AN OBSERVATION FROM AN OLD EDUCATOR--Egyptian Education and Educators AND THE NEED for more Joy-of-Reading in the Arab World
By Kevin Stoda, Middle East
In one of the last chapters in her non-fiction work, A THOUSAND AND ONE EGYPTIAN NIGHTS, Jennifer Drago writes of an unexpected wake-up call from the streets of Beni Suaf (a sleepy Egyptian city a few hours south of Cairo).
No, this was not a call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque!
Drago's daughter queried, "Daddy, what are they doing?"
"I have no idea. All I can see is a mob of shabaab (young men), in front of the internet cafe."
Drago noted in her book, "It was three-thirty in the morning. Hearing the commotion" the family had been sprung from their beds. However, only the next day did Drago and her household learn that the shouting, which sounded like the noise in the streets after a victorious football match, was, in fact, both the joyous gloating students and mourning of students and parents who had just learnt the results of the "ever-dreaded high-school exit exam", which had been posted on the internet in the wee hours of that night. "The exam results determined what college, if any, a person could attend and for what field of study she or he qualified. The one with high marks was shouting joyfully; others mourned sorrowfully as their hopes and dreams flittered away." Drago said.
Drago went on to contrast those happenings in Egypt (circa 2007) with those in America during that very same week. In America, Drago had read, thousands--or millions-- of young people were lining up to purchase the latest 600-plus-pages- long Harry Potter tale from J.K. Rowling. Drago pointed out, "It would be a rare Egyptian child who picked up a book in summer to read for pleasure; for most, their only books were textbooks." Drago added, "We lived in a city [Beni Suef, Egypt] of a quarter-million people, but there were no bookstores. Tiny shops sold either religious books or school supplies. "
Drago then provided an example of how the culture of Egypt was severely damaged (or handicapped) by the absence of the-joy-of-reading: Drago wrote, "I once visited and English teacher and his wife, a librarian, in their home. He proudly told me how they had only one book in the house--a Bible, which they read each evening. While that was admirable, it was also puzzling: how could an English teacher and a librarian not love books?"
I have to concur with Drago in terms of what the absence of a greater joy-in-reading means to a people in both the long and the short term.
NEEDED in the Arab World: A CRUSADE FOR BOOKS & FOR READING FOR PLEASURE
I have taught in the Middle East over the last 12 years in three different countries, and I have observed a similarity between the Egyptian educational practices and those of Kuwait, Oman and the UAE. I imagine that the absence of reading-for-pleasure and the under-practice -of or under-cultivation-of other knowledge-gaining hobbies has been one reason that the developments in the Arab world have legged behind the West in hundreds of categories in the 6 centuries following the creation of the Gutenberg Press near Mainz, Germany.
NOTE: Incidentally, while the invention of the German Gutenberg was "a seminal event" in Western Civilization, the creation by Gutenberg actually occurred long after the Chinese had already created the process of printing. This is why China and the Chinese already had had paper money during the Western Civilization's Dark Ages.
Moreover, this deficit in reading-for-pleasure in many Gulf Arab Society's even today--i.e. in the post Oil-boom eras--continued to be perpetrated by the direct importation of Egyptian teachers and educational models from the 1950s onwards, e.g. in many Gulf Arab Societies.
Luckily, the recent growth and growing prevalence of the internet, modern media, and computers in the homes and neighborhoods of the average Arab community inside-of-Egypt --and-out over the past 2 decades is providing public space for reading for pleasure and fun. This new access to written genres across the Arab and non-Arab world has allowed many--both young and old--to make new connections and to dream dreams in a different way than their predecessors. Without a doubt , the internet and other written media have enabled communication of ideas which have consequently lead to reforms faster than in any period in recent memory--at least for many living in the Arab world today.
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