Arab educators gather in Amman

11-05-2013 10:50 AM

Ammon News - By Ali al-Rawashdah/ Al Shorfa

Arab officials and ministers from 16 countries explored ways to boost the education sector across the Arab world at the Arab Education Summit, held May 6th-8th in Amman.

Participants called for increased use of advancements in information technology and communications in Arab education and for greater focus to be placed on vocational education.

They also highlighted the need to improve the level and skill set of Arab teachers and to allocate a larger portion of state budgets to education.

Several Arab education ministers spoke at the event, organised by ArabBrains, an organisation that aims to connect innovative Arabs across the Arab world and beyond.

Despite strides made over the past decades, Lebanon's education sector still suffers from being underfinanced, said Lebanese caretaker minister of higher education Hassan Diab.

"The education sector in Lebanon receives no more than 8% of the overall budget and is allocated mostly to things like salaries, which does not give an opportunity to invest in or develop the sector's infrastructure," Diab said.

Lebanon has only one state university, with 70,000 students enrolled, compared to the private sector which has more than 45 higher education institutions where 300,000 students are enrolled, he said.

In Libya, the higher education sector has witnessed strong progress over the past 60 years, according to Bashir Eshteiwi, Libya's deputy minister of higher education and scientific research.

"The first university in Libya was built in the 1950s, and now there are 13 Libyan state universities and seven private universities, all of which provide education for 300,000 students," Eshteiwi said. "There are 91 technical institutes attended by 71,000 students, which shows the importance of improving the output of educational institutions."

"The Libyan government strives to adhere to high levels of global standards at these universities and technical institutes, in addition to matching higher education outputs with Libyan job market demands," he said.

Eshteiwi said he hopes plans to complete an IT infrastructure will prove successful, in order to connect universities via a modern communications network and build "virtual" educational sessions that rival the world's most advanced applications.

Iraqi deputy minister of education Adnan al-Najjar said the education sector in his country suffers from a weak infrastructure.

"In some schools, there are three teaching shifts a day in addition to overcrowded classes," he said.

Al-Najjar called for local and foreign investment in the education sector and said Iraq has begun supplying schools with IT labs and developing curricula and training teachers so they can keep abreast of such developments.

In regard to developing curricula, Iraq aims to build a unified culture based on co-existence among different sects and focus on highlighting the common features of these sects, he said.

Oman has seen huge gains in the education sector over the past 50 years, according to deputy minister of education and education planning Saud Salim al-Balushi.

In this period, the country has gone from three public schools with 300 students and 50 teachers to the current 1,042 schools with 500,000 students and 60,000 teachers, he said.

On average, there are 27 students in each class and a computer for every 11 students, with a total of 50 computers per school, he said.

"There are now interactive [online] courses and high speed internet in public schools as a culture of electronic education gradually spreads throughout schools," he said.


The summit was a chance to bring together the education and IT sectors to discuss how to best develop teaching methodologies using IT solutions, according to Cole Clark, global vice president of education solutions and work research at Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation.

It is crucial to "face the difficulties of controlling virtual learning environments", he told Al-Shorfa, adding that this challenge might emerge "if virtual learning comes rapidly to the Middle East".

Abdul Majeed Shamlawi, executive director of Intaj the Information and Communications Association of Jordan said the summit "brought to light the size of the gap between Arabic education sectors and those in developed countries".

Arab sectors "focus on the traditional concept of building schools and universities while in first world countries, information technology and advanced applications like smartphones are used in education", he said.

He called on Arab countries to adopt such applications, especially those that promote virtual learning, "rather than use the excuse of the high cost of such technologies to avoid them".

"They are actually cheaper than the infrastructures of traditional schools and universities," he added.

During summit events, Shamlawi said, he noticed a shift in the mentality of leading educators in the region.

The education sector has become more open to the new revolution in e-learning, he said. Since Arabic digital content on the internet has increased exponentially in the last decade, educators cannot make the excuse that it is a weak medium, has limited applications or that internet connectivity is low across the Arab world, he said.

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