Reaching for the Optimum [Archives:2004/771/Opinion]

September 9 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
“For once, I feel like I do not know where we are going”, said Adel to his wife as she was picking up the toys and clothing the children had scattered all over the living room floor.
“When your eldest daughter comes with her kids, it looks like a storm passed through the house! What do you mean? You are going tomorrow to register the kids for the new school season, that is where you're going”, said Furdous setting her husband's mind straight on the course their lives should take.
Adel wanted to show that he hasn't forgotten that schools are reopening: “Oh, I know that, I hope I can get the money together for the registration fee and tuition and the endless charges they tally up. I can't understand why education has become so costly nowadays. I never had to pay anything for my schooling and neither did you. Even our older children's education costs were relatively modest, although they were in the only private school that existed then in Sana'a. Now look at all these private schools that have popped up everywhere. Come to think of it, everybody is complaining that about the only things these private schools offer over the public schools is half-way decent classrooms. I am not sure if the quality of their education is that much worth the money. Look at the grades our son got.”
Furdous had the rationale for that: “Our son did not really pay attention to his studies. Maybe he is not interested in having an English syllabus. He seemed bored by the studies.”
“I am not sure if anybody's children these days has a desire to do well in school. When they go home, they see their parents struggling to keep their budgets as balanced as possible, only to find that their grocery bill has climbed leaps and bounds, and the utility, telephone and other service bills have eaten up a sizable chunk of their monthly income, even after the measly raise the government has approved for civil servants. When they are in school, they see some of their fellow students, who hail from families that seem to have parents with unlimited resources, are walking around with mobile phones and lots of money in their pockets, and luxury cars come to whisk them off from school at the end of the school day. Even their less fortunate school mates know that these are the children of those officials, who have managed to find a tap line to the treasury that floods their parents' coffers. They see these affluent kids not caring about doing well in school, because they can count on their parents leaving them a lot of money. They get depressed further by the fact that some of these affluent kids have parents, who never finished secondary school, at least in an honest way, yet they are holders of sensitive positions that open the way for them to rapid wealth.”
“Come on Adel, we must continue to encourage our children to strive for a good education, things will never remain the same”, Furdous was still optimistic about the future.
“Look my dear!”, remarked Adel, continuing “optimism by itself needs to be backed by trends that show we are heading in the right direction. Where do you see these trends? Corruption and favoritism are the rule rather than the exception in many government functions and thus children have really not much to look for, in terms of a reward for a good education. Even teachers have a hard time doing a proper teaching job. Do you know that there are teachers who have been working as 'volunteer' teachers for years, hoping that the Ministry of Education will recognize their teaching capabilities and hire them as permanent teachers. But, to their dismay, only those who are ready to pay or who have connections will get on the payroll. That takes care of any hopes for getting a quality education. When they try to obtain jobs in private schools, they find that there are foreign teachers competing with them, because the image of these private schools is enhanced by the presence of expatriate teachers, who can teach the English syllabus. Did you see the grade report of our son from his private school? Did you see how they spelled 18? EITHTEEN! We paid YR 100,000 for the English syllabus? There is nothing in our education system that shows any real positive trends. Go to some of the public schools and look at how pathetic the classrooms are. Half the furniture is broken down and the windows are almost all broken. At least, our children can find a seat in their private school. But YR 100,000 is a lot of rent for a chair. That is really all we are getting, when you look at the grade report of the children. Where is the guidance and early detection of the teachers to show that they are trying to overcome any shortcomings of the students? None exists, in public or private schools. Why do not the school officials prevent the children of the affluent from showing off their wealth and extravagance amidst fellow students, whose parents had to sell all their inherited assets just to pay for their tuitions and get their kid to at least have a seat to sit on while learning?”.
“If only the government can start to set the proper directions our schools should be taking”, said Furdous, as she finally picked up the last building block from the living room floor with a sigh of relief, continuing: “Where are the standards for the quality of our children's education, whether in private or public schools? What regulations govern the way schools are run, such as maximum number of children per teacher/classroom, etc?”
Adel had only one answer: “Government officials are too busy looking out for their own interests to worry about the classroom jungle. They worry that if they do not take maximum advantage of the positions they hold to advance their standards of living as fast, they will loose the chance to make the future of their children worry free. They are reaching for the optimum, while they would give the least care if the rest of the society sinks to the abyss!”