effectively preparing schools for reopening with guidance and training for teachers, the availability of hygiene and sanitation materials in schools, in addition to physical distancing and rotation. An Education During Emergency Plan (EDEP) was developed to address both immediate and longer term challenges to ensure continuity of equitable access to quality education, for instance to address the digital divide through an ED-Tech Strategy. 

Yet, during the recent mid-term review of Jordan’s Education Strategic Plan (ESP), which was concluded in December 2021, and included an assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector, it is clear that despite the important efforts made by the government to quickly respond to the shock of the pandemic, gains made by Jordan over the years in access, equity and quality education are still at risk due to the impact of COVID-19, with increased risk for children from low-income households, children with special needs and refugee children. The early signals on learning and equity losses due to the pandemic are alarming, and stronger priority and mainstreaming of remedial education approaches within public schools is now needed.  

Second, as we think about the future of education, strengthening the education system as a public endeavour and common good is necessary. This is precisely what the Ministry of Education has embarked on doing with partners, such as UNESCO, and with support of key donors such as Canada, GIZ, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, to strengthen evidence-based policy making, and strategic planning at the Ministry of Education, and to ensure that the Jordanian education system is responsive and resilient to crisis, while guaranteeing that inclusion and diversity in education is maintained, in line with the 10-year strategy for inclusive education.  

In December 2021, under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, and with the support of UNESCO, and its International Institute for Education and Planning, a two-day policy dialogue with MoE officials, partners and national stakeholders was successfully concluded to discuss the findings of the ESP mid-term review, and to reach collective agreements and recommendations for adjustments to the plan, while addressing national key priorities as outlined in the Human resource development strategy. In order to do so, MoE and national stakeholders had to answer key questions, such as what should we continue doing, and prioritising in the education sector in Jordan? What should we abandon? And what needs to be done differently?

The conclusions of this exercise are clear. The education sector in Jordan has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we must change course and find new solutions to education challenges we are facing. This includes further engagement with the private sector to support education infrastructure, and services, including human resources, as well as further investment in risk and crisis management. 

Some of the government’s immediate top priorities to this effect will be to develop a financially and technically sustainable public-private partnership model to enroll more children in early childhood education to give all children a strong foundation for development and learning. At the same time, the Ministry of Education, will also work on restructuring education pathways after grade 9, to provide viable post-basic education opportunities to empower youth with the needed skills for the Jordanian labour market. The establishment of a crisis and risk management unit at the ministry, and the development of a comprehensive, and decentralised crisis and disaster management plan for the education sector is being prioritised.

Of course, meeting our ambitious goals will require strong and inclusive dialogue, cooperation and partnership, as well a concerted financial commitment over the years. This is equally important to help Jordan meet the targets under goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to, ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ by 2030. 

In crisis, all the way to recovery, providing quality education for all will require that the necessary transformations and actions are implemented across Jordan, to realise every child and youth their fundamental right to education and to build a more sustainable, inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful society.

Wajih Owais is Jordan’s minister of Education. Min Jeong Kim is UNESCO representative to Jordan

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