The Politics of Education Reform in the Middle East: Self and Other in Textbooks and Curricula
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However, it is not clear whether the National Commission has formulated a comprehensive framework and strategies for evaluation of the educational reform, at least, they have not been publicly disclosed. It seems that its work is still in the exploratory stage, theorizing and exploring other nations' experience. A program of nine evaluation studies, which will evaluate the new curricula and their effects in classrooms, was adopted in the Spring of According to the basic principles of the reform, grounded in the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia and various international documents pertaining to education e.
Although a relatively high degree of agreement about the basic principles of reform as expressed in the White Paper had been reached between professionals and educational policy makers, the reform itself has been marred by controversies of all kinds.
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A large number of professional experts and many practitioners were included in the debate, but their critical and different ideas were not necessarily reflected in the new laws and other documents. Not specifically Slovenian, this process of power play is well known in democratic societies, where policy makers are at odds with professional experts and their educational philosophies. Professional disagreements, publicly expressed in the media, have often been politicized, and professional criticism has either been dismissed or ignored, or was labeled conservative and coming from the right of the political spectrum, which has not necessarily been the case.
The most publicized and controversial issue, not yet resolved, has certainly been the role of the Catholic Church in public education in general, and the question of an elective religion course in public elementary schools in particular. While the majority Liberal Democrats and left-leaning parties have fought to respect the Slovenian constitution and its provisions on separation of Church and state, some right-leaning parties have supported the Catholic Church's persistent efforts to include religious education as an elective course in elementary schools, and to have more influence on public elementary education in general.
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The Liberal Democrats, who have had control over education since , have used this highly sensitive issue to control the discussion of other important professional, but highly value-loaded issues, such as the debate on ability grouping and differentiation in one such example.
The Basic Law on Education introduced the nine-year elementary school, which is organized in triads 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade; 4th, 5th and 6th grade, and 7th, 8th and 9th grade. While the previous eight-year elementary school did not have any forms of ability grouping, curriculum differentiation or tracking, the new law provides for all these organizational structures in the second and third triads. Although more attention to individual needs is needed in education, early ability grouping and curriculum differentiation are extremely controversial for several reasons.
Critics of these organizational, instructional solutions were reminded in the media, and also in private, that these measures had been proposed under the pressure of conservatives, who wanted to start tracking already after Grade 4 and to reintroduce the elite 8-year gymnasia. Consequently, the legal provisions regarding streaming and tracking in the Basic Law on Education, were already a compromise.
It was suggested that adverse criticism of the law should be avoided because it would give more legitimacy to the demands of the Catholic Church and its criticism of the reform. While educational issues concerning the differentiation of curriculum, ability grouping and individualization have nothing to do with religious education and separation of Church and state, several professionals and teachers said in personal discussions that they did not want to raise these issues because they were afraid of being labeled "black and pro-church" or "old Communists.
There were other, equally controversial issues in the reform of elementary education, for example, the transition from kindergarten to first grade - which now includes children a year younger - syllabi and curriculum, as well as external testing. The nature of these discussions often indicated that the individuals who publicly discussed an issue were frustrated because they had not been heard in the first place and also felt that they could stir public opinion in support of their claims. At the same time, the policy makers, who stood by their criticized solutions, were often on the defensive and supported their decisions on the basis of the "experience of other European countries," but did not explain their positions clearly or defend them on professional grounds.
For example, for several years, physicians, parents, and many other professionals have been warning that Slovenian students have been burdened by long hours in school, and by the amount of homework in elementary and secondary schools, which caused physical and mental health problems, especially in the adolescence. As the new syllabi and curricula seem to be even more extensive than before, several groups became vocal about this serious problem.
Although their claims were supported by research, they were consistently dismissed with the explanation that students in other European countries, to which standards Slovenia aspires, were in school longer and also studied more. That may be true, but the problem of overburdened students may not have so much to do with the hours spent in school, as with the nature of the curriculum, learning objectives, teaching strategies, and overall school climate.
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Therefore, dismissing the critics - at times offensively - as if they were advocating to keep students ignorant was not conducive to a democratic discussion. There are a few reform solutions which do not correspond to the basic principles of the reform upon which the participants had agreed. The White Paper, for example, emphasizes quality instruction, which focuses on interconnectedness of subject contents on one hand, and on students' needs to understand the contents on the other.
This principle is very important since upper elementary grades and secondary schools suffer from teaching too many subjects with too extensive and fragmented contents. The new syllabus and curriculum for elementary education did not change much in this respect. A cursory glance through upper grades curricula shows that interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches in teaching different subject matter almost do not exist, except for being superficially mentioned.
The formulations of new curricula were mostly driven by subject specialists with little concern for students. In the same manner, the learning themes are listed as fragmented units, unrelated to each other and having no connections with the students' life.
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There was not much discussion about curricula in public, and the little existing criticism was dismissed on grounds that the new school has to impart more knowledge and that only an empirical verification of the new curricula and instructional organization could give the answers as to what should be done and how. In June , Parliament installed the sixth coalition government, formed from the parties of the right political spectrum. The Ministry of Education and Sport was placed in the hands of constitutional lawyer and professor Lovro Sturm, who, naturally, replaced the Liberal Democrats team with his own, and created a new body the Strategic Council, which could redirect further implementation of the reform.
The critics of the educational reform got prominent positions and voice in the new Ministry of Education.
Knowing that the approaching October elections would not bring victory to the right political parties, the new team acted quickly and wanted to take control over the implementation of the reform and its evaluation. However, their actions, unfortunately, created a lot of political heat and polarization instead of professional discussion.
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In addition, the daily media helped to create an atmosphere quite hostile to the new establishment and its sometimes hasty decisions. According to the Minister of Education, the National Commission for Evaluation of the Implementation NC had not completed its work satisfactory, and therefore he dismissed it in Summer The minister characterized the NC page report on the evaluation of the educational reform as follows: "a hardwood floor was ordered, but what was delivered was quality furniture.
The "Other", in this case Europe and the West, tends to be represented positively in the textbooks in use in schools in the region today, which view these states as pioneers and drivers of the modern age and progress in technology. In this context, the books represent Arab Muslims as having made a vital contribution to the development of European science and technology. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and other Arab states finds little and low-key mention in the textbooks analysed, while perennial topics such as the crusades and colonialism are dealt with only briefly.
These findings are evidence that change has without doubt taken place in the textbooks and curricula of this region; our research, however, also uncovered new gaps in the coverage of key issues. Further, our dialogue with representatives of education policy, science and academia in the region revealed that, while local and national elites may well resist the idea of Western intervention into their education systems, they are primarily concerned with the potential for change within their societies in the context of integrity and conformity.