|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
14 - 20 June 2001
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Sir- I would like to comment on two articles that appeared in your newspaper (Al- Ahram Weekly, "Western waters," 10-16 May and "America as catalyst," 17-23 May).
One must not ignore the fact that the Arab individual, whether he belongs to an upper- or lower-income group, is under considerable pressure from the prevailing socio-economic environment to copy almost everything that comes from the West. If you want to have a better education, or better medical treatment, or better quality goods, indeed better "anything," then you can only get it from the West. There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about this obsession with everything Western unless we want to preserve our culture, including our language, our traditional value systems and even our religion. Westernisation is slowly eroding our respect for our culture and all that goes with it. Eventually it will probably obliterate it.
The analysis provided by Galal Amin in the articles is interesting and useful but it seems to me that what is really at stake is that the Arab intellectual and the Arab masses have no guidance or proposals from their social scientists, such as Galal Amin. The challenge for Galal Amin and his peers seems to be for them to propose to the Arab people what development ought to mean for them and how it should be achieved, what should be taken from the Western model and what should not be copied blindly. A public dialogue on the subject of just what is this thing called "economic development" is very much needed and the leadership rests with Arab social scientists. Are we "developed" when every citizen is wearing a pair of shoes produced locally or imported, or is it when every household has a video or a computer, or is it when literacy reaches 100 per cent...? The Western measures of development such as per capita income and growth in GDP are fine and dandy for the economists but meaningless for the rest of Arab society. We do not need to re- invent the wheel but the Arab public needs the guidance of economists and other social scientists in this regard and stopping at the "analysis" of what happened in the past is not the contribution expected of them.
I spent 30 years working with a United Nations organisation whose main mission is to assist developing countries in accelerating their economic development. The main conclusion after these 30 years of experience is that developing countries, and the Arabs are no exception, lack a clear vision of what development should mean for them and therefore have had to accept whatever definition the donors and multilateral organisations embody in the technical assistance they provide. This embodied vision naturally favours everything Western because of the massive and overwhelming marketing machinery the West possesses. Who is marketing anything good in, or about, the developing countries including the Arab countries?
Rote, not reasonSir- Is education in Egypt witnessing a breakthrough or facing a crisis? The new system of general secondary education gives students the chance to be examined four times in the same subject. As a result, most students are now indifferent to examinations. Many get full marks in all subjects, and consequently enter faculties they would never have dreamed of otherwise.
The perilous effects of this system will appear very plainly once these students have graduated from the faculties they entered. Most of them, especially those who are in the faculties of medicine, engineering and education, will not be well- educated and trained on account of their too large numbers. Therefore, the populace will suffer greatly from their ignorance. It seems the aim is to have a large number of people who obtain scientific certificates. This reminds me of Adel Imam's remark: "This is really a country of certificates."
Most students at all stages of education have no scholastic aptitude, because this education is unable to develop their talents and satisfy their needs. For instance, the subjects originally based upon experimentation, such as chemistry and physics, are taught theoretically. This is why students are obliged to commit these subjects to memory without assimilation. The most important thing for them is to pass examinations by hook or by crook.
Furthermore, many teachers do not have a positive attitude towards teaching. I wish serious steps could be taken in a sincere bid to reform then develop education, elevate the status of teachers and pay more attention to teaching and education.
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