Lebanon has a reputation for educational excellence in the MENA region, yet it still follows antiquated systems and produces unhappy students that just want to gain enough grades to qualify for a scholarship abroad. They are unhappy and lack much of the innovation that other countries nurture within their students. These systems are so oppressive and backward to the point that some reformers are advising all secondary students to quit school because they are wasting their time. Most of the material they try to cram in the students’ brains can be found online. The teachers are dedicated and the students are hardworking and eager yet we trail behind. At the time when schools are teaching computer coding for elementary schools and Ph.D. holders are listening to 14-year-olds for their insight, we still worship at the altar of antiquated systems.
In an interview with Dr. Chadi Azoury and Dr. Dory Daw, they talked at length at what can be done to save the Lebanese systems from decay. Dr. Azoury described what he called the “7 secrets for educational curricula”. The first step is creating a happy generation that recognize peace as a mantra in life. A student cannot be healthy if he/she is spiteful and vindictive even if they are on top of the class and admired by the majority of teachers and students. The second secret is the lack of patriotism among all students. They have no loyalty and are willing to leave at the drop of the hat. We can use the science of love, a recognizable branch in science, to make students feel a genuine attachment to their homeland. The third secret is about personal development where each student gets an hour weekly with an expert for working on any shortcomings that can be overcome. There are very shy attempts for this today within certain topics such as teaching students public speaking, but that is not enough. They should be taught critical thinking, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution (much needed in a violent society like Lebanon), personal peace… Each student is entitled to a personalized approach that can aid him/her in benefitting from their unique sets of aptitudes and overcome any personal shortcoming that can hinder their growth. The fourth secret concerns practicing applied sciences instead of theoretical. Our students are very smart at solving problems, but they are incapable of constructing a simple prototype. In short, unless there is a direct application to whatever is being taught, it is simply useless in every sense to teach it. Learning is by doing! The fifth secret revolves around the contemporary sciences where we only teach students biology, physics and chemistry while neglecting the most important science of our day: computer science. Coding is not taught until university levels to be taught the most basic coding techniques although it is the dominating science in these days. We need to teach students to be self-sufficient. The students are oblivious about what is needed in real life. We have one of the worst congestion in the world yet we have zero traffic engineers. Genetic engineering is supposed to be the most promising domain for the upcoming decades, and still the universities are not investing in that domain. The sixth secret is about teaching our students languages. English is the language of the world yet French is still a very popular option as a second, and sometimes first, language for Lebanese students. These students struggle to adapt in universities especially to scientific and technical languages. Students need English as a necessity, and afterwards any desire to pursue other languages is also encouraged. The final secret is having multiple types of intelligences when our school system caters for 2 and possibly 3 of them. There is no place for individuals who are constantly pondering the most complex questions facing humanity such as the origin of the universe, the idea of God, what is beyond life, the ultimate fate that awaits the universe, what was then and what will be… These miniature philosophers are now adrift with no placement for these bright individuals. If the situation continues like this, the people belonging to other types of intelligence might as well quit secondary school. Students are struggling because they cannot live their passion and teachers are suffering trying to enforce knowledge ill equipped to the capabilities of the majority of their students.
Our school curricula face many problems especially that they have not been altered in any fundamental way since 1996. We have a surplus of subjects given simultaneously, so the pupil has no choice other than relying on memory at the expense of analysis. We are purposely marching against the global trend that relies on analysis and innovation. This applies to everything even in domains such as history and civics. All of these materials are done on the ground where students are involved with NGOs and projects instead of digesting old tomes. The problem is, even more, prevailing for mathematics and sciences that no longer rely on theoretical concepts. One example is by teaching students to open their own business and calculating how they make a success out of it instead of memorizing formulas that can be accessed at the touch of a button.
It is more important to know about real-life mathematics and sciences. Furthermore, students are not granted access to universities unless they go through school an unfair situation for students who want to adopt alternative careers such as athletics and theater or vocations such plumbing and mechanics. These careers can provide jobs to many of our unemployed youths and diffuse the economic crisis we are experiencing. We offer these talented individuals no opportunity to hone their skills, especially that schools have convinced parents and society on a whole that the only means to have a dignified life with plenty of money is having children that are doctors and engineers. Athletes and artists can potentially make millions of dollars, and even though not everyone can be a superstar, the proper education will allow them to have alternative careers within the domain they love instead of being condemned to a lifetime in a job that ill fits their character. The universities have much of the blame in this case because they lack orientation. What they refer to as orientation is actually advertisement. They tell students that the majors they have are what students need instead of looking at the personal skills and talents to guide students. Real orientation is done by a third uninvolved party. The Lebanese center of orientation has been closed since 1973, so generations of students have come and gone without any sort of guidance.
We also have a conundrum when it comes to our history books. We cannot seem to agree about key figures in our modern history to point that some consider them war criminals while the others think of them as martyrs. In addition, the subject itself is taught in such a dry manner that forces students to memorize endless lines that they will eventually forget in a few hours. Ironically, it is perhaps the source of most fights between parents and their children because it is always a struggle to get it done. It is a standing joke that the parents often memorize the history lessons better than their kids do. Civics is not better because the topic that is supposed to instill patriotism within the student is lacking. Students consider it a joke and even the diligent students memorize it just for grades. By the time they have left school, they would have no notion of what being a citizen and a decent human being is all about. They form no attachment to their country of origin and instead plan to leave. The environment means nothing to them as witnessed by the littering pandemic we witness. Our youth are incapable of tolerating other people from other backgrounds and religions. They have no respect for the civil rights of others or show proper respect for authorities. They are not taught that grades do not always translate into a good career as history’s greatest such as Albert Einstein failed their classes at school. They are not taught innovation or independence. They just lust after grades to prove their superiority over others.
Finland has been ranking on top of all educational tiers in the tests they conduct on students all around the world. In 2015, Finland was ranked number 1 while the United States of America was ranked 18. The American documentary maker Michael Moore went to Finland and asked the Finnish officials about their secret, and the answer shocked him. Finnish students study no more than 4 or 5 hours every day and they are not given any homework that takes no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Their educational governmental bodies there believe that giving the child the time and freedom to spend quality time with their parents and live their childhood with friends will nurture their personality tenfold more than being stuck with tomes and strict teachers. They believe these children have to be happy and be taught about life. They use positive reinforcement instead of the negativity we use. Even if their students are caught doing something different like sitting in the tree, their most probable reaction would assume that it would help stimulate this student’s interest in some topic such as botany. They even decrease the number of hours between Monday and Friday because they feel students become more pressured. Moreover, all Finnish schools are public and all offer the same quality. The Finnish systems have shown distinct superiority to the American and French ones. These programs aim to make the student happy, a concept that is alien to our own. Finnish programs want to give their students the formulas to be happy based on their talents and passions.
In Lebanon, the grade 12 students’ dream of the time they have done with school fantasizes about burning their books and the school. They feel emancipated from the box we forced them into for 15 years. They used to claim that the educational system in Lebanon is the best when are in fact caught in a muddy mire, but that was just because we were never introduced to what the world has to offer. There is a mercenary aspect to our education because parents have to pay for a minimum of seven teachers teaching seven topics, there is a distinct business aspect to education. It is sad that a government cannot supply a basic quality education. Now we know better. Perhaps we used to be one of the betters, but that was when we brought foreign systems and applied them here. Yet we kept them beyond what they need to stay and we are now stagnated with programs that will soon be more than a century old! Even the French that we adopted has long ago abandoned them.
In Norway, they have reached a point that they are considering eliminating the police because they only average one or two crimes a year. What got them to this point? It might seem elusive, but they have simply perfected the art of having dialogues. They do not have honor crimes or petty thievery unlike the sad state of affairs we have reached in Lebanon where we sometimes have one or two murders every day. The hypocrisy is that we pretend to be civilized and free, yet we still resort back to our basic instincts at any provocation. Even men commit the so-called honor crimes realize that they are doing something abominable, yet they are unable to control themselves. It is beyond them to let just go and have a civil divorce because a beast roars within them and drives them forwards. Our society has no peace and that is why our history is loitered with endless wars because we do not have inner peace. Even the sea has become fed up with our abuse and spilled all the filth we put into it at our shores. If I am to recall even one person who has exhibited any form of environmental awareness it would be a fellow hiker I once met who came with a garbage bag just in case he found some trash. It took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that he is actually Lebanese.
Sir Ken Robinson is a leading figure in education and he once talked about a place called “Death Valley” where no rain falls and the sun is scorching, earning its name. Many years later, it rained one winter and during the following spring, all sorts of plants and trees sprouted out of the soil. Our children are the same; each one of them is a dormant genius that needs the proper situation to burst forth if we provide them with the right curricula and the tools to become decent human being and citizens.