Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Libya: Looking toward a Post-Lockerbie Future; Libya Invests in Its People's Education

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Libya: Looking toward a Post-Lockerbie Future; Libya Invests in Its People's Education

Article excerpt

Libya: Looking Toward a Post-Lockerbie Future; Libya Invests in Its People's Education

By Delinda C. Hanley

National Planning Center for Education and Vocational Training

Libya's educational and training system is well established, in part because in the last 10 years it has devoted 52 to 54 percent of the national budget to education. The Washington Report met with two of the experts who helped design and continue to fine-tune Libya's educational system.

For 11 years--before Libya's recent decentralization of government ministries gave local control of schools to each community--Maatouq M. Maatouq was his country's secretary of education. "Engineer" Maatouq, as he is referred to, who attended university in the United Kingdom, now is secretary of the People's Committee of the National Board for Scientific Research. It is his office that compiles national statistics on education, as well as conducting research, developing curricula, and providing other information for each school district to use in its local schools. Maatouq's colleague is Dr. Abdulnabi Abughania, chairman of the management committee of the National Planning Center for Education and Vocational Training.

Currently the two men--whose energy and enthusiasm are evident even at the end of a long day--are zeroing in on improving education for Libyan students with special needs, establishing new vocational training programs, and revising and upgrading teachers' education. Their office also reviews and updates textbooks used in every classroom in the country.

Recently the center published a polished textbook and workbook for teaching English as a second language to Libyan preparatory school students. In addition to teaching language skills, the textbook incorporated lessons in combating negative stereotypes of women and minorities--an holistic approach which well could be emulated by American educators.

Libya's population of five million includes 1.7 million students, 200,000 of whom study at college or university and 70,000 at technology institutes. With 220,000 teachers, Libya's teacher-student ratio is an enviable 1:8. In fact, the educators told the Washington Report, some schools have more teachers than students! This is the case, they explained, where there is a teacher for each of 11 subjects, for example, and only one or two students in a given grade. Some remote desert schools, they said, comprise only 30 students.

Preschools, both private and public, are available for 3 to 5 year-olds. Nine years of basic education is compulsory (and free) for all Libyans from the ages of 6 to 15, and is divided into three basic tiers. Pupils study reading, writing, religion, arithmetic, physical education, and drawing in the first three years. In the next three years they also begin to study biology, history and geography. In the final three years all students study English, chemistry, physics and the principles of technology. When students are 15, or have successfully completed the first nine years of school, they enter either a vocational/technical school (60 percent) or a specialized high school (40 percent), depending upon their scores and interests. When vocational students are 18 to 20 years old, they may go on to vocational training centers or institutes, whereas graduates of the specialized high schools may go on to universities and, later, graduate studies.

Engineer Maatouq is especially proud of his role in promoting technical education, which Libyans do not consider a poor alternative to academia. In the past, he noted, despite Libya's impressive human resources, the country had to import 100,000 to 200,000 skilled foreign technicians and engineers.

In 1988 Maatouq helped create the ministry of technology and vocational training to train technicians and fill the gap. Today Libya boasts some 400 intermediate vocational training centers offering instruction in 54 different trades. …

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