[FIKR6] Education, The digital Arab

We discussed some very thought provoking questions at the Digital Arab break-out session this morning. The basic questions posed were:

  • To what futures do Arab youth aspire?
  • What do you see at the intersection of the Internet, Arab culture and technology?
  • Will the lag in technology adoption between the teachers and the students restrict the success of technology use in the classroom? Where will Arab youth get the teachers they need to thrive in the digital global economy?
  • What can be done to retain successful young Arab minds to work inside the region (possibly creating new industries) instead of outside of the region (thus contributing to the increasing brain-drain)?

FIKR6 conference

The panel attempted to answer these questions each within his or her own sphere of experience and contributed informative answers which naturally raise even more thought provoking questions. It was clear to me right from the start that the single hour dedicated to this session (in fact to any session within the conference) will not be enough. If audience participation is factored in too, then each theme does illicit a complete dedicated conference due to the time each session would occupy. However, we have to respect the imposed constraints for obvious reasons.

The common answer to all of the posed questions above was predictably education. This is the common denominator through which progress is enabled and futures get drawn. It was agreed that modern education is the missing catalyst in the Arab world, a situation which must be corrected at all levels and completely overhauled should we wish to be part of this technologically advanced era. Moreover, we should look at education from the student’s points of view and empower the teachers to be more like mentors rather than the assumed fonts of knowledge, a position traditionally given to them which is no longer appropriate.

Young people are at the forefront of the technology curve, most of the time way ahead of their own teachers; hence, a serious investment should be applied to the teachers to get them retrained in new technologies not as “rote learning providers” or ones who teach how to use simple computer operations, but be mentors and enthusiastic educators who can explain the new trends and technologies which in turn will allow their charges to easily absorb and apply that information.

The political situation in many parts of the Arab world coupled with the dearth of opportunities for young minds provide a fertile ground for frustration, one that possibly leads to that young mind to prefer foreign lands for furthering their education or indeed to emigrate to in the hope of more respect, remuneration and a wealth of other opportunities. The “brain-drain”; however, is not that simple. The panel suggested that for enterprising minds the world over, geographical limits are immaterial, and in a lot of cases this migration is actually beneficial to the person’s country of origin or community as when the resources are provided, then the result of that migration will cross the physical geographical border and have a positive impact on the community as a whole. This, the panel decided, is not a bad thing at all. At the very least it provides a real cultural interchange that is sorely missing and creates a basis of understanding between cultures.

There are a lot of excellent initiatives in the region to propagate learning in innovative ways. The RI-SOL, Relief International, Schools OnLine is one that should definitely be supported. They have solid ICT training programs and have given thousands of PCs to schools in the region and are directly engaged in providing teacher professional development training through teacher centres in Jordan and Palestine and have been integral in providing design and implementation ICT education initiative in tens of countries around the world. Marry this to the 9,000 computers being equally provided by Intel and the Arab Thought Foundation in which an initiative is undertaken to install them in countries most in need of them in the Middle East and provide the required teacher and student training to use them and you will probably agree that it is a necessary first step in reforming traditional education.

There is more to be done of course, but steps as these which have been proposed – an enacted – at the conference is a good start.


  1. ammaro.com

    It’s a great start. More of this sort of thing should be held, and it should actually be publicized more and made more accessible. Currently attendance is limited to the big-guns, but i’m sure many people out there would be more than willing to participate or at least listen to what is being said. Overall, a great effort, and I look forward to the upcoming ones.

  2. Post

    The nature of the conference is a “think tank” rather than an open forum; hence, the attendance by invitation only. I am sure they sponsor more open fora in order to illicit views etc, that would be part of the recommendations of such a conference.

  3. Lee Ann

    Education of the young is a vital step in advancing the cause of Arabs in general and Bahraini’s specifically. When I see the books the Ministry of Education hands out each year…year after year…I sometimes wonder who the hecks in charge of checking on facts, spelling, presentation etc. Some of those books have been around for the whole 14 years my kids have been attending govt schools…and the gap in whats in those books and whats going on in the world today is Grand Canyon in size. You guys got to overhaul and be willing to change almost the whole educational process. Its all memorizing with nothing retained….I can remember things I learned, how and by whom from gradeschool…my kids cant remember something from last year. There is no encouragement or system of teaching that promotes “learning”(to remember and use later) as opposed to “memorizing”(to forget once the information is used….for a test etc).

    When Bahraini teens are ready to enter college…its like having to learn to be a student, a proper student, all over again. They have to learn to learn and not memorize….to do research and not copy and paste…to use the library…which frankly, gets almost no use in govt schools here. Many of them are double shocked…the natural shock that comes with entering college…and the shock when they realize they have no idea how to go about being a college student…then they have to waste precious time “catching up” with other properly educated students.

    Its a huge let down for Baharain in my opinion…our children deserve the very best the govt can afford(unless your lucky enough to afford private) and yet the govt is giving a second class education to a all ready educationally weak country. Again, all my own opinion.

  4. Post

    and I totally agree, so does the architect of the educational reforms.

    There are exciting things happening in this regard – and not just in Bahrain but the whole area – if the FIKR conference workshops’- and panels’-recommendations are enacted. I think Yagoob’s Dome will be covering the education aspect of the conference in the next couple of days. You might find what he has to say in this regard interesting.

  5. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Bahrain: Fikr 6 - Changing the World

Comments are closed.