Education

Students in Jordan's Maan governorate receive new backpacks

By Noor al-Saleh in Amman

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Students at the Khadija Bint Khuwaylid primary school for girls in Maan received backpacks filled with school supplies on November 21st as part of an initiative to counter extremist ideology in the governorate. [Photo courtesy of the Khadija Bint Khuwaylid school]

In the impoverished city of Maan in southern Jordan, more than 1,000 school children received new backpacks on November 21st.

The campaign comes as part of broader education initiatives in the area to empower students and inoculate them from extremist ideology.

The campaign, sponsored by the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) programme, in co-operation with the Maan directorate of education, targeted the students of the Khadija Bint Khuwaylid primary school for girls and the Khalil Bin Ahmed primary school for boys.

"The backpacks were equipped with school supplies and given to all students at both schools regardless of their economic situation," said Ibrahim Shqeirat, head of the directorate of education in Maan.

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A school boy in Maan city, south of Amman, receives a backpack filled with school supplies as part of a campaign to distribute aid to the impoverished governorate. [File] 

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Over 1,000 backpacks have been distributed to students at two primary schools in Maan city on November 21st. [File] 

"It is critical for governments and development partners to work together to foster education and identify the many ways in which it can be used to build resilience and reduce extremism," he told Al-Mashareq.

According to government data, Maan has the highest recorded unemployment rate in the country, averaging nearly 17%, with the figure likely rising to 30% for people under the age of 25.

It also is the poorest governorate in the country, with many living under the poverty line.

Surrounded by endless and dusty landscape, Maan suffers from poor economic conditions and marginalisation, rendering its youth susceptible to radical groups, Shqeirat said.

However, school enrollment in Maan has increased compared to past years, he said, noting the rise in "cultural awareness" in the governorate, home to 121,000 people.

The ministries of interior and education and the Islamic Ministry of Endowments have been working together to conduct awareness-raising campaigns "that aim at reducing extremism", he said.

Empowering students

"While the school enrollment ratio in Maan is relatively good, the city is experiencing a high rate of school failure and dropouts," said education expert Thouqan Obeidat, who has also served as former secretary general of the ministry of education.

According to the Jordanian Department of Statistics, Maan recorded the highest rate of school dropouts in the kingdom in 2016, he told Al-Mashareq.

"Poverty, poor education, radicalism, tribal influence and the [remote] geographical location of Maan" have contributed to the rise of radical ideology in the area especially among the youth, he said.

Although Jordan is in the process of amending its educational curriculum, "the right kind of change is needed", said Obeidat.

"Students need to be introduced to lessons in the humanities, philosophy, critical thinking and logic, art and life skills so they do not fall victims to just any [ideology]," he said.

They need to be trained on problem solving, negotiation skills and respecting the opinions of others, he added.

"We need to empower students to think critically and challenge ideas," Obeidat said.

In addition to teaching math and science, there must be an emphasis on basic life skills to guarantee "we are building a generation that can challenge ideas and not accept what is given to them without thinking", he said.

Poverty and ignorance are not the sole factors in breeding extremism, he said, "as you can find educators and professors carrying extremist opinions that they transmit to their students through direct and continuous contact".

"Therefore, fighting poverty is not enough," he said. "We need to amend our curriculum and the way we teach so we can be on the right path."

"We need a political will for a socio-cultural and educational plan if we are to fight extremism," he added.

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