Bilingual Educational System in Morocco Frustrates, Disadvantages Students

Morocco has recently undertaken a concerted program of education reform—taking loans from the World Bank for development, founding an education and training center for women, and creating a plan to promote women’s rights, among others.Still, the state systemically disadvantages certain students from reaching and succeeding in the highest levels of education.

Morocco employs a bifurcated system in its public schools, linguistically and culturally. Arabic is the language of primary and secondary schools, but is replaced by French at the university level. A new report argues that this both disrupts a sense of continuity between secondary and tertiary education, and puts students, especially those from the rural areas of the country, at a distinct disadvantage.

The SchoolThe change can be especially challenging for populations far from the educated urban centers of the country. Rural women especially have less exposure to French—still the language of business in Morocco—and are less prepared to advance to higher levels of education.

Students are forced to spend time adjusting to a new linguistic and educational system that could be quite different from what they were used to. The European model used in universities is prompting some students to look for alternative paradigms like instruction in English. “Morocco has long been handicapped because it has been so oriented toward Europe and France,” said Ahmed Legrouri, dean the science and engineering school at Al Akhawayn University (AIU), Morocco’s only English-language college. “I lost all hope with the French system while I was in high school,” said Fahd El Hassan, an AIU graduate from 2009. “It’s all about memorizing, not about learning.”

The reforms Morocco has made are promising and necessary. However the country does need to reevaluate its system of higher education if it is to allow all its citizens to compete for positions in the academy and in the global workforce.

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Yemen Talks Coordination on Higher Education with other Arab Nations

Yemeni Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Hisham Sharaf met in Riyadh on Friday, March 14 with his Moroccan counterpart, Soumia Bankhaldoun to discuss cooperation on higher education between the two countries. The meeting, held as the 14th conference of Arab Ministers of Higher Education drew to a close in Riyadh, emphasized the countries’ commitment to cooperation in areas like research and scholarship exchange. Mr. Sharaf said that he hoped Morocco would continue its support for cultural scholarships for Yemeni students as Yemen seeks to strengthen its higher education system and provide skills for its graduates.

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Yemen is currently in the midst of an effort at increasing the openness and reach of its higher education system. After the conference of ministers ended on Friday, Mr. Sharaf announced an agreement with the Saudi Minister of Higher Education, Khaled Al-Angari that would allow Yemeni students over 35 years old to enroll in Saudi universities. He also said that Saudi Arabia would provide financial aid for Yemeni students studying abroad, as well as more than 400 scholarships for Yemeni students.

Yemen’s school system is still in dire need of reform. Its teachers are few and often underqualified, and truancy and school enrollments have yet to recover from the upheavals of 2011. Improving the higher education system by offering its students more opportunities for study abroad and scholarships may provide a more skilled workforce that can help facilitate the transition to a new, improved education system.

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Despite Reforms, Education in Myanmar Has a Long Way to Go

In December, the Women’s Forum of Myanmar hosted a panel on education to discuss the progress the country has made—and how far it still has to go. Myanmar’s government, only recently reconstituted following the dissolution of the military junta that had ruled the country since 1988, has made moves to reform the repressed educational system, like reopening Yangon University and reinvesting in higher education. However, critics of the system suggest that the nation’s education has fallen in quality over the past decades. “In terms of quality, we have far to go,” said MP Su Su Lwin. “During the past 25 or 30 years, there’s been a decline in quality.”

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The panel, echoing previous calls for higher education reform in Myanmar, targeted tertiary education as a necessary step in solidifying both a democratic transition, and better educational performance. Kamal Ahmad, founder of the Asian University for Women, based in Bangladesh, argued “You have to have a decent secondary education. You to have a decent higher education because where will the teachers come from? Who will develop the curriculum? Who will provide leadership?” A focus on higher education is aimed to ameliorate the “lost generation” created by the junta’s repression of schools and especially universities.

Also at issue is the persistent problem of gender discrimination in Myanmar schools, where women are held to higher entrance standards than men. One young woman reported that “To go to the Institute of Medicine, girls have to score higher than boys. A girl needs to reach 420 out of 500 points [on the entrance exam]. Boys can get accepted if they have only 390 to 400 points.”

There are international funding efforts to assist Myanmar’s educational system. Last month, the World Bank renewed its development commitment to Myanmar. The commitment “includes funding of around $200 million… to help Myanmar make progress towards MDGs ” including education, said Word Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

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Can a Modern University Build Bridges to Historically Isolated North Korea?

North Korea — Pyongyang

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is the first university in North Korea founded and run by foreigners, mainly from the United States, China, and South Korea, offering a Western Education. Inaugurated in 2010, PUST has selected young men from North Korea’s most prominent and influential families “to equip them with the skills to help modernise the impoverished country and engage with the international community.” In a country that has a long history of isolation and animosity toward the West, and the U.S. in particular, the university is a sign of hope for a North Korea that is more engaged in the global community. On the other hand, there are concerns that the university promotes unconditional support for a notoriously oppressive regime guilty of numerous human rights violations.

Similar to any other educational institution in North Korea, patriotism is a hallmark of PUST. Every morning, the students chant, “Our supreme commander Kim Jong-un, we will defend him with our lives.” Every classroom is also decorated with the photos of North Korea’s dictators, whom students are taught to blindly revere.

Dr. James Chin-Kyung Kim, the founder and president, is a Korean-American who raised most of the 20 million euros needed to establish the university – mostly from Christian charities. He was commissioned to do so by the current regime in North Korea. Many of the faculty are from the West, and are sponsored by Christian charities. In a country where internet and media are heavily monitored and students have never heard even of Michael Jackson, interacting with foreigners is a novelty. Some students expressed apprehension in the beginning, “but…now believe American people are different from the US,” and are eager to learn about other cultures and languages.

As a unique and potentially revolutionary institution in North Korea, PUST is a symbol of hope of integration and progress. As Greg Scarlatoiu from Committee for Human Rights in North Korea stated, however, “the key question is whether the university is trying those young Koreans most likely to change the country in a positive way, or those most likely to perpetuate the current regime.”

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African Higher Education Reforms to Continue in 2014

In 2007 the African Union Commission (AUC) announced a strategy to harmonize the disparate higher education systems throughout the continent. Among the programs set to continue are the AUC’s Arusha Convention—a framework for standardization of professional qualifications across Africa—and the “Tuning Africa” program—a program designed with the European Union to further cooperation between the two regions. The AUC has already established Pan-African University institutes in Cameroon, Kenya, and Nigeria, with the goal of standardizing student expectations, and easing student mobility.  

International Day of Peace SymposiumHarmonization throughout Africa has not gone entirely smoothly; the AUC’s plans have met with significant delays, as large discrepancies between curriculum standards are slowing the process. “Discussions were very difficult because the concept of harmonization was not known,” said professor Nkunya Mayunga, secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA). “Most people across the partner states thought harmonization meant that we must have the same education system across the entire bloc. Nobody can accept that. Education is a constitutional issue in each country,” he added.

The AUC has emphasized higher education, as they emphasize the link between higher education and regional development. Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest-ranked world region by the UN’s education development index. UNESCO estimates that the region accounts for some 43 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children. By improving African higher education, the AUC hopes to promote development and stop the brain drain that is devastating Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Yangon University Re-opens in Myanmar

Myanmar’s political reforms, which began in 2011 with the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are continuing with the reopening of Yangon University, which is teaching its first class of undergraduates since 1998.

Stupa-26The university had been the target of the military junta of Myanmar (then Burma) since 1962, when student protests spurred the destruction of the Rangoon University Student Union building and the deaths of dozens of students. In 1988, further protests against the junta caused the government to disband the political science department. 10 years later, the university ceased all undergraduate instruction.

In 2010 a general election unseated the military junta, and a nominally civilian government took power. Although the military still exercises enormous power in the government, recent reforms have led the country toward more transparent and democratic policies, and the administration of the university has followed suit. “We have full autonomy,” said Kyaw Nain, a university rector, two weeks after the school began admitting undergraduates again. After the military seized power in 1962, administration of the university passed from a council of professors to the Directorate of Higher Education—a government department controlled by the junta.

The reopening of the university is good news for higher education in Myanmar, where although the education budget has tripled since 2011, educational standards and funding still languish behind its Asian neighbors. A new class of young and educated Myanma will be integral to easing the transition toward a more liberal government and making concrete and lasting reforms.

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Blended Learning Enhances Online Education’s Potential in Developing Countries

The computer lab at the Jugaani village schoolMassive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) exploded in popularity in 2011, and were seen as a revolutionary way to spread higher education around the world. But education experts have noted major problems with the model, and MOOCs have quickly become devalued. A new course structure called blended learning is gaining ground, however, and is filling in the gaps between online and in-classroom education.

Blended learning- the pairing of online open courses with face-to-face discussion groups, study sessions, and seminars- is growing in popularity. The blended learning experiment is reaching university students across the world, but is becoming most popular in developing countries.

Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC provider, notes that almost three quarters of its students come from outside the United States, with most from Brazil, India, Mexico, and China. As MOOCs were first heralded as a way to enable access to higher education in developing countries, the problems with the online education model have meant enormous lost potential for students in these nations.

Problems with MOOCs include low student completion rates (Coursera’s pass rate hovers around ten percent), the displacement of professors and teachers, and the devaluation of degree programs. However, new experiments in blended learning have been showing encouraging results.

A pilot blended learning program in Bolivia, South Korea, and Indonesia found that when an online class was combined with a weekly discussion group, the completion rate rose from ten to 40 percent. New programs emerging in Rwanda, El Salvador, and India are following suit and pairing MOOCs with face-to-face coaching and study.

Data from the US Department of Education has shown blended learning to be so productive that it has partnered with Coursera to host discussion groups for MOOC students at over 40 US embassies around the world.

Carlos Martinez, a professor at the University of El Salvador, made headlines in 2012 for pioneering MOOC blended learning among his electrical engineering students.

“I want to let new ideas in, raise the bar, and change the curriculum,” says Martinez, acknowledging the success of his project. “The world has changed and you have to do something in a different way.”

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Rural University in Bolivia Reaches Out to Indigenous Youth

YanacachiIn Bolivia, one of the major challenges facing youth is access to higher education. As young people in rural, indigenous communities in particular often face difficulties in attending university, the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) steps in to fill the gap and provide much-needed degree programs to communities in the Andes.

The UAC-CP was founded in 1993 in the rural Andean community of Carmen Pampa. The community’s pervasive poverty led founder Sister Damon Nolan and community leaders to establish the university in order to bring higher education and more career opportunities to the region.

Young people in indigenous communities like Carmen Pampa are often unable to attend university in large cities like Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. Tuition and housing are prohibitively expensive, and indigenous youth are often unwilling or unable to leave their traditional communities. In addition, when they return home graduates often have difficulty applying their degrees within those communities to help them prosper.

The UAC-CP provides a unique solution for Carmen Pampa and surrounding towns in the Andes. The location means that students can remain much closer to their families and stay involved in community  life.

The University also offers a unique set of degrees, including veterinary/animal science, agronomy, and rural tourism. Programs incorporate community service outreach and research methods, and subjects like peace studies and gender equality are also part of the curriculum.

As a result, graduates are able to use their degrees to help raise themselves and their families out of poverty. According to the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), agronomy graduates take their knowledge back to their family farms, and “combine conventional science with contextual, indigenous knowledge to improve production as well as economic, social, and environmental conditions within their communities.”

More than 400 UAC-CP graduates have returned to contribute to Carmen Pampa, working as teachers, agricultural researchers, reforestation technicians, and microfinance specialists. Per INESAD, the overall economic development of the region is improving, and the UAC-CP is fulfilling its mission to give rural, indigenous youth equal access to higher education and help break the cycle of poverty.

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Tajikistan’s Government Lacks Faith in College Education System

Faces of TajikistanThe government of Tajikistan has little faith in the quality of education students receive at Tajik universities. Tajikistan‘s quality of education has suffered since the early 1990s when the country first gained independence from the Soviet Union and soon after descended into a civil war that lasted from 1992 until 1997. Despite ongoing efforts by the government to improve the country’s educational system, little progress has been made.

Job postings issued by City Hall in the capital city of Dushanbe state that “preference will be given to graduates of Tajik universities who received their diplomas before 1992, or to graduates of foreign universities.”

This statement illustrates the government’s concern with the quality of education college students have received ever since the country achieved independence in 1991. Higher education in Tajikistan suffers from a shortage of qualified personnel and a lack of sufficient training among existing instructors. These institutions have also been plagued by corruption. Not only do students commonly pay bribes to gain entrance to state universities, but they also pay instructors for passing entrance exam scores and for passing grades.

“Our students are very weak in terms of the knowledge they receive. Those who have the money can easily afford enrollment in any university, but the smart guys who cannot afford this remain unable to master their area of study,” says Oynihol Bobonazarova who runs Perspective-Plus, a legal-support clinic in Dushanbe.

To address the problem, the Tajik government has created legislation to improve and develop the country’s college education system. These laws specifically aim to give women equal access to education, improve the training and qualifications of academic staff, and make Tajik universities more competitive internationally. With these goals in mind the government has proposed many educational reforms, but change has been slow and limited in the extent to which it has positively impacted the quality of education college students receive.

Since Tajikistan gained independence, the number of higher education institutions and student enrollment figures have steadily grown. While there were 13 institutions of higher learning in 1991, by 2012 that number had increased to 30. Similarly, the number of enrolled college students has grown from 127  per 10,000 citizens in 2001 to 214 in 2007. Although these statistics indicate greater access to college education, without quality instruction the education these students receive will continue to hold little value to future employers.

Another concern is that college age students lack the incentive to seek higher education. A survey conducted in 2012 showed that only 25% of Tajiks believed that higher education was necessary and beneficial.  Many young adults instead choose to prioritize work over education so that they can help their family financially.

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Funding Shortages Undermine Higher Education in Palestine

PalFest 2010 Day 2: Al-Quds UniversityAs non-profit institutions, public Palestinian colleges depend on external financing to survive. Until recently, donations had come from the European Union and other Arab countries. Due to recent financial crises around the world, these funds have been severely reduced leaving Palestine without the support it needs to maintain its system of higher education.

Colleges have responded to the crisis by taking out loans, raising tuition fees, increasing enrollment, and using staff pensions to pay salaries. The Palestinian Authority also promised to increase government funding by an additional 6 million shekels ($1.6 million) this year. Half of this money will serve as financial aid while the rest will finance research endeavors.

Palestine has 49 colleges that educate approximately 213,000 students yearly in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank. These numbers represent a 26% enrollment rate of young adult which is high when compared to other developing nations and Middle Eastern countries.

Prior to these funding shortages, Palestinian colleges ranked highly when compared to those in other Arab countries. The situation has now changed resulting in a declining quality of education along with rising tuition costs. With education becoming increasingly expensive, many students choose to put their education on hold or dropout altogether. These developments led several university students throughout Palestine to stage protests at the beginning of the school year.

“Just imagine the national loss we would suffer if those students were to leave the country and seek education elsewhere” commented Younis Amr, president of al-Quds Open University.

Higher education institutions were first created in the 1970s under Israeli occupation to provide youth with an opportunity to gain a college education at a time when there were few opportunities to study abroad. Access to higher education benefits not only youth but also the State of Palestine as a whole. By providing education locally, youth can stay in the country and learn skills to support the country’s industries.

“We can’t exonerate Israel. In the final analysis, the decades-old occupation is the mother of all problems…Israel seriously inhibits our growth by adamantly refusing to allow qualified Palestinian professors to come to occupied Palestine to enrich college education” stated Birzeit University’s vice-president Ghassan Khatib.

As of 1993, the Palestinian National Authority took over control of education from the Israeli government. Soon after, in 1998, the Palestinian government issued the Higher Education Law which legally established institutions of higher education and granted all Palestinians the right to access higher education.

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