Sunday, January 23, 2005

Education in the GCC Region

Most new states come from very humble beginnings, but they usually do have centres of learning that date back to colonial times. Whether good or bad, it does give an institute a foundation to work from, but the Middle East (i.e., GCC states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) doesn't seem to have many universities that date back to any time before the 70s.

One look at the Yahoo! Directory for colleges and universities in the GCC reveals a rather emaciated list of universities. All GCC states combined yield 50 entries in the Yahoo! Directory, of which 31 are in the United Arab Emirates. Bangladesh has more entries than Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia combined, and Pakistan has more than all of the GCC, source of almost half of the world's oil.

Most research today is pushed forward by funding, and most institutes make their presence felt in the form of publications. Although pioneers of centuries past of most modern sciences, the Arabs have fallen behind miserably when it comes to education and knowledge, there is no question.

The universities that span the Middle East nowadays are not only immature in their age, but the majority that have been established in the past decade are focused almost entirely on the secular science of engineering. Particular attention seems to have been given to petroleum and chemical engineering, their life force, and to computer engineering, the current educational "fad." A fad in which they've also fallen behind, because the "in" thing nowadays is biotechnology. They can't even keep up with fads in the undergraduate scientific community, it seems. Nothing is given, even to the pure sciences! Not to Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry or Biology.

The disturbing trend is that not only are they doing a poor job of studying the sciences, no attention whatsoever is given to philosophy, literature or art. What courses they have in language is for vernacular Arabic to English translation, and not for academic purposes. The hospitability the Arab has been famous for over the ages is now exclusively for the Western passport holder, while his brothers wallow in poverty across Asia, their talents squandered no less than his own oil wealth. Stories remain untold, artists live unappreciated, books lay unread and forgotten, as an entire people, whose contribution was so crucial in the development of the world, remain grossly misunderstood.

They have ignored completely the broader sense of education, and have narrowed it down to a cash-machine; something in which you put money in, and after some time, it spits money back out. Everything has to be profitable in accounting terms, everything worth it's while on the calculator. Their desert frugality seems sorely misplaced.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)