Jordanian education pressured by asylum seekers

Flag Of JordanJordan is implementing a number of reforms to maintain the high standard of its education network in the face of increasing student numbers, competing calls for state funding and needed modernisation.

The kingdom’s education system has scored well in a series of international assessments, with the World Bank rating Jordan, along with Kuwait, as the leading education reformer in the Middle East and Northern African (MENA) region in 2008. UNESCO also ranked the country 18th out of 94 nations for providing gender equality in education.

Education has long been one of the top priorities for the Jordanian government, which dedicates around 13% of the state budget to the sector every year, with spending on public and private education accounting for 6.4% of GDP.

This focus on education extends to the tertiary system, where around 30% of all students are taking courses in education, the highest single study stream, eclipsing other courses. Given the growing numbers of students entering the system, with some 150,000 commencing their first year of school annually, the demand for teachers is increasing, offering those studying education at university a solid career path.

This year alone, the Ministry of Education appointed 4000 new teachers to meet the needs of the school system, taking the number of teachers and administrative staff in Jordan’s state schools to 90,000.

Though the ministry has been increasing staff numbers, and improving infrastructure through a nationwide programme of building new schools and upgrading existing facilities, the downturn in the economy has had a flow-on effect on the country’s education system.

While the Jordanian economy is expected to continue its expansion this year, with both the government and the IMF predicting GDP will grow by around 3%, this is well down on the 6% rise in 2008. This slowing of the economy has seen many families becoming more cautious, with an increasing number withdrawing their children from private schools and enrolling them in public ones.

There are some 1.6m students currently in the Jordanian education system, three-quarters of who are enrolled in the state’s 3300 schools, with the remaining 400,000 attending one of the 2400 private institutions across the country. However, according to reports in the local media, almost 11,000 students formerly attending private schools have transferred into the state system this year due to what was described as “economic considerations”. This comes on top to the 31,000 students who moved to public schools in the 2008/09 academic year.

According to Fayez Suidy, the director of the ministry’s Private Education Department, economic pressures are the underlying cause of students leaving the private segment.

“Each year, parents decide to move their students from public to private schools and vice versa, but financial matters remain the main reason behind the transfers,” Suidy said in an interview with the Jordan Times in late August.

This flow of students back to state schools will increase the demands being put on the public education system, in terms of staff, materials and infrastructure requirements.

Adding to the strain placed on the education system is the large numbers of young Iraqis, children of families who fled their own country, who are now attending schools in the kingdom. In 2007, the Jordanian government approved a proposal to allow Iraqi children living in the country to attend state schools for free, with 24,000 enrolling in the 2007/08 academic year, and 26,000 in 2008/09.

While this is only a fraction of the students attending state schools, representing around 2%, the figure is rising and there is little sign that these students and their families will be returning home any time soon.

Furthermore, according to a recent report by the Private School Owners Association, Iraqi children make up 10% of students attending non-state schools, though this figure is expected to fall due to rising costs, with at least some expected to transfer to the public system.

These pressures could cause the educational budget to be spread somewhat thinly in the coming years, as the growing numbers of students may force the authorities to spend more to provide basic facilities and materials rather than new schools and improved technology.

With the government having to balance the many demands on its limited funds, the country’s education system should remain adequately resourced to maintain present service, but without a major increase in its budget may find it hard to step up a class.

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