Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 42 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Rethinking Education: 5am thoughts for an upcoming panel


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 42 seconds

I’m part of a panel this Thursday, Sept 10th on Rethinking Education in Egypt. The panel will be in Arabic. Here is the Facebook event link for those who speak Arabic if interested.

I was asked to prepare a 5 min response to 4 questions: what is the purpose of edu, what environment is needed to achieve this, how do we assess, and what do we start doing now in order to get there? My answer below will probably take more than 5 mins, so I will need to make it shorter!!! Here is the text almost verbatim I sent to my fellow panelists. The bolding I added just now are maybe key points to say aloud during the panel?

I think my main points (will translate to Arabic when I have time so I don’t speak too slowly on the day) are:

  1. Purpose of education should be the development of the whole person, not just cognitively but socially, emotionally – and recognizing that not all people require same support or have same goals. This means thinking of developing learners as critical, engaged citizens and having teachers whose focus is providing wisdom and socioemotional support rather merely than passing on knowledge. It also requires assessment that aligns with these values rather than contradicts them (e.g. by promoting independent work rather than trying to catch cheaters). This education should also be decolonial and social justice focused, promoting critique of injustice and colonial approaches to education- such that learners are able to have confidence in and focus on their local cultures while remaining open/aware/connected globally.
  2. Ideal environment would include things like:

A. Rethinking curricula as flexible, dynamic and responsive to the needs of the time and of students. For example, when covid closures happened, instead of thinking “how do I cover same content and achieve the same outcomes but using new tools” we would be thinking “what do students need most during these times of covid, and what new opportunities do these tools offer to help us achieve that?” – keeping in mind that this will often mean we agree on our values and broad guidelines but not detailed content/outcomes that are unified. And this requires highly qualified teachers and for us to place lots of trust on their shoulders. This isn’t a particularly futuristic model, it exists. Promoting social justice within the classroom itself and education in general, not just teaching about it.

B. Promoting and rewarding openness and glocality in education – so the creation and use of open educational resources, openness and sharing of teaching processes, opportunities for cross-institutional/cultural learning – this all helps teachers and learners easily access learning material created by others and participate in learning opportunities offered by others. Things in digital form do not have an “incremental cost” (how do you say this in Arabic?). This sharing can happen within a school, across schools for local content, across the world for global content. For a decolonial and socially just approach, we need lots of this sharing to be going from local to global, so “we” do not become recipients of knowledge but also creators/producers of knowledge and contributors/collaborators on our own terms for what we consider to be important. Learners can contribute, too!

C. Cultivating learners have ownership over their learning and able to work interdependently, within a community of learners and with teacher support, mentoring and wisdom throughout. Points A&B are needed in order for C to happen, because this independent and interdependent learning requires curricula that are flexible and availability of good quality resources for learners to find – and highly qualified teachers who can guide and support. Social justice and decolonization are not attitudes very young people can reach on their own without guidance and attention to hidden curriculum.

  1. Assessment here is complex and long term. Neoliberal education is obsessed with measurement, and measurement with quantification, and quantification reduces humanity and human endeavors to numbers that don’t represent reality, nor do they promote those intangible things we actually value the most. I am often disappointed by Finland when they prove their edu system works by citing PISA scores. This makes no sense, as their learners are supposedly learning something MORE THAN math, etc. I guess they mean to say that focusing on developing citizenship does not take away from math performance? But standardized testing is never really a sign of authentic learning and ability to apply it in the real world. Assessment of what really matters here won’t be easily measurable. It will look something like… a society that includes youth who are able to act positively to produce social change for the better of the society. Too broad, right? Think about all the ills of Egyptian society. What are they? Type in the chat? Does our education system do the تربية it claims to help reduce these societal ills? How does a more socially just society look like broadly and how does it look like in day to day jobs and behaviors? These are not easy questions to answer.
  2. How do we start? Multi stakeholder agreement on key values in curricula and years of focusing on professional development of teachers (not a week or a month) towards this goal, focusing on principles and what kind of practices and processes would help achieve these intended goals. Invest in teachers and elevate teaching in society. For university level, elevate teaching above or as much as research and rethink research as well.

I don’t think this will take 5 mins. Ha. I will practice and reduce and possibly write an accompanying blogpost in Arabic to support this. So sorry!!! It’s 5am


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