DRESSED in black denim jeans and a checkered shirt, Mai Goussous
is not very different, in her carefree attitude and sporty attire,
from the pupils who were teasing her in the bustling corridors of
the National Orthodox School.
It was break time, and Ms. Goussous was jovial and relaxed with
her students. She is equally relaxed, though more serious, in the
classroom, where she teaches English language and literature.
"This is my style. I like the pupils to feel comfortable and at
ease with me," says the dark-eyed Goussous.
She may be one of the few teachers in Jordan who does not mind
if a student leans on the window sill or the radiator while she is
teaching. "As long as they are able to concentrate, I really do not
mind. If a girl or boy looks bored or is seeking trouble, I just
point out calmly that they may leave. More often than not, they do
not," she says.
Goussous has been teaching English since she graduated in 1976
from the American University of Beirut, which has produced some of
the most prominent professionals and political leaders in the Arab
When she started teaching English at a leading state-run school
in Amman 13 years ago, she found that the challenge was far greater
than simply teaching a foreign language. "There was a feeling of
resentment and hostility to the language," she recalls.
In the minds of many pupils in state schools, mostly children
from the middle and lower class, English is associated with Western
"Some girls at the schools would hide their surprise when I
would display nationalist feelings or awareness of our political
problems," she explains. "They associated knowledge of the English
language with support for Western governments' policies in the
region." English is also linked with Jordan's upper classes and
privileged private schools.
Jordan's state schools start teaching English in seventh grade,
and by the 12th grade the pupils are expected to compete with their
private-school peers when they sit for a General Certificate Exam -
the equivalent to the Scholastic Achievement Test in the United
States and a major prerequisite for university admission here.
English for elites
Later, when Goussous moved to a private school where English is
taught alongside Arabic from the first day of school, pupils showed
a very different attitude. "They are more relaxed and confident,"
observes Goussous, who graduated from the prestigious National
Orthodox School (NOS), the same school where she now teaches.
At the private schools in Jordan, English is associated with the
educational and cultural sophistication sought by the professional
and social elite for their children.
While in the state schools Goussous tried to help students
overcome their resentment of English, at this private school she
feels the challenge is how to expand the awareness of her pupils
beyond the narrow scope of their privileged social circle.
"They are almost insulated. They lack awareness of the social
problems," she says.
Principal Rima Zananiri, who taught Arabic, history, and social
studies at NOS for more than 16 years, notes that the level of
political and social awareness has dropped remarkably over the
years. She attributes this not only to the fact that most students
come from affluent families, but also to the political changes in
the region and the shortcomings of the educational system.
She has watched pupils' interest in broader, serious issues drop
over the years as the Arab world experienced political and military
defeats - the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the 1982 Israeli invasion of
Lebanon, and finally the Gulf war. …