Toward Authentic Reform of Education in Lebanon

Premises and related measures for authentic reform of education are recommended about seven major aspects: equity and quality, lifelong learning, global citizenship, human mind and brain, technology, profession, and systemism.


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Toward authentic reform of education in Lebanon

A working white paper

Ibrahim A. Halloun

By the turn of the 21st century, unprecedented changes and challenges began facing us constantly in the job market and various aspects of everyday life, at local and global levels. Information and technology have been mushrooming around and since then at excessive rates leading to wide disparities among nations, communities, and individuals, and jeopardizing human rights that people have long fought for around the globe. The prime role of formal education in turning things around favorably has been recognized by concerned international agencies that emphasize, like in the 2015 Incheon Declaration1, that “education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development”.

Traditional education that prevails in Lebanon and numerous parts of the world cannot fulfill this role. Such education is governed by a 19th century philosophy and carried out in archaic settings and under unfavorable conditions, thus leading to flawed instruction and poor learning. It has long been hampered by pedagogical and organizational myths and unwarranted premises. Among many others, pedagogical fallacies repudiated by research in cognitive science and especially neuroscience about the workings and development of the human mind and brain2 include: student mind is a tabula rasa that can be filled with canned knowledge, students learn by listening quietly to the teacher, student emotions and dispositions cannot be the object of teaching, testing provides reliable assessment of student knowledge and induces meaningful learning. The plethora of organizational fallacies repealed by international comparative studies of educational systems and schools3 includes, especially in Lebanon: centralized authority ensures efficacious governance, teachers and school administrators ensure high achievement when they go religiously by the authority book, teacher and teaching quality has nothing to do with teacher authority and compensation, state exams guarantee quality.

Traditional myths and premises have led to and governed many misconceptions including the defunct 2-4-6 model that is still being dearly held by the overwhelming majority of teachers and other players in education. According to this model, true knowledge can be canned between the 2 covers of a textbook, and then unpacked and delivered through lecture and demonstration to students sitting quietly between the 4 walls of a classroom during 6 (or 7) packed periods a day under one-size fits all curricula. The model in question and sweeping detrimental practices like teaching to the test, be it school, state, or other high stakes exams, can lead only to rote, short-term learning and never to meaningful learning sustained in long-term memory, especially not to the development of 21st century skills and dispositions.

Perhaps the most damaging myth of them all has been in Lebanon that our educational system is one of the best around the globe. Advocates and believers of this myth keep bragging about the success of Lebanese students who pursue university and especially graduate education abroad. These deceived and/or deceiving people seem to forget that the students in question succeed and excel not because of their educational background, but primarily because of their high motivation and determination to seek better education and job opportunities abroad, and, subsequently, of the high efforts they deploy abroad for their majors, and especially for making up for what they have missed in their Lebanese education. The same people seem also to ignore or turn the blind eye to comparative research and studies that keep showing that we lag behind most countries around the globe when it comes to student meaningful understanding of what our curricula were supposed to cover4.

Fallacies governing our educational system have prevented it from fulfilling its supposed mission, and will certainly not allow it to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” as called for in Goal 4 of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development5. Comprehensive reform of education is urgently needed in Lebanon to bring about and sustain development in accordance with the new realities of the 21st century. The due reform begins by disposing of traditional pedagogical and organizational fallacies, and of ensuing traditional concepts of educational system, pedagogy, curriculum, school, student, teacher, administrator, educational authority, and other entities in education. Alternative, substantiated foundations, concepts, structures, and practices that are authentic to the Lebanese and global realities should then be instituted in virtually all respects with the concerted efforts of all stakeholders.

This working white paper is meant to solicit and help focus discussions among various stakeholders about the urgently needed educational reform in Lebanon (and elsewhere) in order to empower our young generations to enjoy decent life on Earth and make it a continuously better globe to live on. It would ultimately serve policy and decision makers to bring about and reify alternative educational premises and concepts fit for the 21st century, and put together long-term strategies and plans for authentic reform of education. The paper complements two previous position papers on the urgent need to reconsider national diplomas granted solely on the basis of a single set of exit exams6. It draws on international declarations like UN’s 2030 Agenda5 and related UNESCO’s and OECD’s declarations and action programs7, as well as on acclaimed, seminal comparative reports like the 2010 McKinsey report on “How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better3.

The paper briefly offers some premises and recommends reform measures about seven major aspects which formal education (education for short hereafter) is supposed to serve or conform to: equity and quality, lifelong learning, global citizenship, human mind and brain, technology, profession, and systemism. The presentation of each aspect begins with a general premise detailed in a set of five statements. The first statement is of quasi-axiomatic nature and offers some established facts from which derive the following four principle-like corollaries. The presentation ends with another set of five statements that recommend certain practical measures for authentic reform of education. The seven aspects, along with their premises and recommendations, are neither exclusive nor exhaustive. They have been chosen for being most crucial and critical to attend to at this point, and presented so as to hopefully contribute some viable building blocks on the long journey of the sought reform.

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