The travails of teaching Arabs their own language

New methods of education may be deemed subversive | Middle East & Africa

9/19/2021 9:06:00 AM

To promote reading, Saudi Arabia is distributing Japanese-style comics to every Saudi child over ten, with superheroes speaking Arabic slang

New methods of education may be deemed subversive | Middle East & Africa

.The root of the problem is bad teaching. Arabic lessons are dull and focus on fiddly grammar. Classrooms often have no printed material. Few schools have libraries. Teachers tend to lack “sufficient mastery of the language itself”, says the report. In universities across the region, Arabic departments, along with religious studies ones, attract students with the lowest grades.

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In Morocco almost 60% of teachers of ten-year-olds have no higher education. Only Bahrain has a teacher-training college that specialises in teaching Arabic. Teachers tend to be traditionalists, sometimes resorting to beating. Children “don’t love the Arabic language because not even 1% of teachers are reading stories to their students for pleasure,” said Ms Taha-Thomure, a professor at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates (

UAESome blame the language itself. Pupils are taught Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the formal tongue of officialdom, yet they grow up speaking a native dialect. The dialect closest toMSAis spoken by Palestinians, yet only about 60% of the local lingo overlaps with headtopics.com

MSA. The Moroccan dialect diverges far more.Adults often stumble over the written word, too, so bedtime reading to children is rare. Only about a quarter of Arabic-speaking parents read to their children often, compared with more than 70% in much of the West. Reading for pleasure is widely regarded as critical for a child’s future success. But studies show that Arabic-speaking children do much less of that than children in the West.

Arab education ministries are waking up to the problem. Egypt has developed a trove of online material to bypass the traditionalists. TheUAEhas begun fitting classrooms with “reading corners”. Across the Arab world girls far outperform boys, in part because female teachers tend to be better, so Saudi Arabia has defied crusty clerics and let women teach boys (though separately from girls). Its education ministry is puncturing the mystique of the sacred texts by distributing Japanese-style comics to every Saudi child over ten, with superheroes speaking Arabic slang. “We are facing generations that do not speak the Arabic language,” says Essam Bukhary, the

CEOof Manga Arabia, which produces the comics. “We want to promote reading as a hobby for younger generations.”Traditionalists quake at such irreverent handling of the sacred language. And Arab regimes are nervous of the free expression a more liberal approach may inspire. Their censors are banning books as keenly as ever and ensure that newspapers all say the same thing. Many officials prefer to keep children disciplined by making them memorise what they’re told, says Andrew Hammond, a lecturer in Arabic culture at Oxford University. Otherwise, he says, they might start thinking for themselves.

Read more: The Economist »

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