This is part one in a series of posts about Integral planning and design for the future of the Middle East that first appeared in Integral Insights Quarterly Newsletter.
Do you want to be a Doctor or an Engineer?
While growing up in Lebanon, this was the constant question that thousands of middle schoolers including myself were raised to answer. The world has come a long way since, but ironically these two professions remain the most honored careers in the Middle East today. As the Arab Spring continues to unfold all throughout the region one must wonder: If these young men and women taking to the streets had had gainful employment would they be rebelling against their leaders? Economic innovation has been the hallmark of peaceful advancement for First World cultures and in order for the Middle East to realize a fully diverse economy that respects all other professions as much as doctors and engineers, it must focus its next efforts on economic and educational reforms.
The development of economic and educational institutions would, for the first time establish Arab Nationalism as a collective movement that looks forward to the future of a diverse Middle East compared to one that reflects on the glory of the ancestral past while repressing the rights of many. In this part of the series, I’ll focus on the educational reforms needed as an integral part of an organic whole that will allow the Middle East to emerge into a sustainable, self reliant future. Much like what a World Bank or an IMF development program calls for, the Middle East should embark on a 10-year development program to build the region’s educational infrastructure. It should do this with its own sovereign wealth reserves to empower it with its own sense of accountability, while at the same time incorporate best global practices in its design and implementation. This program requires the bravery for taking a great leap forward and must have the visionary leadership of a fully integrated design that plans for 100 years into the future. Exceptionally integrated thought processes have to go into all the following aspects of its design:
1. INNOVATION AT THE MINISTERIAL LEVEL
a. An Education Ministry in every country in the region must be directed by an independent Committee of Visionary Leaders who have full authority in setting educational policy. This committee must make Education as the number one NATIONAL PRIORITY and its declaration must be heard in every home and on every street.
b. This Ministry must be void of any nepotism and corruption and must have an independent funding mechanism.
c. Specific advancement and performance measures must be set by this Committee of Visionary Leaders to align the educational aspirations of Arab youth with the best educational practices in the world.
d. A partnership with private educational institutions to offer broad-based scholarships based on merit for underprivileged students would act as an insurance policy against the generational ill effects of poverty.
e. A newly empowered Education Ministry must work effortlessly with regional economic centers of employment in order to determine future needs of the labor force.
f. A partnership must be created with the private sector with regional and global reach to expose students to what a work life would be like upon graduation.
2. ARCHITECTURE OF NEW SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES
a. Designs that honor the past in some of its elements, but whose focus is on the learning environments that emphasize teachings that embrace the future. Create labs for the newest advances in math and science that are integrated into the classroom design.
b. Green technologies that become a part of the learning environment.
c. Computers with internet connectivity must be available at every desk.
d. Open space design that is conducive for expanding the mind and harnessing individuality and self-reflection.
e. Allocating indoor and outdoor space for sports activities and encouraging all student to participate in them.
f. Emphasis must be placed on much larger and user friendly spaces for libraries that create a continuity of learning environments outside the classroom.
g. Universities must embrace fully integrated efforts to create the necessary habitats that foster the creation and growth of native innovation. Much like King Abdullah University for Science and Technology where the University’s quest for innovation becomes the catalyst around which a new paradigm for redefining life, culture and industry takes hold.
3. TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS
a. Teaching must be redefined as one of the most rewarding careers based on merit, and appropriate payscales should attract the most qualified teachers for the jobs.
b. The teaching curriculum should be geared towards establishing solid foundations in modern math and science.
c. Debate clubs must be fostered to encourage critical thinking and logical, rational and objective thought processes among students as early as possible.
d. All teachers must be put through a prequalification process to insure their capacities can deliver the outcomes needed to meet the educational goals identified by the Committee of Visionary Leaders.
e. Administrators must be constantly searching for the newest teaching innovations that are adopted into the learning environment by the most successful schools around the globe.
These are just a few recommendations that will create a starting point for the debate on educational reforms in the Arab world. A more collective view on the future of the Arab child has to be debated in order for an organically designed educational system to emerge. Without addressing the kind of educational system needed to compete in a global economy, no economic reforms of any kind would have a lasting effect. Those reforms will be addressed in the next post.