Jordan’s ranking has plummeted to become one of the seven worst countries in the world in terms of education, according to the results of the PISA test released at the end of 2023. While a recent investigative report prepared by Hanan Khandakji for Al-Mamlaka TV, entitled “Under Investigation”, shed light on Jordanian Tawjihi students obtaining unmerited academic certificates from Turkey, which poses questions and requires clarification about the future of the educational system in the Kingdom, and its serious repercussions on the social, economic, security, and even political systems.
Following these phenomena and indicators, which have become a visible reality in all performance reports related to the educational system in Jordan and the Arab region in general, members of Al Nahda Women’s Network, one of the networks of the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), presented different views and opinions on Jordanian education, the problem of “Tawjihi”, and the widespread social criticism at it, and the future of the younger generations, in light of the deterioration of other growth indicators, such as unemployment, high levels of poverty, crime rates, and the deterioration of the professional performance of the economic sectors, due to the weakness of human cadres and missing institutional expertise in various fields.
The shocking decline in the performance of Jordanian students was revealed by the latest report of the International Program for Student Assessment (PISA), which is intended to measure the chances of economic success in participant countries, as researchers conclude that the test is one of the indicators that show the readiness of education systems to qualify students for the global economy.
Jordan ranked seventh among the ten countries with the lowest score in the assessment results for 2022. These countries are: “Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Morocco, Jordan, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Palestine.” Cambodia was ranked lowest with a score of 337 points, the Dominican Republic second lowest with a score of 350, Kosovo with a score of 351, then Uzbekistan with a score of 352, the Philippines with a score of 353, followed by Morocco with a score of 356, then Jordan with a score of 359, a point ahead of El Salvador and Paraguay, which each received 360 points, while Palestine received a score of 361.
Sadly, the competition between Arab countries in previous editions was between Jordan and Lebanon, who took turns occupying the first place! The difference between the performance of Jordanian students and the international average in mathematics was 77 points, in science 72 points, and in reading skills the sad result was 94 points.
According to economists and economics of education studies, it costs $13 million for a country to gain just one point. Unfortunately, Jordan still maintains the lead in the gap between females and males, in favor of females, as the gap in science was 32 points, in mathematics 15 points, and in literacy 47 points. These results describe the same reality of the decline in performance in mathematics and science in 2019, according to a report issued by the National Center for Human Resources Development.
The PISA report is issued every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 test was postponed to 2022. The program aims to assess students’ abilities in the fields of reading, mathematics, and science. About 600,000 15-year-old students from different countries undergo a two-hour test to assess their skills and knowledge, mainly in those areas, as the test questions do not only rely on the ability to memorize facts but rather require students to rely on problem-solving skills on real ground.
81 countries participated in the 2022 test, and in addition to the three core subject areas (reading, mathematics, and science), the test was accompanied by assessment in an innovative subject that changes from cycle to cycle, as the focal subject was mathematics, while creative thinking was the innovative subject. Around 6,300 students aged between 15 years and three months and 16 years and two months participated at the time of assessment in the 2022 Master Survey.
The 2022 results, released in December 2023, showed Asian countries taking the lead at PISA, with five countries (Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea) occupying the top spots. Low-income countries such as Vietnam surpassed richer countries such as the United States in these assessments.
Countries known for their educational models showed diverse results, with Estonia performing exceptionally well while Norway, usually considered a pioneer in education, lagged. The United States, despite not being one of the top performers, ranks ahead of many European economic powers, including France, Germany, and Italy.
The results of the Arab countries that participated in the test in its last cycle were lower than the global average for the test, with the UAE ranking 46th globally and first in the Arab world, while Qatar ranked 48th globally and second in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia ranked 64th globally and third in the Arab world, Palestine ranked 72nd globally and fourth in the Arab world, Jordan ranked 75th globally and fifth in the Arab world, and Morocco ranked 76th globally and sixth in the Arab world.
In the Arab world, there is a deviation from the essence of the necessary “transformation” that the educational process requires, after the collapse of the educational structure, whether in terms of status or the already vanishing infrastructure, due to wars, occupation, and conflicts, which have produced more than eight million Yemeni children in need of emergency assistance in education, and more than 2.3 million Syrian children outside schools, while leaving children vulnerable in Somalia, Libya, and Iraq, in addition to half a million “Palestinian” children facing difficulty in obtaining quality education in an unsafe environment distorted by the Israeli occupation, according to information issued by UNICEF.
What future awaits us?
“What has brought us to this situation?!” This question was the key to the debate among the members, who expressed concern about what was happening. According to experts in the network, this situation can be attributed to several reasons, including the decline in the quality of classroom teaching in Jordanian schools, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the low demand for vocational education, the absence of teacher qualification, the dilemma of “learning poverty”, which is the failure of students at the age of ten or fourth grade to express what they have learned in writing, as well as poor social accountability, and the decline in the role of parents.
Previous reports published by ARDD showed disappointing results on the accountability index shared by all those concerned with the educational process in Jordan, including parents, society, and the students themselves, as well as the shortage of specialized and sufficient private educational institutions that can work to solve these problems, and the additional burden on the sector from the influx of refugees and other economic and social pressures that constituted an obstacle to providing quality and fair education for all segments of society, leading to the alarming phenomenon indicated by the investigative report (Under Investigation) of students resorting to some countries to obtain a high school diploma (Tawjihi) at the hands of brokers, for various reasons that share one root cause, which is “Tawjihi exams”.
But how did the “Tawjihi gangs” form and manage to attract thousands of students to study in Turkey without a real commitment to education, but rather for profit and fraud? Despite that the Council of Education in Jordan decided in 2022, to stop recognizing certificates issued by international and private schools in Turkey, citing poor educational achievement. The Council excluded from the decision the secondary certificates of accredited foreign programs, provided that they meet the requirements of equivalency, and also decided to subject holders of certificates issued by Turkish public schools to cognitive ability and achievement tests.
However, it is clear that there are still service offices in Jordan, and sometimes in Turkey, that lure students in by promising them certificates with GPAs that correspond to the price they pay. For example, a GPA of 80% costs two thousand Jordanian dinars, while a GPA of 85% costs 2,500 dinars, according to a previous statement by the director of the Department of Curricula and Textbooks at the Ministry of Education, Muhammad Kenana.
Another member pointed to a problem that overlaps with this issue, which she called the “IB” market, or international education inside Jordan, saying that “Parents pay huge amounts of money to schools in the first place, and then some parents use assistants to do their children’s projects and educational requirements for them.” She then went on to explain that “the “IB” system is not only limited to exams but also includes research papers for each of the subjects that the students are tested in, as there is a research paper called “external essay” that assistants charge between 300-700 JOD to write for the student! Unfortunately, education has become a business, and the new generation is the ultimate victim.”
Moreover, she explained that when she cited the difficulty of the Jordanian Tawjihi exams as one of the reasons for the spread of the phenomenon of certificate trading, she was not defending the phenomenon and its dangers, saying, “I am sad. The difficulty of Tawjihi is not an excuse, we all went through it and studied so hard to pass it, as this is what it takes. But now everyone wants to pass without effort.” She then added that regardless of the painful details, we have “a problem in moral and educational decline, which requires concerting sincere efforts, especially by education experts and officials, to find logical solutions for this problem, because when the decline reaches a certain point, it becomes like a malignant cancer that will spread to all the nooks and crannies of society.”
One of the members of Al Nahda Women’s Network pointed out that the phenomenon of buying certificates of various scientific degrees is “old and rampant” and dates back decades, but it has increased in recent years, even forging certificates and titles under the names of the most prestigious foreign universities. Yes, it is an old phenomenon, especially for the older generation, but young people are becoming more involved, unfortunately. Not to mention the transformation of education into a profit-driven business, which is really unfortunate.
“This is infuriating for everyone… What future awaits us? And what would become of the future of the coming generations?”
A difficult problem and a social responsibility
In their view, “improving the level of student learning and performance requires quick, medium-term, or long-term approaches, and at the short-term and urgent levels as well, as it is necessary to form a national team of specialists that would conduct an in-depth study to reveal the determinants of the performance of Jordanian students, and build a model that would guide the policies of the educational system to improve the quality of education, as well as the formation of a permanent team from the ministry and its partners to plan international studies, prepare tools and manuals, organize and follow up on national campaigns, and follow up on teacher training programs.”
And because “education is a social responsibility issue, it is necessary to have an integrated role between all official and non-official actors from civil society institutions, the private sector, parents, schools, and governments, to advance the educational process and combat its problems,” as well as “focusing on students’ learning and community engagement to change educational conditions and provide educational solutions to these dilemmas,” according to the members.
This requires introducing laws that would prevent the exploitation of students, put an end to the greed of dealers in the educational process, maintain the quality of education, and improve the Tawjihi exam to ensure the stability of the educational process. The members also called for continued coordination between partners, and the development of a special policy aimed at developing public and higher education, one that emanates from or is based on national goals related to the desired economic and political reform process, which requires addressing all the elements involved in the educational process in terms of curricula, manpower, and the necessary infrastructure.
The members of the network stressed the role of parents in dealing with their children, by focusing on the elementary stage, tutoring them, and following up on their studies to anchor information in their minds, noting that caring for children is the strongest pillar of society in forming their personalities, guiding their behavior, and preparing them for the future to be capable and effective members of society.
In conclusion, everyone agrees that education is the path to self-development as a cornerstone for building the future, as it is involved in all economic, political, social, and cultural fields, which makes it important that we develop our educational systems, keep up with changes, have modern tools to deal with them, and be open to new teachings, leading to education that is based on comprehension and problem-solving, critical, analytical, and innovative thinking, and that engages women in the solution, being the highest academic achievers and possessing many skills, while lacking access to enough opportunities in all fields.