One reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education

26 Oct, '09

Laggards trying to catch up

4209MA7A recent issue of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was devoted to research into “Ardi” or Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4m-year-old hominid species whose discovery deepens the understanding of human evolution. These latest studies suggest, among other things, that rather than descending from a closely related species such as the chimpanzee, the hominid branch parted earlier than previously thought from the common ancestral tree.

In much of the Arab world, coverage of the research took a different spin. “American Scientists Debunk Darwin”, exclaimed the headline in al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt’s leading independent daily. “Ardi Refutes Darwin’s Theory”, chimed the website of al-Jazeera, the region’s most-watched television channel. Scores of comments from readers celebrated this news as a blow to Western materialism and a triumph for Islam. Two or three lonely readers wrote in to complain that the report had inaccurately presented the findings of the research.

The response to Ardi’s unearthing was not surprising. According to surveys, barely a third of Egyptian adults have ever heard of Charles Darwin and just 8% think there is any evidence to back his famous theory. Teachers, who might be expected to know better, seem equally sceptical. In a survey of nine Egyptian state schools, where Darwin’s ideas do form part of the curriculum for 15-year-olds, not one of more than 30 science teachers interviewed believed them to be true. At a private university in the United Arab Emirates, only 15% of the faculty thought there was good evidence to support evolution.

The strength of religious belief among Arabs partly explains their reluctance to accept the facts of evolution. Until recent reforms, state primary schools in Saudi Arabia devoted 31% of classroom time to religion, compared with just 20% for mathematics and science. A quarter of the kingdom’s university students devote the main part of their degree course to Islamic studies, more than in engineering, medicine and science put together. And despite changes to Saudi curriculums, religious study remains obligatory every year from primary school through to university.

Such choices carry a cost that goes beyond ignorance of Darwin. Arab countries now spend as much or more on education, as a share of GDP, than the world average. They have made great strides in eradicating illiteracy, boosting university enrolment and reducing gaps in education between the sexes.

But the gap in the quality of education between Arabs and other people at a similar level of development is still frightening. It is one reason why Arab countries suffer unusually high rates of youth unemployment. According to a recent study by a team of Egyptian economists, the lack of skills in the workforce largely explains why a decade of fast economic growth has failed to lift more people out of poverty.

The most rigorous comparative study of education systems, a survey called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that comes out every four years, revealed in its latest report, in 2007, that out of 48 countries tested, all 12 participating Arab countries fell below the average. More disturbingly, less than 1% of students aged 12-13 in ten Arab countries reached an advanced benchmark in science, compared with 32% in Singapore and 10% in the United States. Only one Arab country, Jordan, scored above the international average, with 5% of its 13-year-olds reaching the advanced category.

Other comparative measures are equally alarming. A listing of the world’s top 500 universities, compiled annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, includes three South African and six Israeli universities, but not a single Arab one. The Swiss-based World Economic Forum ranks Egypt a modest 70th out of 133 countries in competitiveness, but in terms of the quality of its primary education system and its mathematics-and-science teaching, it slumps to 124th. Libya, despite an income of $16,000 a head, ranks an even more dismal 128th in the quality of its higher education, lower than dirt-poor Burkina Faso, with an average income of $577.

Well aware that their school systems are doing badly, Arab governments have been scrambling to improve. In an attempt to leapfrog the slow process of curriculum reform and teacher training, many have taken the easy route of encouraging private schools. In Qatar, for instance, the share of students in private education leapt from 30% to more than 60% between 1999 and 2006, according to the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Syria has licensed some 20 private universities since 2001; 14 are up and running. Yet their total enrolment is dwarfed by the 200,000 at state-run Damascus University alone. Oil-rich monarchies in the Gulf have spent lavishly to lure Western academies to their shores, but these branch universities are struggling to find qualified students to fill their splendidly equipped classrooms.

Not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia has launched King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a city-sized institution with an endowment of $20 billion. Intended as an oasis of academic excellence, it enjoys an independent board and is the kingdom’s only co-educational institution. This augurs well for the Saudi elite, but one fancy new university will do little to lift the overall standard of Saudi education. And it has been attacked by religious conservatives. A senior cleric who decried the mixing of sexes at KAUST, declaring that its textbooks should be reviewed by religious scholars, was forced to resign from government office.

Source: The Economist Print Edition

I don’t think I need to comment on this, other than to point you to what I have previously written about our education, or lack thereof.

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Comments (31)

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  1. Who’s Darwin?? :p

    • professor pundadah says:

      Darwin was some english chappie who had to go all the way to gallappagos island to prove his theory on evolution….that we human beings evolved from Monkies…or summat like tha.

  2. coolred38 says:

    There is that old saying…”you can lead an Arab to college but you cant make him think”.

    Ok I just made that up but the point being…the people have to demand a better education in order for the govt to provide it…if the masses are going through the school system without too much of a fuss…where is the desire to change it?

  3. Mike says:

    Makes one wonder how they “graduate”?

    • professor pundadah says:

      There is no such things as Genuine Bonafide Emarati Graduate…
      It’s A Mirage (Pardon the pun).they don’t excist. What they claim to be a Graduate but is in fact attandance Certificatate from which ever faculty they have attanded. They never GRADUATE as 95% of them are failure. Why work when you have all the money in the world? and their atttitude towards non Arab or Non Emarati STINK LIKE A DEAD CORPSE.

  4. And the evil Americans are developing a swine flu vaccine to limit the intelligence of Arabs and Muslims.
    Now that’s classic!

  5. Steve the American says:

    Why study math and science when everything you need to know is in the Koran, eh? There might be some cultural obstacles, too. For example, for education to get any traction, you have to believe that your society rewards merit, rather than wasta. There are many tales of Arab students who come to US military schools, only show up for the beginning and end, and walk away with a certificate of attendance. They are the butt of jokes of the US military who actually do the work and work in a meritocracy.

    If I were the King of Saudi Arabia and wanted to reform my despicable country, I’d build KAUST as a seed of modernism and then expand it by increments until the medievalism is squeezed out of the rest of the country. I’d build a pipeline of modern elementary schools to feed KAUST with Saudi students ready to compete academically at the university level. However, such a university is planted on barren intellectual ground in the KSA where Islamic bigotry rules and ignorance is king. I have little confidence in the Saudi ability to reform themselves. They’ve shown little talent for it.

    One day the oil will run out and the Middle East will revert to poverty. That’s a good thing for the rest of the world which will no longer suffer Islam’s campaign of terror. Maybe we’ll be able to board a plane without having our shoes and shaving kits checked for bombs. However, if I were a forward-looking Arab, I would realize that the only thing you can sell in a barren land is your brains. I would build up the human capital to sustain the economy with brain work after the oil runs dry. The Israelis are a good model here:
    They’ve turned a country with few natural resources into an incubator for IT start ups while their Arab neighbors have turned their countries into incubators for terror cells. The Israelis show what’s possible with an open culture, decent education system, and democratic meritocracy.

    But I don’t see any of that ever happenning in the Arab world.

  6. Anonny says:

    ‘If I were the King of Saudi Arabia and wanted to reform my despicable country’


    ‘One day the oil will run out and the Middle East will revert to poverty. That’s a good thing for the rest of the world which will no longer suffer Islam’s campaign of terror. Maybe we’ll be able to board a plane without having our shoes and shaving kits checked for bombs.’

    Naive. The US govt.s future ‘enemies’ will be domestic. Your real enemies are your creditors.

    ‘However, if I were a forward-looking Arab, I would realize that the only thing you can sell in a barren land is your brains. I would build up the human capital to sustain the economy with brain work after the oil runs dry. ‘

    KSA doesn’t just have oil. It’s blessed with many different physical resources: valuable minerals, etc. Oh, and lots of empty space with Petawatts of sunlight shining on it.

    Having said that, knowledge workers are devalued everywhere now that domain knowledge has gone East.

    As ever, it’s inventiveness that is the key to a bright future – and where is that happening? Not so much in Western markets, methinks. There’s a shakedown going on around the world. Who is to say that Muslims are out of the running?

    • Steve the American says:


      I grant you that our idiot president is spending us into a giant hole. But as they say, when you borrow a hundred thousand dollars, you are the bank’s hostage but if you borrow a billion bucks the bank is your hostage. Creditors in up to their necks can’t afford for you to go under.

      I just read a smart article that says nuclear energy trumps renewable energy sources such as solar power:
      A solar cell the size of a card table can only run one light bulb. The big problem with such energy is that it can not be stored. I don’t think it’s the answer. My guess is that solar energy in the future will be collected from satellite and microwaved to Earth.

      There’s quite a bit of knowledge work going to India and China but it tends to be derivative, taking established industries in the West and staffing them cheaper. The laws and culture of both do not protect intellectual property, therefore there is no reward for invention but considerable rewards for intellectual theft. You can not become an innovator through theft.

      Islamic countries are way out of the running because their culture fears and forbids new ideas. That’s why all their schools teach what to think instead of how to think.

      • Anonny says:


        Your president is a marionette being tugged by unpleasant people.

        Solar energy has had miniscule research budgets forever. Where are the industrial townships of solar power? We just need to make an effort and it will become much more credible, I’m sure.

        Muslim societies are as you say now, but that is not a permanent condition. It was not like this in the past and is unlikely to remain like this in the future. The status quo is socio-economic, not written in the genes nor in scripture. The world didn’t stay flat forever.

        • Steve the American says:

          Anonny, please don’t start with the Jewish conspiracy nonsense. Muslims just make themselves look like bigoted fools when they blather on about that.

          I agree that there is a lot of potential in solar energy but the problem is that you can only collect a fraction of it, you lose a lot of it in transmission, and you have to use it as you collect it. What’s needed is a solar bucket to catch that energy. Since energy is matter and matter energy, there’s a solution. It’s just not apparent to us yet. Maybe someday we’ll be able to make solid fuel out of sunlight.

          All societies were once as backward and dysfunctional and ignorant as Muslim societies are now. Where they threw off the shackles of religion and embraced reason, they moved forward. The Muslims have not moved forward an inch, despite their enjoyment of the wonderful toys from the West.

          • Anonny says:

            Jews? Obama is being run by greedy people. I don’t think religion is at all relevant in his case. Where is the religion? Certainly they are supporting an unpopular nationalist movement, but that’s by the by.

            Your mind has a limited number of tracks and you think mine is the same. How insulting.

            As for Muslims, well, they are represented by most races now. Do you seriously think that all of their development has suddenly come to a halt in the last few hundred years? How naive. I think you are looking at a small sector of the Muslim world.

            As for solar energy, thanks to the powers that be, the resources allocated to R&D have been little more than a gratifying trickle. We haven’t really begun. All you’re doing is saying how things are now. Unimaginative.

            I can’t talk to you. All you do is repeat yourself. You’re saying the same things you’ve always said. No evolution in your dialogue at all.

            You come to this blog to slag Muslims off and .. er … nothing else. Why bother?

          • Steve the American says:


            Forgive my assumption, but when Muslims imply somebody is running America behind the scenes, they usually mean Joos. Thanks for surprising me. I disagree somewhat with your argument that greedy people are running Obama. I think it’s more about power.

            Yes, Anonny, I think the development of Muslims has pretty much slowed to a crawl since the Middle Ages. There are no inventions coming out of the Muslim world nor are Muslims knocking themselves out translating foreign texts into Arabic. Islam has a death grip on Muslim minds, holding them behind all the other civilizations.

            There is a lot of solar energy being wasted, that could conceivably be collected and used, but it is a very diffuse source of power. It’s not concentrated like oil or nuclear power. Again, the roadblock is electrical storage. If you had an efficient battery, you could leave solar cells out in the desert, collecting energy, and harvest that battery every few years.

            Anonny, I say the same things about Muslims and Islam because they keep doing the same things, over and over. When their bad behavior evolves, my opinion will evolve. When Muslims stop killing Americans for their religion, I will stop making an issue of all of this.

  7. Meggie Whetstone says:

    Hello Mahmood.

    Long time, no clap eyes on. Hope you are all keeping well.

    This natural selection row mystifies me. I’m a lapsed Catholic myself. And I was brought up to understand that religion is predicated upon the splendour of God, and exquisite personal tenderness towards his creation. Surely anything that hints at the perfection of man, is heresy in any religion? We are a work in progress, unfinished, imperfect, flawed, but destined to improve.

    So why don’t the religious people delight in the work of Darwin? I would. Instead of being plonked onto this planet fully formed, ready for our golf clubs and piano lessons, we evolved. Just as the Creator intended. To my mind, believers should be impressed by that. The systematic nature of how we have been made, together with the magnificent simplicity of the system. Simplicity is beautiful. To me, the concept of a God who only ever had to do one thing, once, to achieve everything he wants, is really quite spectacular.

    • professor pundadah says:

      Please explain in details Darwin theory on Evolution.
      Why has the evolution stopped? why did it not continued till present day ,forever till time immimoreal? Charlie Darwin must have evolved Monkies himself.
      Thank You.

      • Meggie Whetstone says:

        You need to read his work “On the Origin of Species”. No-one could ever summarise that in a blog.

        It is broadly based on the principle of natural selection, in which those best adapted for their environment, will have the best chance of surviving, thriving, and reproducing. Their genetic influence on the future population increases, and after many generations the population as a whole becomes more specifically appropriate for that environment.

        And it hasn’t stopped. It is still going on. We still have vast variations in environmental conditions, and we have significant physiological variations in the people who survive and thrive in those environments. We have a good understanding of some of them, for example the very impressive lung capacity of Ethiopian highlanders, especially compared to sea-level populations.

        But none of us can watch it happening to the human race. The experiment continually outlives us.

        • professor pundadah says:

          Maggie Whetstone
          Sorry But I am not convinced with your explanation regarding ol Carlie boy Darwin’s theory on evolution….If you claim that we are continously evolving than than how come I am not free from any disease or have more than one phallus? or why do I/We have to die? Why can’t We live forever? I am sorry but I am not convinced at all. My faith in my creator, My God is just TOO STRONG and Nobody can ever convince me to change that view, even if ol Charlie Darwin came back from his grave.

          • Steve the American says:

            Professor P,

            Individual deaths serve the species by speeding up the rate of evolution. You may notice that the most longest-lived species are the ones with the shortest life spans. Cockroaches, for example, are an invincible species and a marvel of evolution, having developed inumerable defenses against disease and the ability to forage anywhere.

            Disease also contributes to evolution. The people who developed out of Mesopotamian culture with sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle developed immunity to all those animal-borned diseases. That’s why the Indians of the New World died off when they came in contact with them, having no immunity to their diseases.

            One of the most recent traits to evolve in humans is the ability to drink milk as adults. Humans are naturally lactose-intolerant. Their ability to digest milk is usually switched off after infancy, probably to optimize the body to do other things. However, when people began cultivating cows some tens of thousands of years ago, it became an advantage to exploit this new food source. The humans whose lactose-intolerance genes were never switched on thrived on milk and multiplied.

            Humans are also becoming more gracile, ie lighter in build. The earliest humans were built for combat, being so combative that they could not form groups larger than hunting packs. Greater cooperation, probably due to the development of language, led to nonviolent ways of interaction and collaboration. The heavily muscled Neanderthals gave way to the lighter humans who did not fight each other as much. The more civilized we get, the less we rely on muscle and threats to live, and therefore the more frail humans become. So evolution continues.

          • Anonny says:

            ‘professor pundadah’

            You are not free from disease for all sorts of reasons, but one of the reasons is that bacteria and viruses are constantly evolving as well.

            The reason why you only have one phallus is that your other hand is needed for you to log on to

          • mahmood says:

            I’m going to put this reply in the Mahmood’s Den Hall of Fame!

            Brilliant 😉

        • Meggie Whetstone says:

          Professor, you ask why you are not entirely free from disease. It is because we are a work in progress. Our early ancestors were disease-ridden flea-bags. Their lives were short and nasty, and no doubt their tempers were too.
          As for living on this earth forever, why would you want to do that, and, more importantly, why would God want you to do that? As a believer, are you not committed to the promise of the eternal life of the spirit, far beyond the cares of mortal life?
          You seem to be setting yourself up as the arbiter of what God ought to be doing, to comply with your requirements. Fortunately, for all of us, he doesn’t seek advice that he doesn’t need. If he went along with your plans, Darwin might well be still alive, angry, and making his way round to your house right now. Together with a whole lot of folk who haven’t been born yet. Looking in at you through the bars on your cage.

          Be careful what you wish for, lest you get it.

          • Anonny says:


            Please forgive my earlier note. I saw this post of yours after I wrote it.

            Your comments on evolution apply to human societies in an interesting manner. A few thousand years ago saw the heyday of the totalitarian societies of the middle east. Short-lived, superstitious, easily led by god-kings, these people created societies and cultures that endured for a relatively long time. And yes, they were agrarian. Survivors were not filtered by body type nor size.

            Your point about looking beyond the individual in human evolution is taken. I ask you not to ignore religion’s role. Religions and belief-sets evolve and devolve just like everything else. A dynamic religious movement can be examined as an emergent phenomenon, like, say, a hive, in the way that it ‘organizes’ (for want of a better word) human individuals.

            The first educational institutions – in all societies I’ve looked at – were religious in nature. This is certainly the case in ‘Judeo-Christian’ (for want of a better label) ‘Western’ societies. The separation of religion and science is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, and there is no guarantee of its permanence – however dumb creationists may be in this coming century. The first signs of human thirst for knowledge were religious indicators. Both science and religion find their origin in the same awe of the natural world.

            I’m with Toynbee on this one. I don’t believe, but I’m glad everybody else does.

          • Steve the American says:


            I agree very much that religion is part of human evolution. For millions of years, our ancestors continually raided each other. A third of all adult men died in combat. Nicholas Wade argues in “Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors” (an excellent book) that religion conveyed an evolutionary advantage. Without religion, humans were constrained by blood ties in forming social groups. With religion, humans could transcend blood ties to assemble cohesive groups tied together by belief. The larger religious groups could more easily defeat the smaller kinship groups.

            You can see the social artifacts of this organization for warfare in Islam. Islam requires strict conformity to its belief set, to maintain its cohesion in war. Islam preaches unending warfare against all other beliefs until it conquers the world. Islami is perfectly intolerant of other beliefs. All of these beliefs were derived from the desert tribes, who lived in the barbaric conditions of early humans.

            The first educational institutions were created to formalize and systematize the transmission of religious knowledge to enhance the religious cohesion of society. Fortunately, the appeal of pure reason lured the scholars away from religious superstition and raised the purpose of a university to a higher level, to shed the transmission of bias and myth and discover the true nature of reality.

  8. Meggie Whetstone says:

    Also I remember us all nagging you to buy a car for your daughter. Do tell us she hasn’t pranged it.

    • mahmood says:

      Hi Meggie. The car’s okay and so is the daughter who is no in her second year of uni in Canada.

      • Meggie Whetstone says:

        What subject?

        I do hope it’s something lucrative…

        • mahmood says:

          Business and Journalism are her majors.

          Her sister who has recently joined her at the same Uni is doing Business and Psychology.

          • Steve the American says:

            At least they’re both doing business, which is a useful subject. Psychology and journalism are good for learning reading and writing. Psychology was my original degree and journalism an avocation. I still remember my shock senior year in Comparative Psychotherapies when the text said that people with no psychological training are better at diagnosing and counseling than those with training. Wish they’d told us that at the beginning rather than the end.

          • Meggie Whetstone says:

            They can’t go far wrong with Business degrees. It is one of those disciplines which provides academic rigour, and scope to spread their wings afterwards.

  9. professor pundadah says:

    Hello Mehmood
    I like your DEN…So informative and Unbiased.
    I have been looking for a job in Telecommunication in Dubai for sometimes now. Regrettably with very little success. I am a Senior Telecom Consultant/Implementation Engineer with over thirty years of experience who is looking to work in any of the GCC. Who knows You or anyone
    of your reader might read this blog and I could get lucky. I have tried many websites and portals but most of them are croocks or discriminate on the grounds that I am not an Emarati National.
    Heres looking forward to my next port of call in GCCC…..INSHAALLAH.
    Ma Salamaa

  10. The Truth Will Out says:

    This is an issue very close to my heart. Every government in the world loves to talk about how much they value education. For many governments thats all it is, talk. In the USA and UK, talk is turned to action, not always in the best way but you can see attempts by the leaders to improve the nations education system. These attempts don’t always reap the rewards we are promised and the voters are then left feeling short changed. Remember Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” mantra?

    In the case of Bahrain and other Gulf States, I can speak from personal experience that any talk from ministers of reforming and improving education is purely words. This is with the exception of the late Sheikh Zayed who really was a man of vision and action. Yes, I do believe that there are some in the palaces that really do want Bahrain to have top class education to lead the country forward with the best ‘ Brain Assets’ in the region. However, there are many who don’t really look to the future, that maybe are a little afraid of a truly educated populous and are attempting to stall any progress in that direction. So what we have is an ‘image’ of a competent education system: free schooling, a national university where students graduate with degrees without having to leave the island. Of course, scratch the surface and its very different. Money is being spent on maintaining the image while the underneath goes staler and staler.

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