(MENAFN - Arab News) As was stated in the first half of this story published yesterday in the Arab News, many teachers have expressed the opinion that foreign curricula are "inarguably superior" to the Saudi curriculum in terms of teaching methods, scientific content, skill cultivation and comprehensiveness. But that does not tell the whole story, according to a Saudi teacher who goes by the name of Huda.
Huda expressed concern about some issues affecting Saudis who study an international curriculum. Such students often do not want to socialize with students who study the national curriculum, which, she says, indicates a sense of superiority and a disassociation from society. "Overall," Huda admitted, "international education is beneficial to students as it teaches them academic and life skills , which is more than can be said for Saudi education" she said.
There is a problem with children learning math and science in English as they may not be able to understand or express their knowledge of the sciences in Arabic. In Japan and Malaysia, where students excel in math and the sciences, the curriculum is in the native language, proving that English is not necessary to learn these subjects.
Could we be creating a problem that will rear its head in the future? Dr. Ali Mazrui, Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Professor of Political Science wrote in 1997 that "for the time being, the prospects of genuine intellectual revolution in Africa may depend in no small measure on a genuine educational revolution that involves the widespread use of African languages as the medium of instruction."
The same could be said of education in Arab countries. Dr. Muhammad Zughoul of Yarmouk University wrote in his paper, Globalization and EFL/ESL Pedagogy in the Arab World , adjustments to the approach and philosophy underlying education in English are necessary in order to achieve true development , autonomy , and intellectual productivity. According to him, this reassessment needs to include:
1) strengthening mother tongue teaching (MTT)
2) localizing content and making it relevant to the learner
3) keeping the status of English in Arab countries as a foreign language not a medium of instruction or interactions within society, while strengthening its teaching methods for better proficiency
4) making the best of what other countries have proposed in their foreign language planning
Additionally, although English may be the closest to a common language in the world today, there is no reason to assume that it will always be so. Writing in the journal "Foreign Policy, Fishman stated, "There is no reason to assume that English will always be necessary, as it is today, for technology, higher education, and social mobility, particularly after its regional rivals experience their own growth spurts. "The decline of French from its peak of influence has not irreparably harmed art, music, or diplomacy. The similar decline of German has not harmed the exact sciences. Ancient Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Sanskrit ---- once world languages responding military might, sophistication, commerce, and spirituality --- are mere relics in the modern world.
But isn't English the passport to progress and development? How are we ever going to catch up with the "developed world" if we don't emphasize it? Does the loss of culture matter if it is the price of material progress? These questions are pondered by many in Saudi society. But there are inherent assumptions in these inquiries, and it is dangerous to base educational structures on unexamined presumptions. One of the most prominent assumptions is that a western developmental model is mandatory. That leads to the assumption that educating our children in English is a must in order to achieve development. This is so entrenched in the thinking of many intellectuals and, even, decision-makers that it is worth examining.
In "Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language," Hywell Coleman, Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Education , University of Leeds, suggests that this belief is an "emergent ideology" of English for international development.
"This ideology," he wrote, "takes as self-evident the idea that competence in English can be equated with economic or social development, even though the precise nature of that relationship is often unclear. Other researchers have concluded that policies based on the assumptions inherent in this ideology are unlikely to generate positive outcomes because they fail to take into account the realities of the context in which they are to be applied."
Taking that thinking a step further, Stephen A. Marglin, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, wrote in an essay titled Development as Poison: Rethinking the Western Model of Modernity: "Along with the technologies of production, healthcare, and education, development has spread the culture of the modern West all over the world, and thereby undermined other ways of seeing, understanding, and being. The culture of the modern West, which values the market as the primary organizing principle of life, undermines these traditional communities just as it has undermined community in the West itself over the last 400 years.
Additionally, we must ask, is the widespread use of English a tool of imperialism? In 2004, the National Journal published an article entitled "Bill urges Arabs to Enroll in American Style schools," which dealt with passage of the American Education Promotion Act H.R 4303. The story said "the program aims to promote social reform and increased appreciation of the United States through an American style education. The magazine revealed that the "Office of Overseas Schools in the Department of State has financially assisted 189 elementary and secondary schools in other countries; those schools served 99,318 students with only 27,412 of those U.S citizens".
This strongly suggests that "educating" Arabs is part of American Foreign Policy. However , since international schools in the Kingdom are mainly funded by Saudi investors , a question remains : Could we be doing their job of " enlightening the arabs" for them ? And is investing in these schools , and enrolling Saudis in them congruent with our national interest?
Marglin continues to clarify the issue, saying :" Expatriate development experts now work with local people, but their collaborators are themselves formed for the most part by Western culture and values and have more in common with the West than they do with their own people. Foreign advisers-along with their local collaborators-are still missionaries, missionaries for progress as the West defines the term. As our forbearers saw imperialism, so we see development."
What does all this talk about development have to do with education? Education is certainly an essential tool for development , but it also creates a frame of reference that presupposes certain principles.
In light of all this, the rush to adopt western paradigms of education so early in children's lives warrants rethinking. Is this model of thinking and "developing " successful? Is our goal to cultivate our own vision of the future, our own development models that are ours and not imitations? Or is it to adopt blindly the Western model with its benefits , as well as its numerous problems?
Marie Mies, Professor of Sociology at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, writes that an exploitative colonial relation still exists between developed and developing countries, but the mechanisms of exploitation have transformed from coercion to propaganda , educational programs, and economic dependency. Eventually , the devaluation of cultural values is internalized by the colonized themselves , as they seek to transform into their colonizers and reject their identity.
There is plenty of evidence in Western discourse pointing to the failure or, at least, the severe shortcomings of Western models of development. Benson Clara in her research "Is Development a Myth?" notes that the overarching message of Western economic development is that cultures are not civilized unless they are pulling labor from rural areas into urbanization, forcing social relations into modernization, and mandating technological advances and
industrialization as a prerequisite for recognition in the global community.
Given all this, there is an urgent need in the world to re-evaluate and redefine development in a new paradigm. David A. Crocker, Senior Research Scholar at University of Maryland and author of "Development Ethics :
Sources , Agreements , and Controversies" believes that each society has to be able to define its own terms of progress, and that the study of development should be open to redefinition and imbued with an ethical dimension that questions the moral underpinnings of the capitalist system while simultaneously advocating the pursuit of a better quality of life for those who need it most.
Benson Clara adds to that saying that the conceptual lens of development studies should not be limited to Western scholars, but should actively incorporate contributions from a wide variety of sources including the discourses of the marginalized, traditional folk knowledge, the wisdom traditions of the world, and scholars transcending the traditional developed/less developed demarcations.
So what is really our goal when educating our youth? Is our only hope that they become mere cogs in the machine of a capitalist, ruthless world system that is slowly crumbling ? Or do we hope that they will become a part of the solution, maybe even pioneers, by questioning and redefining the terms of progress and development? And if so, should we expect international schools to equip them for such an endeavor ? Or does our only hope lie in revolutionizing our own educational system starting from the overall philosophy behind it and sparking a revolution that is an organic part of our society?
- This is the concluding part of a two-part series on the increasing trend of sending Saudi children to private schools utilizing English as the language of instruction.