Computerization of Man: Education in the Arab States

The author presents his vision on the development of educational policies, through investing in educational systems and applications, that are concerned with quality rather than the quantity, due to the “significance of the quality” element in the equation of building the educated individual, and the developed country capable of solving problems and creating and developing possibilities, away from focusing on indoctrination of ideas and information, without being able to process them, or benefit from their suitability with our reality.

by Hasan Ismaik
  • Publisher – STRATEGIECS
  • Release Date – Mar 20, 2022

Amid piles of problems, worries, and pressing issues that we live as Arab states and societies, no one can deny or ignore the fact that education is the deepest hidden root from which most of these crises arise. Someone may present us statistics and figures showing the size of Arab governmental spending on school building, printing books, etc., trying to claim no responsibility on governments, while highlighting their capabilities to solve the problems of education in their countries. Not all these figures are enough, for the number of students, graduates, and even the high marks are not a proof of the quality of education, rather, they indicate the contrary sometimes. Perhaps a student gets a lot of ideas and information, without paying attention whether they are useful and suitable or not. We teach student ideas, but do not teach him to think, as if we give a student the fish but we do not teach him how to fish, and here lies the point.

Arab states vary in the schools and universities levels, but most of them still have backwardness in the educational systems, coupled with high illiteracy rates. Such backwardness and decline have elements and causes, some of which are direct that can be clearly seen in the situation of Arab schools and teachers. Other elements are indirect, related to the philosophy of the science education of in our states, where the curricula adopt prompting, and pumping large amounts of information, without paying any attention to understanding and comprehension, or in giving students curricula for thinking and analysis.

The method used in examinations, or the method of measuring the student's level, plays a role that makes the learner's goal focused on obtaining grades as many as possible, in order to reach the university, or for the purpose of showing off and keeping up appearance! This "achievement" is reached by memorizing and retrieving what is in his textbook at the real-time onto the exam paper. After graduation and facing the practical reality, we find that a student is unqualified, and he may need years of training equal - or even more - to those he spent on the study benches.

Even when some educational authorities in Arab states thought about developing and updating their curricula, they adopted what I would metaphorically call "computerization of man" or "digitization of human beings" on the grounds that computers (with high memory) are the standard of intelligence. Therefore, such educational authorities tried to make an "perfect human" similar to those machines, by stuffing humans’ memory (i.e. his mind) with an infinite amount of information, ignoring that even in smart computers, the "Processor" rather than the "Hard Drive" is the most important part therein. The way the Processor will process a set of orders input in the system it is what matters to us and makes the difference. It should be noted that an unstudied amount of these commands may cause a malfunction in the entire device, and freezes it from operating.

The situation of our educational reality cannot be compared with that of developed countries, where mathematics or physics are taught -for example- through practical applications in the first place, so that a student would acquire the skill of using it in his life. However, our Arabic curricula teach those two syllabuses in a purely theoretical form, turning a student into something like a calculator or a pre-designed engineering program. The same goes in history and geography, where excellence in these two syllabuses means to turn into something similar to Google (for instance) where it is not important to analyze, criticize, or relate historical facts and events to its mechanism of progress. Nor any demographic, natural, or ecological approach is important, in geography, to earth and what is in it. As for language education, which the developed states pay the greatest attention as a carrier of culture, sciences, and civilization, we find a deficit in communicating the core of Arabic, which is the most beautiful and difficult language. The matter that makes a student memorize the grammar, but be unable to apply them is a text on a paper, or a speech he may say. We often notice an unacceptable mix between classical and colloquial Arabic in articles and research that were reviewed and published. Similarly, many Arabic curricula may avoid explaining the physiological and biological structure of human –under different motives and pretexts- while the heads of students, and for many years of education, feel headache by the lives of fish, birds, and, plants, that students will not see in their lives.

Humanities are a different story, for where they are strictly subject to political instructions from the ruling authorities, turning the affiliation to the homeland into a loyalty to the authority. A student reiterates the authority’s slogans and objectives, and becomes saturated with its beliefs, before becoming a horn. It should be noted that the problem of Arab curricula is mainly attributed to the control of the political authorities in the educational institutions. While the task of authorities, in developed countries, is to develop a framework or general principles for the curricula that are taught, besides ensuring all what is necessary to complete the educational process to the fullest, we find that these authorities, in the developing countries, interfere in the simplest information passed by the student. Such authorities are keen to put students’ thinking in a sealed box, obliging them to think from within, prohibiting criticism and questioning, paralyzing and minimizing students’ minds. Turning them into docile human beings, alienated from their homeland, with no will, anxious, or willing to leave away from homeland restrictions at best.

In his famous novel (1984), the British author, George Orwell, talked about the totalitarian regimes, which mount monitoring screens everywhere to keep citizens under their control at every moment. He described power as “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing." No dispute that, for decades, several Arab states have been plagued by regimes that were keen to implant these monitoring screens in the minds of their sons through the curricula. The result is states, suffering from political tyranny and persistent economic problems, along with social and human backwardness, in addition to wars that barely end on their lands.

Our Arab countries are situated between two worlds -to the east and to the west- competing to make the future, without us to have any notable participation in this process. Even the traditional standards of education quality are still low in most of our states, with education spending in Arab countries not exceeding 2-4% of public spending, according to the latest statistics. While illiteracy rate touches 29.7%, according to a report by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO). At a time when the results achieved by the Asian Tiger countries, in the International Student Assessment Tests (PISA) have drawn the attention of even European countries, which in turn are distinguished with world-leading curricula.

These great results -of students of countries that have become enjoying high growth rates - drew attention to several issues related to the relationship between the education quality and its means on a hand, with the economic conditions and political stability of any country on another. Researchers concluded a set of reasons that led to high levels of education in those countries, including the community culture that enhances the ability of success of a human in any area of interest. As well as the level of teachers, the attention to their permanent training and the keenness to ensure a decent life for them. Besides benefiting from the experiences of other countries, and the collective push”, which focuses on qualifying the buildings, raising the parental awareness, and the continuous development of curricula.

To be fair, it should also be noted that some Arab states were able to achieve good results in similar tests and assessments. These states enjoy high levels of growth compared to other Arab states. This proves the imperative of interdependence and mutual relationship between education and development, as progress and prosperity improve the level of education, just as the “right” education generates economic growth. To awareness and recognition of this, by the educational authorities in some Arab countries, is an important factor in defining the features of the next phase. Particularly in countries that suffered wars and conflicts in recent years, that have had enormous effects on their education sector, both qualitatively and qualitatively, and have deprived large numbers of children of the minimum of the right in education, the matter that is threatening their present and future as well.

Unfortunately, Many Arab youths show academic and practical excellence abroad, for example in Europe and America, where the education environment allows unleashing and investing the capacities, because Europe and the US are prepared on the basis of education that simulates the reality and need of these countries, together with training, qualification, and skills development. The same is unlike how it is the Arab states, which their labor market is on the counter side to their educational and training curricula - if any. Thus, a student finishes his education, finding himself having a key to enter the battle of life, but there is no door to build his future or the future of his country. If he finds the door sometimes, then the key in his hands will not fit to open it.

The truth, then, is that the Arab educational system needs a comprehensive review, starting with the curricula, and not ending with its composers or the method they are taught, with a focus on continuous practical training, in order to overcome the method of teaching, that turned our children into parrots, repeating without understanding, faring school and family punishment. The educational process should become an integration between the cultivation of values, and the delivery of information along with the way of using them. This will only be achieved by promoting "critical thinking" for students, and opening the way for them to discuss, and inquire, without suppressing the students or framing their ideas. We are making a human being and a citizen first, and then a whole nation, that is: the human and then the construction.

Needless to say, in this context, that paying attention to the teachers themselves is a vital necessity, as they are the pillars and foundations of this process. The issue of developing the curricula should be left to specialists and who have knowledge. Besides, the importance of adequate school construction, and equipping it with research tools, should not be forgotten at all costs, as there is no doubt that spending on education is always a successful investment in countries.

Finally, the success of a given policy is measured by its results, and the extent to which it achieves the goals of society. Until a large number of our schools and universities graduates would have skills or creative thinking, that will enable them to solve their problems, they will not be able to solve the problems of their communities, so it cannot yet be said that we have acceptable educational policies. We will have these policies only if we believe and work to make it safe to invest in human beings as the greatest investment, no matter how much science and technology evolve. This has been demonstrated by the experiences of peoples of all civilizations. In fact, the progress that the world has reached today highlights the importance of the "type" element in the nation-building equation. It is the type that is capable of solving problems, creating, and developing potential, instead of quantity which keeps on repeating consistent sort of work that are not flexible, putting sticks on the wheels of growth and development, and delaying the course of development, or even stops it completely.

Hasan Ismaik