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A simple, cost-effective recipe to uplift education in underprivileged areas

Oct 31,2018 - Last updated at Oct 31,2018

An investigative report into the situation of schools in the peripherals by The Jordan Times, published this week, revealed how dire the picture is: two-shift schools, crowded classrooms, shortage of teachers, near-collapse buildings, you name it. 

But that is curable. A few millions that can even be secured through grants can solve the problem or a good part of it. What actually needs a generation to change is not taking the horse to water, but making it drink. 

In the most recent Tawjihi results, released in August of this year, 63 per cent of students in the North Badia failed the general education exam. This is good news, by the way, because related 2016 data show that 34 schools in the Northeast Badia did not have a single student that passed the exam. In 2016 the area had an 82 per cent failure rate. Statistics from previous years are no less depressing. 

The most alarming description of the situation came from a teacher who has served in the district, recalling how financially challenged and poorly educated students were "indifferent to learning". 

As a former school teacher who has taught in remote areas, this writer claims to know what it takes to make a difference to these people's educational experience and attitude to school. The basic ingredient is this recipe is to make sure that these youngsters and their parents know that we care. 

Second, improve the school environment and make it as attractive as possible, including through offering meals, sports facilities, heating in the winter and free rides to schools. It is also conducive to empower NGOs, which can help in this endeavour.

To be fair, there have been efforts by all stakeholders towards that end, by both the government and volunteers. The Madrasati initiative, launched and overseen by Her Majesty Queen Rania, has been a breath of fresh air in this regard.

Third and most important is the teacher. The practice for decades has been to appoint new graduates in underprivileged peripheral communities: young, inexperienced people who can easily develop a negative attitude towards their job, feeling that they are there because they do not have "wasta" to serve in "civilisation". Met with an already frustrated generation of learners in neglected parts of the country, it is left to your imagination to picture how the learning process would go. 

What if we incentivise a better quality of teachers to voluntarily teach in these low-achieving schools? We can even do better: We can make the best teachers compete for the job. What is required is to have in place a package of irresistible incentives: A significant financial allowance, free-of-charge housing while in service and a plot of land, state land, as a gift after serving, say, for five years, with a zero-interest loan to build a house.

The better results they achieve with their students, the more generous the incentives are, in a transparent manner and a clear set of rules. These may include allowing best achieving teachers to buy cars exempted from fees and taxes. Even teachers who are members of the targeted communities can receive these treats if their results are satisfactory. 

In addition to the fact that these incentives are cost effective, they are prone to change the general mood in underdeveloped communities and create a positive attitude to learning, teachers and the state. There will be an immediate shift from feeling neglected and marginalised to privileged and fortunate. 


The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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