The government's good intentions in the area of education contended with straitened financial circumstances, a rapidly changing labor force, and the demographic problem of a youthful population (53 percent of the population was below the age of fifteen in 1988). Nevertheless, significant progress had been made in various spheres. Education has been a stated priority of the government for a number of years. In 1986 government expenditures on education were 12.2 percent of the national budget. Education has become widely available, although some observers have questioned both the quality of the instruction and the appropriateness of the curriculum to the economy's requirements. Recognizing the need to supply training more suited to realistic employment prospects and to improve the level of teacher training, the government was continuing to strengthen vocational and technical education and to provide in-service training for its teachers.
In 1921, when the Amirate of Transjordan was created, educational facilities consisted of twenty-five religious schools that provided a rather limited education. By 1987 there were 3,366 schools, with more than 39,600 teachers and an enrollment of 919,645 students. Nearly one-third of the population in 1987 was involved in education as a teacher or a student at home or abroad. In 1985 nearly 99 percent of the nation's six-to-twelve years-olds were in the primary cycle, nearly 79 percent of the twelve-to-fifteen-year-olds were in the preparatory cycle, and 37 percent of the fifteen-to-eighteen-year-olds were in the secondary cycle. Progress in literacy was impressive. The Encyclopedia of the Third World, edited by George T. Kurian, reported that in the mid-1980s Jordan had a 67.6 percent literacy rate, 81 percent for males and 59.3 percent for females. The gap between rural and urban areas in terms of literacy was closing, but rural levels remained below those of the urban areas; Maan Governorate lagged behind other rural areas.
Education was free and compulsory for children between the ages of six and fifteen. The educational ladder consisted of four parts: primary (grades one through six); preparatory (grades seven through nine); secondary (grades ten through twelve); and postsecondary (all higher education). Promotion from the compulsory cycle to the more specialized secondary schools was controlled by a standardized written examination, as was passage from secondary to the postsecondary programs. The Ministry of Education, which controlled all aspects of education (except community colleges), administered the examinations. For grades one through twelve, nearly 75 percent of the students attended the free government schools in the late 1980s; about 15 percent attended the UNRWA schools, also free; and about 10 percent attended private schools. In 1987 the Department of Statistics reported that there were 194 UNRWA schools and 682 private schools.
The primary curriculum stressed basic literacy skills. Subjects taught included reading and writing in Arabic; religion (Islam for Muslims and the appropriate religion for non-Muslims); arithmetic; civics and history, with emphasis on the history of the Arabs and the concept of the Arab nation; geography, with emphasis on the Arab countries; science; music; physical education; and drawing for male students and embroidery for females. In the fifth grade, English was added to the official curriculum (although many private schools taught it earlier) and some schools offered French. Within the primary cycle, promotion from grade to grade was required by law and was essentially automatic. Children could be held back only twice in six years, after which they proceeded to higher grades regardless of the quality of their work.
In the preparatory cycle, work on academic subjects continued, both to improve the skills of terminal students and to prepare those going on to secondary studies. In addition, vocational education began on a limited basis. Each school was required to provide at least one course in a vocational subject for each grade. In general, each school offered only one vocational option, and all students had to take that subject for three periods a week for three years. The preparatory curriculum added geometry, algebra, and social studies to the academic courses offered in the primary grades.
On completion of the ninth grade, students could sit for the public preparatory examination for promotion to the secondary level. Secondary education was somewhat selective in enrollment and quite specialized in purpose. This level had both academic (general) and vocational divisions; the former was designed to prepare students for university-level studies and the latter to train middle-level technical personnel for the work force. Within the academic curriculum, students further specialized in scientific or literary studies. Because of the specialized nature and relatively limited number of secondary facilities, male and female students did not necessarily attend separate schools. The secondary program culminated in the public secondary education examination, which qualified students for postsecondary study.
In 1987 around 69,000 students were enrolled in higher education. Nearly half of these were women. Jordan had four universities with a combined enrollment of nearly 29,000; more than one-third of the students were women (11,000). The University of Jordan in Amman had a 1986-87 enrollment of nearly 13,000 students; Yarmuk University in Irbid had nearly 12,000 students; Jordan University of Science and Technology in Ar Ramtha had nearly 3,000 students; and Mutah University near Al Karak had an enrollment of about 1,300.
In the 1980s, Jordan strove to implement an education system that would address serious structural problems in its labor force. The country faced high rates of unemployment among educated young people, particularly in the professions of medicine, engineering, and teaching, and also had a need for skilled technical labor. In the 1970s and 1980s, the government began to expand its vocational and technical training programs to counteract the skilled labor shortage brought about by the large-scale migration of workers to high-paying jobs in the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. In spite of the recession and high unemployment among professionals, skilled technical labor remained in short supply in the late 1980s. Cultural factors also played a prominent role; great prestige attached to academic higher education as opposed to vocational training.
In response to the need for education reform, the king called for a reorientation of education policy to meet the needs of the country and the people. Community colleges played an essential role in this reorientation. They were consonant with the cultural value placed on higher education and also helped provide a skilled technical labor force. In the early 1980s, the government's teacher training institutes and all other private and public training institutes were transformed into community colleges. These education institutions offered a variety of vocational, technical, and teacher training programs and granted associates degrees based on two years of study. Upon graduation students were eligible to apply for transfer to the university system if they wished. In the late 1980s, more than fifty-three community colleges operated under the Ministry of Higher Education, which was created in 1985 to regulate the operations of all community colleges, although individual colleges were administered by a variety of agencies. Scattered throughout the country, the community colleges had an enrollment of about 31,000 students, slightly more than half of all students in higher education. More than half their students, about 17,000, were women.
Nearly 100 areas of specialization were offered in nine categories of professional study: education, commerce, computers, communications and transportation, engineering, paramedical technologies, agriculture, hotel management, and social service professions. According to observers, graduates were able to find employment in industry, business, and government. The government sought to confront the issue of unemployment among university graduates by encouraging more students to join community colleges. In 1987 the government introduced a career guidance program in the secondary schools that explained the country's problems with unemployment.
Most Jordanian students in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were studying medicine and engineering. Some observers have suggested that many of the students in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were Palestinians whose education costs were being borne by the host government. Observers believed that most of the students in Western Europe and the United States were being financed by their families and the rest by the government of Jordan. Perhaps because of these connections, students from West European and American schools tended to obtain the more desirable and prestigious positions on their return home. The perceived higher quality of education in the West also was a factor in making these graduates more competitive in the job market.
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