Last week, Jordan announced a plan to develop the public sector that includes shutting down ministries and merging others. Themes to be urgently prioritised were defined as follows: governmental services and procedures, digitalization, structures, policy development, decision-making, human resources, regulations, and institutional culture. The decision to merge the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Vocational Training Corporation into one Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development put the plan under scrutiny. The question arises again: Does the government seriously intend to reform the educational sector? Is quality education a top priority for economic development and the desired well-being?
The merge of both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research occurred and was withdrawn multiple times in the past with minimal results. It failed to address the challenges in the educational sector such as the deficit in teachers, schools, pre-school education, modern curriculums, and the government’s financial allocations that decreased to 1-3% in the past few years.
The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held the session “the plan to modernize the public sector in education: a critique” to discuss the ramifications and impact of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Vocational Training Corporation merger into one Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. Former Minister of Education Dr Ibrahim Badran and Dr Azmi Mahafzah spoke at the session run by Dr Aseel Jallad, founding member of the National Campaign for Return to Schools.
Speaking about the importance of the session, CEO of ARDD, Samar Muhareb said: “It goes in line with everyone’s belief in the importance of developing the public educational system which calls for national dialogue and coordination with officials, things we find challenging.”
“Education is one of ARDD’s programming main pillars, prompting us to launch the next three-year strategy for education. The strategy adopts a comprehensive approach to education: access to quality education for all groups of the community, frameworks for merging education with livelihood and protection of human rights violations, accountability within the educational processes, and development of regulations and associated mechanisms.” She added.
Dr Jallad started the session by presenting the challenges faced in the educational sector and the need for the plan to modernize the public sector to succeed in overcoming them. Learning loss during the pandemic heads the list of challenges, followed by challenges in vocational education, pre-school education, and nurseries. If said challenges are not addressed accurately, the merger and modernization would be done in vain.
Dr Ibrahim Badran believes the merger and its goals were not studied deeply enough, nor it was based on evidence of the state of education. He stressed that the unannounced goals of the merger should be the guide for decision-making and that with no objectives, all efforts would be futile.
“Modernization is ought to achieve a group of goals including improving performance and outcomes, addressing weaknesses, welcoming change and development, strengthening networking among relevant institutions, sharpening students’ personality, teaching various skills, motivating creativity, and developing capacities of teachers. This begs the question: does the government’s vision align with the above?” He added.
Badran also asked: “considering the merger, would the school environment be ideal for students of the 21st century? Would it strengthen the relationship between the education and economy sectors? Would it improve the relationship with the local community? Would it decrease poor learning caused by poor linguistic and comprehension skills? The current learning poverty indicator sits at 52% in Jordan and 48% in the Arab World.” He stressed the importance of spending on scientific research used solely for promotions with a decreased 0.3% of GDP.
Dr Azmi Mahafzah said: “the plan to modernize the public sector should come in third place after modernizing the political system and economic modernization vision. The administrative sector in Jordan is flabby and traditional, calling for the modernization of the public sector’s structures and institutional culture. However, taking a closer look at the plan, the modernization attempts, despite being based on it, contradict the calls for economic modernization. In the education sector, recommendations called for a human development council that is independent of the Ministry of Education.”
“There is no need for the Ministry of Higher Education as universities are ought to be independent and financially secure.” He added, “the plan is implementable but with amendments such as the creation of a council in charge of policies of education and higher education which is more important that the merger.”
Speaking about vocational education, he affirmed the need for market-need-based education and that the Ministry of Education is incapable of managing it. He also stressed the need for more investment in technology as a priority since it has become the future of education.
Participants reaffirmed the importance of similar sessions for the educational development community and provided recommendations summarized in the following: unifying educational sources, creating a new concept for Jordan’s public administration based on decentralization, adapting institutions to needs, centring students, promoting the role of universities and scientific research in responding to issues facing the country, partnering with civil society, developing capacities, and defining professional development before modernizing the sector as it would only work with the investment of capacities.
The session was preceded by a previous session held by ARDD and attended by civil society organizations and labor and economy experts titled “the plan to modernize the public sector and its impact on labor and economy in Jordan.”