American Studies, Dialogue Series, Panels, Race & Society

Education and Change in Qatar and the Arab World

Education and Change in the Arab World Conference

Conference Abstracts 

April 21, 2007

Panel A: Classical Muslim Education

1. Sebastian Günther: The Principles of Instruction are the Grounds of our Knowledge: Al-Farabi’s Philosophical and al-Ghazali’s Spiritual Approaches to Learning

This study explores the educational concepts advocated by two of the most influential Muslim thinkers: the 10th century philosopher and logician Abu Nasr al-Farabi, and the 11th century theologian, mystic, and religious reformer Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. It hopes to make a contribution to increasing our understanding of the educational foundations of a “learning society” as represented by Muslim civilization in classical times. In establishing a catalogue of data drawn from a variety of al-Farabi’s and al-Ghazali’s writings, this paper helps reveal some of the richness, sophistication, and diversity of scholarly discussion in Islam on educational theory and practice. It shows that the theoretical considerations that al-Farabi and al-Ghazali offer display a great desire for practical wisdom about learning and teaching, along with care for the ethical, moral, and emotional values of education, logic and reasoning, and spirituality. The paper concludes with an examination of the similarities and differences between the educational philosophies offered by these two sages, and ponders the extent to which their pedagogical ideas hold significance for us today.

2. Ahmad Dallal: Scientific Knowledge in Classical Muslim Education

Historians of Islamic culture have often contended that scientific culture developed on the margins of the larger Islamic culture, as evidenced by the exclusion of the sciences from the curriculum of Islamic colleges and institutions of learning. This presentation will revisit the thesis of marginality by exploring the place of science within Islamic education, and more broadly by examining the relationship of scientific knowledge and religious knowledge in classical Muslim societies.

3. Omaima Abou-Bakr: The Role of Women in Islamic Education: Past and Present

Women’s participation in the field of religious sciences in pre-modern Arab Muslim history included being learned scholars (faqihat, muhaddithat, and muftiyat), mystics (sufiyyat and mustafayat), preachers (wa’izat), and managers of hostels/teaching institutions (shaykhat rubut). Whether in the domain of orthodox religious knowledge, spirituality, or social services, women played the prominent role of teachers and guides in a mixed environment and so contributed largely to education and the dissemination of Islamic learning and Sufism. Mamluk sources provide us with very significant, often forgotten, information about women’s specific teaching activities in learning circles at homes or lecturing and preaching at mosques. Accompanying the broad modern phenomenon of Islamic revival, women are making a comeback to the field. Scholars have duly noted the spread of what was termed, in Egypt for example, “the women’s mosque movement”—in reference to the large popularity of women preachers in major mosques and the role they play in disseminating fiqhi knowledge and Hadith interpretations. Azharite women scholars and specialized faqihat are also gaining grounds and more credibility in the public view, largely contributing to major fiqhi debates and modern controversial issues on par with male scholars of the official religious establishment. While this modern contribution of women to the present religious scene has positive implications, the question inevitably arises as to the content and orientation of this knowledge. Exactly what kind of Islamic education are they producing and disseminating? Are they still part of the larger system of the official patriarchal establishment and so re-producing ‘modernist’ (i.e. reactive) conservative concepts and ideologies? Or is a ‘differing’ voice that reveals gender identity and resistance can be discerned? 

Panel B: Education and the Modern State

1. JoAnn Moran Cruz: Education, Literacy and the State: A Comparative Perspective

This presentation will focus on definitions of various types of literacy, from rote literacy to pragmatic literacy to reading and writing literacy, as they are understood in the testing of literacy globally and as they are understood in the study of literacy historically. It will then look at some of the cultural determinants of literacy, including religious and linguistic aspects, state needs, the role of printed texts and libraries, as well as the relationship historically between developing literacy and structured, institutionalized education. Finally the main focus of the paper will be on the role of religion in promoting education and literacy comparatively, with an eye on Europe and the Middle East.

2. Monica Belmonte: From Open Sources to Public History: A Case for Official Declassification

In my paper, I intend to address the question of the role of the state in opening access to archival materials, and thus to the process of creating history and dissemination information to the public and educational realms. I will base this paper on my experience as an historian the Middle East at the U.S. Department of State, and, after a general discussion of the issues entailed in selection and declassification of government documents, I will cite examples from my recently-released volume of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969 – 1976, Documents on Iran and Iraq, 1969 – 1972. I will conclude my presentation with an examination of declassified documents from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Qatar, and a discussion on the importance of the wide release of government papers in expanding educational access to historical documentation as well as fostering national identity.

3. Nubar Hovsepian: The Palestinian Curriculum: The Struggle over/for Identity

Radical reformers wanted to transform society by transforming its members through education. In contrast, the Ministry of Education (MOE) saw its primary task as one of state-building, a process constrained by the influence of political rent and the requirements of the peace process. To verify this hypothesis the textbooks published by the MOE are analyzed to uncover the embedded meanings of Palestinian identity. Is the Palestinian Authority (PA), through the new texts, trying to redefine the terms of reference of Palestinian national identity? To answer this question, the texts are read dichotomously. Do the contents of these texts affirm a resistance identity or do they promote a reconfigured identity which I call institutionalized nationalism? The evidence shows that the PA as nation-builder is trying to change or re-center the basis of Palestinian national identity. The promotion of institutionalized nationalism by the PA at the expense of resistance identity is seen as the beginning of a new but contested affiliative order. This order is contested by oppositional social and political forces who believe that resistance identity should not be compromised as long as Israeli occupation continues. Finally, the essay discusses the World Bank’s new report (MENA Flagship Report on Education…), and its relevance to Palestinian education.

4. Hana Kanan and Ahmad Baker: The Influence of International Schools on the Perception of Local Students’ Individual and Collective Identities, Career Aspiration, and Choice of University

This study examines the influence international schools have on adolescent local students in terms of individual and collective identity, career aspiration, and type and location of the university they wish to attend. A random cluster sample of 270 students attending international, magnet, and public schools was given a questionnaire designed to tap their perceived identities, professional and educational aspirations. The results of the study showed that students attending international schools differed from their counterparts who attend public or magnet schools in the way they perceived themselves and their career choices. The results are discussed in terms of their relevance to future research and the influence international education may have on local students. 

Panel C: Education and Social Development

1. Asma Siddiki: Preparing Women for Responsible Citizenship: A Case Study

The proposed presentation will highlight Effat College, the first private institution of higher education in Saudi Arabia, established in 1999 for women, and present it as a case study to elaborate on the environment of private higher education, and in particular, women in higher education, in Saudi Arabia. The presentation will provide a glimpse at the challenges faced from within, as well as the milestones accomplished at the national, regional and international levels that contribute to the environment of change prevalent for its female students in Saudi Arabia today, resulting in the need to re-evaluate its mission and vision to address Responsible Citizenship.

2. Sara Scalenghe: Disability and Education in the Arab World: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Issues

Despite its obvious significance to the lives of millions in the Arab world, the history of disability in the region remains largely unwritten. This paper seeks to begin redressing that imbalance through an exploration of both theories and practices of education for persons with disabilities. The first part of the paper presents a broad historical overview —from the rise of Islam to the late nineteenth century —of the educational opportunities afforded or denied to developmentally and physically impaired individuals, focusing on select and concrete case studies. Primary sources include but are not limited to manuals for teachers, biographical dictionaries, autobiographical accounts, ijazas, and various documents describing the region’s earliest attempts to provide “special education” to people with disabilities, such as the School for the Blind established by the British Syrian Mission in Beirut in1868. The second part comprises a succinct survey and assessment of the successes and failures of contemporary efforts both at the state and private levels to provide educational opportunities and facilities for the deaf, the blind, and the motor and the developmentally impaired in several Arab countries.

3. Asma Al-Attiyah: Quality, Special Education and Individuals with Disabilities: Some Issues and Challenges

The field of special education is not a physical place but rather provides an intensive analysis of curriculum, instruction and the positive environment in order to maximize learning outcomes for children with disabilities. Special education affects not only academic outcomes but also quality of life outcomes of those children. The challenge here is to provide children with access to special education to the maximum extent possible so that all children have opportunities to achieve the highest possible quality of life. This means the key to a “quality education” for children with the full range of special education needs is characterized by access to relevant curriculum and effective instruction within a positive environment. This will promote professional excellence to meet the educational needs of individuals with exceptionalities, through support of professionals, families and others working on behalf of individuals with exceptionalities. Those challenges are met when we embody the concepts of quality, inclusion, diversity, collaboration and democracy. 

April 22, 2007

Panel D: Reforms for a Changing World: Conceptual Approaches & Frameworks

1. William Rugh: Conceptual Approaches for Critical Issues in Arab Education

The premise for the paper is that the quality and effectiveness of Arab education is a vital element in the success of the Arab world in meeting the economic challenges of globalization, and therefore Arab education must be scrutinized for possible reforms. Part One will outline the most important areas in Arab education that seem to need reform in order to improve Arab productivity and suitability for the global economy. The issues to be examined include government control and funding, the private sector, rote learning, knowledge production, study abroad and language learning, and effective assessment and quality control. Part two will offer a theoretical framework for considering educational reform, in three categories: (1) performance assessment, goal-setting and standards, (2) policy and bureaucratic constraints, and (3) the credibility of educational institutions among employers and employees in the private and public sectors, as well as among the public.

2. André Mazawi: Educational Policies and ‘Research Imagination’ between Locality and Globality

3. Colin Brock: The Concept of Education as a Humanitarian Response as Applied to the Arab World

Education as a Humanitarian Response is the title of the UNESCO Chair that I hold at the University of Oxford. Such a title is often taken to apply to educational activity related to situations of conflict, post-conflict and natural disasters. But in our UNESCO Chair/UNITWIN project we are taking it to mean educational responses to any human groups that are excluded or marginalized from appropriate mainstream provision physically and/or culturally. The Arab World has had more than its fair share of conflicts and disasters, and some of these are selected to illustrate the obvious physical dislocation in respect of education such as those affecting refugees and internally displaced peoples. Additionally the paper also attempts to illustrate some of the more subtle examples of systemic and cultural dislocation in this region that adversely affect the experience of an appropriate education. It is not just access to education that is a human right, but also the receipt of an appropriate educational experience. 

Panel E: Reforms for a Changing World: Practical Assessments & Case Studies

1. Dominic Brewer and Charles Goldman: The Imperative and Challenges of Large Scale Education Reform: The Case of Qatar

This paper discusses the challenges of designing and implementing large scale reforms designed to upgrade the quality of primary and secondary education. Many nations are faced with the challenge of aligning their school systems with the rapidly changing global economy and technological developments. How they respond is complicated by the financial and logistical burdens of carrying out any large-scale change, and the difficulty of fundamentally changing teaching and learning in schools. In much of the Arab region, where the need for change may be great, but the capacity (and sometimes the will) is limited, the challenge is overwhelming. One recent example of reform is the case of Qatar that in 2002 embarked on an ambitious, comprehensive effort to upgrade its educational institutions. The Emir announced a sweeping plan based on (1) new government-funded schools that are not operated by the Ministry of Education but by other parties and (2) standardized national student tests aligned with internationally-benchmarked curriculum standards. The reform includes the development of many types of schools and an information system about school performance that facilitates parental choice and involvement. In this paper, we discuss the imperative for education reform in general and for the Arab region in particular, and match that challenge against what reforms are possible given resources and constraints. We briefly describe the main elements of Qatar’s reform and how they have evolved in responses to implementation obstacles.

2. Zeina Seikaly: Professional Development for Teachers: An Investment in Educational Excellence

This presentation will focus on the teacher as a pivotal member of all education initiatives. Its main premise is that an investment in the continuing education and development of teachers beyond the pre-service course of training is paramount to a successful system of K-12 education. The provision of consistent opportunities to expand teachers’ knowledge and understanding during their careers not only increases their effectiveness but also ensures their retention in the educational system. It is important to offer—and encourage teachers to participate in—professional development opportunities that go beyond pedagogical methods; learning about methodology is crucial for teacher training programs, but continued exposure to new content expands a teacher’s depth of understanding and intellectual inquiry, and enhances critical thinking skills—objectives that teachers aim to cultivate in their own students. In addition, the traditional emphasis on mathematics and the sciences can be expanded to include training in the humanities and social sciences. It is suggested that professional development programs for in-service teachers be more holistic and offer classes and workshops in topics dealing with such disciplines as history, literature, global and ethnic studies, social studies, and the arts.

3. Noor Al Mutawa: Educational Reform in Qatar: The Experiences of Al-Bayyan

The presentation will discuss the Secondary Stage in Al Bayyan Educational Complex as a successful model of The Qatar Education Reform Initiative. It will focus on the mission to create “Education for a New Era” which requires reform of a host of interconnected systems that make up education, as we know it. It also requires a clearly stated “Vision of Reform” which must be deeply believed in by school leaders and teaching faculty. A well-designed curriculum and student-centered teaching methods are also hallmarks of effective education and should be tailored to diverse student needs to ensure significant educational outcomes. The presentation will also discuss the latest accomplishments in Al Bayyan Complex.

4. Saleh Mohammed Jneidi: The Effects of Educational Developments on Teaching Methods and Students: the Experience of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Educational Complex

This presentation concentrates on the effects of educational developments on the teaching methods and on students, specifically taking into consideration the experience of Omar Bin Al-Khattab Educational Complex in the methods for preparing the teacher, ensuring a proper educational environment, methods and styles of teaching as well as quality management for the graduates in guiding them through the It revolution and advising them of the prominent universities. 

Panel F: Future Goals and Prospects

1. Sheikha Bint Jabor al-Thani: The Reform in Qatar University in Light of Recent International Changes in the Higher Education Sector

2. James Reardon-Anderson: The Education City Experiment

Education City is engaged in a unique historical experiment, in which leading universities have established branch campuses in a foreign location to deliver a full curriculum leading to their own degrees. Universities are among the last western institutions to “franchise” their brand by establishing independent units far from home that can deliver the common product. While corporations, churches, non-profit organizations and other similar institutions have gone abroad, a Harvard degree has been inextricably tied to experience in the Harvard Yard. Now, five American universities are attempting to replicate themselves in Education City. This creates an interesting problem: How to be Georgetown (or any other university) in a different location and a novel context? This presentation will report on and explore this issue based on the experience of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

3. Munir Bashshur: Observations from the Edge of the Deluge: Are we Going Too Fast Too Far in Our Educational Transformation in the Arab Gulf?

The thrust of my presentation will be guided by readings in the field of comparative educational policy, and by 40 years of teaching experience at an American university established 140 years ago outside the US in Lebanon. The question to be explored in both cases relates to factors that are likely to impede or facilitate the success of cross-border institutions for both givers and receivers. Exploration will be pursued in light of the explosion in the number of cross-border institutions in the region in the past few years, the context in which they operate, and the appropriate modes of operation, with particular emphasis to cultural aspects as well as to institutional linkages in the Gulf and the broader Arab region.

4. Mourad Ezzine: The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa Region.

This paper will present findings from a World Bank research paper. It examines (i) the case for education reform in MENA region, (ii) Learning from past education reforms in MENA and (iii) maximizing the benefits from education.