Education as the Social Issue

By Rima Hassouneh, M²GATE Instructor

I was struck that so many M²GATE cross-cultural teams chose education as their social challenge. But, really, why not? Strong education is the foundation of vital societies and their globally competitive economies.

I was also impressed by the division of time — quoted earlier in this blog by Amy Gillett — by Albert Einstein to 55 minutes of defining a problem and 5 minutes to devising its solution. Pursuing inquiry, conducting research, examining the facts and ideas “on the table” all take time and effort, but the accurate and time-efficient solution is well worth the investment. Albert Einstein proved this wisdom over and over again.

The reflections on the blog also remind me of my own education in the Middle East before coming to college in the U.S. in 1985. I was the product of the English educational system as transplanted to the Middle East (specifically, Kuwait, Dubai, and Jordan). Even in the 1970s and 1980s, innovation, intellectual rigor, and creativity were encouraged in the English-language, private middle-class schools I attended. Most public schools, on the other hand, focused on rote learning, memorization, and uncritical submission to authority. My family is large (mashaallah!), mostly living in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. My nieces and nephews — the newest generation — attend “excellent” private schools, which follow the British or U.S. educational system of fostering critical thinking skills, collaboration in cross-disciplinary teams, and research of problems and solutions. I wish no less for my nieces and nephews, of course, as I do for all other children across the world.

What troubles me is that they, like many of their peers in Jordan, have become convinced that this sound education can only be conveyed in the English language and in its setting. What also troubles me is the private school-public school divide: this robust education is generally available at private schools. The American intellectual Henry Giroux has stated that democracies can only thrive if all members of their societies are highly educated in critical-thinking and creative skills. I emphasize here that the conditions and criteria for thriving democracies apply not only to the MENA region but to the U.S. as well, and this would be very important to consider as our cross-cultural teams identify and address social problems. In the U.S. there is the phenomenon of the private school-public school divide.  Many public schools suffer from a lack of resources; to worsen matters, public education’s curricula are bound in the U.S. to standardized testing. Holistic, versatile and critical skills of the 21st century have become the domain of elite private schools. (Of course many public schools have struggled successfully against “teaching to the test,” but these schools go against the paradigm with effort and risk.)

How is the educational system’s failures in the U.S. similar to, and yet different, from those in the MENA countries? Which lessons learned in the U.S. can shed light on solutions for MENA problems? To what extent are these lessons transferable and why (not)? All this brings me back to Einstein’s allotment of the overwhelming bulk of time to defining problems.

The endeavors of M²GATE cross-cultural teams are exciting  and ambitious. The students want to change our world for the better, and I wish them great success and thank them profusely.



M2GATE partner logos (from left to right) USAID, U.S. Department of State, the Stevens Initiative and The Aspen Institute

The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

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