Arab Education: Tradition, Growth and Reform

By Rugh, William A. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Arab Education: Tradition, Growth and Reform

Rugh, William A., The Middle East Journal

In recent decades, Arab education has achieved substantial growth in quantitative terms, with enrollments and other indicators expanding dramatically, including for females. Arab students can choose from different educational systems. Yet a lively discussion about quality is taking place throughout the Arab world. Business leaders worry that university graduates are unprepared for the private sector, and that universities are not doing relevant research. Observers are questioning traditional rote learning and the absence of accreditation and objective evaluation, and considering reform measures.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks and the revelation by the US Government that the 19 hijackers were Muslim Arabs, mostly from Saudi Arabia, the editorial pages of American newspapers have been full of articles discussing Arab educational systems - and particularly Saudi schools. The writers declare that educational institutions in the Arab world nurture a mind-set of intolerance and even hostility to the West, so these institutions deserve much of the blame for fostering anti-US terrorism.1

At present, however, we lack sufficient information to make definitive statements about the effect of Arab schools on tendencies of graduates to become terrorists. Some organizations and individual researchers have made initial attempts to review Arab textbooks for political content, but no one has yet collected sufficient data in a systematic way, and analyzed it dispassionately, on what Arab textbooks actually say, or what goes on in Arab classrooms.2 This task remains to be done.

Meanwhile, there is a lively discussion taking place throughout the Arab world about several aspects of education and reform measures that are needed. This discussion, which has gone largely unnoticed in the West, has been generated by several developments in the region. Those developments include strong demand for education at all levels, the resulting pressure on educational facilities and budgets, and concern on the part of the private sector that the education system is not providing graduates with appropriate skills to deal with the challenge of globalization. Arab students have a variety of opportunities now, including private educational institutions, English-medium schools, religious-curriculum institutions, and study abroad. This article will first describe the fundamental attributes of educational systems in the Arab world and then it will review the main issues that are being discussed by Arab leaders in the private sector, government and academia, about areas that need reform.


Although there are differences among Arab countries in their educational systems, just as there are differences in their political systems, economic circumstances, and social customs, some common characteristics can be identified that apply for the most part. They are: a rapid growth of access to educational institutions, and significant growth in literacy, for females as well as males; governmental control and financing of most education, with a new trend to some privatization; the emergence of some Western-style educational institutions, and continuation of some religious-based ones; and limited study abroad. Each of these will be examined before looking at the reform debate.

Just as there has been little study of the impact of curricula, so also it should be noted that one of the problems in understanding Arab education generally is that fully reliable and up to date information on Arab schools and educational systems is not readily available for all countries, although UNESCO and others are making an effort to compile accurate material and some progress has been made recently.3


Arab education generally is characterized, first of all, by a dramatic increase in access to education during the past four decades. The numbers of schools, teachers and students have grown very rapidly.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Arab Education: Tradition, Growth and Reform


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?