Tag Archives Education

A sure way to defeat ISIS

A sure way to defeat ISIS

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My own personal views on how to defeat ISIS or any other form of extremism:

  1. teaching-religionSeparate mosque from state. Put that in the constitution and don’t allow its reversal.
  2. Critical thinking should be the mandatory teaching methodology.
  3. Remove all instances of the “tripple-R” syndrome.
  4. Don’t teach religion in schools. If people want their children to be religiously educated, they should do it themselves. They shouldn’t be allowed to cop-out by delegating that important task to some other entity without their direct involvement and input. Getting  a cookie cutter version of a religion to be shoved down children’s throats is obviously not the answer. That method failed, quite evidently.
  5. If religion is to be taught in schools, then teach ALL religions, not just the state religion and don’t allow one to be emphasised as “the true religion” and all others are “bad” or “inauthentic” or whatever derogatory method is used to show how exemplary your religion is by denigrating the others. Encourage healthy debate, even at a young age. They’re just young, not imbeciles. One hardly teaches deep theological issues to six-year olds.
  6. Introduce real democracy as a method of rule. Yes, I mean one-man one-vote. If you want to call it “Western” then that’s fine be me. It works. Countries adopting it are way ahead of any of ours. Let people have a choice in who they elect to follow and they should be able to peacefully remove them if they fail their duties, or when their terms expire. No one person for life any more please. That didn’t work in the vast majority of cases throughout the ages. Let’s learn from history for once, rather than continue to blindly repeat it.

There you have it. Maybe by adopting these, the next generation will have a better time at integrating as human being with the rest of the world. And they can choose for dialogue as a method of resolving differences with the others rather than chopping people’s heads off.

Yalla. I’m fed up of waiting.

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Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Malala_Yousafzai

“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

 Malala Yousafzai

A breath of fresh air in a  world that has lost its way.

Regardless of her winning a Nobel Peace Prize. She is an inspiration and very much worthy of respect. She’s just sixteen… just watch how this young lady will continue to change the world in the next few years.

Respect.

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The Dialogue: Government Services

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Off to the National Dialogue again in a few minutes. This time I’ll be participating in the 2nd stream of the Economic Committee dealing with Government Services and I’ll be particularly interested in Education and the Environment, their challenges and what we should do to promote them in Bahrain. This is a continuation session from last week.

My submissions to the committee last week involved the following:

  • 1. The overhaul of the educational curricula to engender and encourage critical thinking
  • 2. Teach and encourage innovators and innovations
  • 3. Review the classical way in which tests and exams are done and marked
  • 4. Elevate vocational training and intensify it so that graduates would be readily absorbed into the job market
Rubbish strewn Duraz beach

As to the environment, I suggested

  • 1. Review the environmental laws and enact them. Find ways to encourage and stimulate the preservation of our environment
  • 2. Allocate part of the budget of real estate developments to create gardens or works of art for public benefit
  • 3. Impose strict penalties on polluters

I hope to emphasise these points this afternoon and encourage their adoption for the final communique.

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One reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education

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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slap on some crystals – the perfect swine flu mask!

I know I know. This country has gone way over the top in many things, the latest of which is their panic-stricken attempts at “controlling” swine flu outbreaks by closing all schools. They might as well close all shopping malls, cinemas, coffee shops, sheesha shops (well, they should close those anyway if they really are concerned about our health), mosques, churches and anywhere else where people might gather. Oh, cancel hajj, umra and visits to other holy places too. Come to think of it, they might as well declare marshal law and sequester us all in our homes until further notice.

All these measures don’t prove their kindness nor does it prove their over-protective love and affection of course. What it does prove, I think, is their confirmation that the public health is completely inadequate at best or just plain and simple sucks. Of course they have already proven time and again that education for the unwashed masses is just dangerous and could be done without completely. This is their chance!

Well, until they make up their mind what “national strategy” (hold your laughs and sniggers please), my suggestion to them is to force everyone to wear a mask, male and female. Prove to the world that it was US, the Illustrious Arabs, who invented this healthy and gorgeous contraption in the first place.

Maybe some enterprising soul could slap some Swarovski gauche crystals on them and sell them for a tidy some.

Yet another fashion craze is born.

niqab

You heard it here first folks!

Enjoy your Eid and don’t kiss and cuddle now.

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Consumerised Education

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All the papers this morning are carrying this sort of news:

SEVERAL Bahrain schools and universities are failing their students, according to a government-approved report. Out of 20 public and private institutions reviewed, three were deemed “inadequate”, 13 “satisfactory” and four “good”, while none achieved the highest level possible. Two out of four higher education courses analysed also received “no confidence” judgements, with the other two courses receiving “limited confidence” rulings. Vocational institutions were also slammed in the nationwide evaluation scheme, with 50 per cent deemed “inadequate”. The revelations follow a Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) report released yesterday during a Press conference at the Gulf Hotel.

GDN • 30 June, 2009

Astounding!

Is this the start of something very new in our culture? Where even an official entity calls a spade by its name? No, more than that, actually recognise that the education in this country is overwhelmingly shite? Where the only thing that so called “universities” care about is making money from hapless, helpless captured market?

Astounding!

Maybe there is hope for this here island..

but wait, there’s more:

However, despite the results QAAET’s chairman and Prime Minister’s Court Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa remained optimistic and called for all organisations to intensify their efforts to improve services.

In the immortal words of Shakespeare: Huh?

“Improve services?” What improve services? Is this donkey even alive? NUKE THE BUGGERS AND BE DONE WITH IT!

Improve services! There isn’t a “service” to start with! Well, I guess there is if the sound of their tills katchinging is classified as service.

Education in this country is a joke, generally. The only way that a parent can at least ensure that their children have a future in the world is to put them through one of the expensive private schools and then continue to monitor their progress throughout their educational career. This is a very dear exercise in both time and money. 16 years of monitoring the brutes to make sure that they at least have a better than par chance of getting accepted in a university or even polytechnic abroad to pave the way for hopefully a good enough employment when (if) they return.

I can tell you from personal experience that me wanting my children to tread that path was the main motivator for dumping my successful career with Gulf Air all those years ago and establishing my own company. I knew that to achieve the vision I have for my children, even the good salary I was receiving while being in Gulf Air as an Avionix engineer could not suffice. Not by a long shot. I’m happy that I have made that decision now.

So the QAAET has audited those braindead give-me-your-money-and-we’ll-keep-your-children-off-the-streets-hopefully-and-pretend-to-educate-them shops and found that the great majority of them don’t make the cut. Good. This is a first step.

The second is to impose major fines and bankrupt those who rape the dreams of our youth and make a good example of them. Let that be a lesson to the cowboy “entrepreneurs” and get the whole scene corrected. We have more “universities” than barber shops in this tiny island and there is absolutely no need for that. Especially not at this low quality.

We should also address their feed system, so let’s not forget those prisons we call our primary and secondary schools. Their curricula and method of teaching are the main cause of where we are as a country and society. Things will not change unless that decrepit education system is gutted. Until the Ministry itself is gutted from the brainfarts it contains and start anew. It is incumbent upon the powers that be to do this – if they do want progress for the next generation that is – because for over 100 years of formal education this country’s record of patents – if there is such a thing – is negligible and it’s scientific achievement is nil.

What they are thrilled about is the establishment of religious schools! Yes my friends, we have a mini-Imam Universities in both Sunni and Shii flavours here apart from the various “hawza”s (no that is not a cry one might emit after a shot of fiery liquid, but an Arabic word describing a “madrasah” or religious school) in every single village, sometimes more than one and often available for women separate from those for men. As if we need more numskulls travelling amongst us.

So the cat’s out of the bag. The chicken is out of the coop. The horse has bolted. The QAA has ascertained that the education system is brain dead. What are they going to do about it?

I don’t know, but I hope to god that they take the bull by the horns and get things properly changed, even if that means shutting down the schools for a whole year to sort them out – believe me, that shut-down will not be missed. In fact, it’d do the country a favour.

There’s another rub that must be addressed: why is it that most kids go to pains to get a degree? The pressure is immense for kids to get an undergraduate degree in things that we don’t even need as a country! 85% of all graduates I’m told will come out with a BSc and most of those in business. Do we actually need that? How many of the thousands that graduate actually get a job in their field? Not many I think; hence the continuous demonstrations we get with people lifting pieces of bread signifying their out of job status, there was even someone driving around in his clapper of a car with his certificates stuck on all the windows trying to be noticed and given a job. I’m not sure what happened to him but I suspect at least his certificate afforded him some protection from the sun! And don’t get me started on those people who choose – actually choose – to go to university here and select the most unneeded subject ever because that “specialisation” is the easiest one to gain a degree out of! Social studies is it? Oh yes, go get one and come run this here bank… mind you, judging by what happened to TIBC and Awal, they might do a better job!

We come to vocational training… we used to have the Isa Town Polytechnic, which was converted to Bahrain University ultimately and through that unstudied move contributed to the dire straits the educational and labour systems are in. That then got “corrected” by creating the Bahrain Training Institute and Hotel Training and the other zillion little grab shops who claim to provide vocational education, some even being subsidised outsourcing-wise by 6 million, yes dear friends, SIX million Bahraini Dinaeros ($16m approx) to train tellers and hotel staff. If you happen to pass by that place, by the rubbish you find thrown about and the way they choose to park and meander and sashe across in front of oncoming traffic in front of that “school”, you know where those 6 million are being spent. Most probably in Geneva or other exotic locales rather than in a proper monitored program that would teach their charges how to respect themselves and strive to achieve by respecting others and taking pride in what they do.

I’m glad that that has been recognised by the report:

The report’s bleakest findings were those of the Labour Ministry’s licensed vocational courses, with half of the eight providers judged inadequate overall.

Seventy-five per cent of the providers’ and management was also deemed below satisfactory.

So ladies and gentlemen we have a real and stark danger that has already befallen our country due to haphazard policies which desperately need to be fixed. Courageous steps MUST be taken IF a solution is to be adopted. I humbly suggest that should that be the case, the following must be considered:

    1. Fire the Minister of Education and all of his deputies. They have had their chances and blew them. Do this first and do it NOW. Let the middle meddling managers run the day-to-day affairs of education, they can’t fuck it up more than it is at the moment.
    2. Fire the guy in charge of giving permits to private schools and universities. Give that job to the QAA at the moment and get them to suggest someone in that position whom they vet and accept, this might correct – somewhat – Bahrain’s higher education reputation so that countries like Kuwait and others won’t black-list a host of those money-grabbing-shops.
    3. Tear down the school’s perimeter walls. Something that is 10-foot high surmounted by barbed wire or metal spikes is not conducive to creating the required trust-based educational establishment.
    4. For the next 3 generations emphasise vocational training and gear the courses to programs that could provide good jobs that the country can benefit from and ultimately can get make the country self-sufficient in various trades
    5. Put professionals sourced from all over the world who are passionate about education and society building and pay them well and allow them to create environments where kids would fight to get into rather than scale 10-foot walls to get out of.
    6. To all officials, please temper your inflated egos. The country’s survival is at stake, we don’t care who you are or where you come from. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and let professionals run the show.
    7. Above all, introduce courses and activities which promote critical thinking. Throw away courses which emphasise rote learning and allow people to question taboos. We can’t move forward as a culture if we continue to be stuck to untouchable subjects
    8. Throw away religious education. It has created more problems than solutions. But if this is not doable (it is doable, but requires big balls) then at least teach middle of the road Religious Education, not just the Sunni strain of Islam. Teach them about Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and other religions in the world, get them to open up to other – even competing – ideas.

There is work to be done. The QAA’s report is a first step and while I am confident – knowing how things work in this country – it most probably has been diluted to ameliorate unjustifiably inflated egos, it’s a step in the right direction.

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Bogus degrees list published

Stories started to appear in our press a few days ago about a bunch of losers from Bahrain bought their degrees from a “degree mill” in the States rather than actually get down and dirty and earn it the usual way. To them, the end justifies the means, and if – due to their shiny degree which might secure them a sensitive position in health or industry or whatever their chosen “career” would be – kill someone or make whole families destitute, well, so what? They paid for it didn’t they?

Well, the jig is up and spokesmanreview.com somehow got the full list and published it on their site. To save you the bother, let me list the persons who they claim to be from Bahrain who are the recipients of such degrees:

Name State Country Degree University
Al Ebrahim, Ahmed Mohsen Ali Mohsen Bahrain HS
Ahmed, Mohammed Khamis Ali Bahrain
Ahmed, Radhi, Basil Ebrahim Bahrain MS
Abu Awad, Ziad Thabet Bahrain MS
Dhaif, Husain Saeed Mohsen AL Bahrain HS
Dhaif, Mohsen Saeed Mohsen Al Bahrain MAH
Ebrahim, Ahmed Mohsen Ali Mohsen Al Bahrain HS
Nasser, Fathi Ahmed Mohammed Bahrain
Sanad, Mohammed Y Bahrain
Radhi, Basel Ebrahim Ahmed Bahrain MS
Radhi, Basil Ebrahim Ahmed Bahrain MS
Wongsokerto, Senir M Bahrain BA
spokesmanreview.com

I wonder what the government is going to do now. Are they going to at least investigate these people and arrest them for fraud if they are indeed proven to have received their degrees in such a fraudulent manner or will they once again just sweep this whole fiasco under the carpet and once again pretend it never happened?

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[FIKR6] Education, The digital Arab

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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.

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Ridiculous notions

This country needs “a Gibbs”

This country needs “a Gibbs”. An act watchers of NCIS will be really familiar with. For others less fortunate, the act is best described as a swift whack on the back of a head the sharpness of which will bring that mind back to reason. Hopefully. But I fear in some cases it might require a shovel to effect the needed movement of neurons in solidified grey matter.

The shovel method is most certainly required to a head that belongs to a so called “educator” who mysteriously deduced that a young adult giving what is essentially monopoly money bought on a trip to Iran to friends at school as high treason in the form of “distributing counterfeit currency with the intent to shake the country’s economy.” A charge communicated to the Misery of Education which found it fit to escalate the matter to the Public Prosecutor who in turn – with a complete straight face and some might even think with collusion – imprisoned the girl for a few days “while investigating the matter” only to come out eventually with all charges dropped, most probably due to the ridicule heaped upon them by the press.

Although blame should most definitely be levied at the moronic principal who at best does not have any sense of humour, and at worst is riddled with dark and heinous sectarian intentions – a charge that school has been particularly riddled with and one might be excused to thing that this incident would not have received such attention had the Monopoly dosh come from the Emirates or Saudi or even Afghanistan – to be shared with full contempt for the Misery of Education as both have certainly put new meaning to educating our youth by terrorising them with the ever-present police ogre who are only too willing to acquiesce to their frivolity.

However, the blame in this case, as is in others, must squarely lay at the Public Prosecutor’s office who inexplicably dish out imprisonments “for investigations” as a matter of course and seem to emphatically dish that incarceration sentence out not to prevent people from fleeing or interfering with their “investigations”, but rather as a first phase of punishment in their heretofore unproven guilt; thus, over stepping their role from being an investigative service to that of jurists and executioners too.

both have certainly put new meaning to educating our youth by terrorising them with the ever-present police ogre who are only too willing to acquiesce to their frivolity

Is this the education reform spearheaded by our Crown Prince I wonder? Apart from building higher walls surmounted by iron-work spikes to prevent people from getting into schools now has terrorising students out of their wits by imprisoning young impressionable minds for a frivolous and a completely legal activity of giving gifts clearly marked as “having no commercial value” and clearly – even to the blind of sight but definitely not those with that affliction affecting their souls – nothing more than Monopoly money? What kind of impression do those champions of education; in this particular case the headmistress and her cohorts at the Misery of Education, leave with the young girl other than hating education and most probably detesting the establishment too? Or was it a concerted effort to reach such a zenith in the first place?

What a ridiculous situation this is. Utterly corrosive and criminal too.

That headmistress should be removed from her post forthwith, she has amply demonstrated that she does not have the presence of mind or the kindness of soul to be an educator nor a person who should be tasked with guiding impressionable youths into a more complex world. She is completely unfit for the job. The same must be done to her cohorts, the unthinking uncaring automatons at the Misery of Education for allowing such an issue to be escalated rather than holding their minion back from further grievous mistakes and utter public embarrassment.

His majesty might also want to ensure that an over-sight committee is put in place to look into infractions like these and provide redress for those who unnecessarily suffer by the misapplication of their power.

As to the Public Prosecutor, well, at the risk of getting pulled up by them again and unnecessarily imprisoned, I suggest that it is high time for their reform too. That shouldn’t be too difficult given the recent age of that organisation. The king might seriously consider giving them complete autonomy and independence to execute their jobs better after removing their current head who allowed his staff to use investigative imprisonment as yet another method of what could be conceived as state sponsored terror. His majesty might also want to ensure that an over-sight committee is put in place to look into infractions like these and provide redress for those who unnecessarily suffer by the misapplication of their power. At the very least, tell them, your majesty, that they should not dish out automagic incarcerations willy nilly like that but only if truly deserved when there is a genuine flight risk.

Failing that, let’s just declare Monopoly a tool of the devil and pay a readily bought cleric or two to haramize it.

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Reforming Education

I attended the official launch of the “Implementation of the national Education Reform Initiatives” this morning at Al-Hedaya school in Muharraq, the home of formal education in Bahrain which started in 1919, where I listened to various officials explaining the steps to be taken almost immediately to reform education in Bahrain in the clear belief that:

The Bahraini people are our nation’s most valuable resource. Investing in education helps to develop our people and is one of the most important commitments we can make as a country. A well educated population is the best guarantee of Bahrain’s future success.

In implementing these initiatives which touch on all aspects of education; the government has sought expertise and council from various educational specialists and institutions from around the world, specifically from The National Institute of Education from Singapore and Nord Anglia from the UK on the schools program; The Department of Education from the State of Victoria in Australia and Polytechnics International New Zealand (PINZ) for vocational programs and the Australian University Quality Agency to benchmark and act as a quality assurance agent for the Higher Education program.

What this actually means (and I’m continuing to largely quote from the booklet I received at the conference) for teachers and principals is the expectation of better training and will be given the credit and prestige they deserve. Students and parents can expect a marked improvement in the teaching methods which should stimulate them to better learning experiences which in turn will prepare them for higher education in a to-be-built polytechnic or university with the clear vision that they are being prepared for the job markets.

Continuous educational monitors of both schools and students by a Quality Assurance Authority – which is said to be an independent body – will give the community better confidence in the education system and its graduates.

Employers can expect that their new recruits are better suited – educationally – from what we currently are used to; while for the country these initiatives are an investment that will greatly aid in the further development and expansion of the economy.

These are very high standards and are well thought out; therefore, I do hope that now that the theory is in place, execution will not be the whole plan’s downfall. And as you know, the devil is in the details, details that I am not privy to of course, but do hope that they have been taken into consideration.

There is no doubt that the man overseeing these initiatives, Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak, is more than capable of managing this huge project. With his vast experience in helping run the country since independence, he has handled quite a number of as big if not bigger projects which have flourished under his guardianship.

I have no doubt either, in the man behind all of these reforms who is as able and has amply demonstrated his capability of thinking outside the box; aided by excellent people at the EDB.

What I do worry about; however, is that it will largely be the very same people who are entrenched in the Ministry of Education who will largely be tasked to run such a project! The main objection there is that this is a “new company” with a “new mentality” and “goals”, all three are very foreign to the way the Ministry’s demonstratable thinking!

Let’s review what we know (as a community) of the Ministry:

  • Its minister has a doctorate in military planning and strategy, rather than education, that doesn’t mean that he is incapable of understanding what needs to be done at this stage, nor does that reflect badly on his position within the ministry, but I would have thought that with a project like this, the ownership would have been given to a more appropriate person who has the necessary experience at this critical juncture. A name that pops to mind is Dr. Al-Hashimi who originally ran the polytechnic and then the university.
  • For the large part – let me repeat that, for the large part – those who become teachers are the drop-outs, the bottom of the barrel 50 – 70-percenters average local university graduates whose only tenuous connection with education is the requirement of a job to keep the growing family fed. They – again, for the large part – probably constitute 75% or more of the educational cadre! Pray what are you going to do with those people? Unless the government is prepared to fire them then there is no hope in these initiatives. Retraining them – while commendable – will probably be a waste of time. They should get more motivated educators and pay them handsomely to replace the dead-wood.
  • The Ministry has had decades running the educational establishments, one would be forgiven to think that if they had anything in them, anything good at all, it would have come to the surface already. And now they are a key partner in “this investment in education which will be well directed to produce quality outcomes and will underpin the economic expansion that is vital to the future of the Bahraini people”? Gimme a break, what they most probably will do is what they have done over the past generation; and that is produce indifferent outcomes who will continue to be jobless and clueless as to what the country’s economy requires.

I suggest that if this program is to really succeed, it would be folly to depend on a decrepit ministry whose methods and methodology is distilled in keeping kids off the streets until the age of 18 then releasing them to uncertain futures.

Of course they cannot be ignored! I am not suggesting that these initiatives should run completely independently of the Ministry of Education; nor am I suggesting for an instant that it is completely void of good and caring people! It is practically impossible to run these initiatives without the direct cooperation with the Ministry, what I am suggesting is that the leadership of these projects should never be given to them, they should be given to independent educational institutions rather, or even the private sector, with the QAA overseeing the whole process. Starting almost afresh is better than trying to retool an already decaying machine.

I would say that the EDB should probably take direct ownership of these schemes, they have demonstrated their acumen and professionalism countless times that I think them running this project will bode well to its eventual success.

Let me end this on another optimistic note; the following picture was taken a couple of hours ago on the way back to the office:

Bahraini government school wall

No, this is not a prison wall; it belongs to a local intermediate boys’ school. The wrought-ironwork atop the wall is a new addition – I watched them install it a few months ago. I’ll leave it to you to decide what its function is. But my contribution to these extremely important initiatives is my suggestion to demolish all school perimeter walls! Students should want to go to school and should want to stay at school of their own volition. If they choose not to be there then that situation must be treated between the school and the home and laws should be put in place to deal with truants.

Basically, the whole concept of education should be re-evaluated and be based on critical thinking, on non-regurgitating concepts taught and most certainly should not depend on the three-Rs to impart knowledge.

Good luck to the scheme. I fully support it, with the provisos and concerns I have listed above.

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