Going to School in the Middle East and North Africa

By Kwabena Dei Ofori-Attah | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE
EAST: THE REGION DEFINED

As pointed out by Williams (1968), the “Middle East” as a geographic entity was a term coined by an American historian, A. T. Mahan, in 1902 to denote

a sphere of Western political influence rather than a precise geographical or ethnic area.
At its widest extent it is held to include the region from Turkey and the Mediterranean
seaboard lands to Jordan, Iraq and Iran in the east, the Arabian peninsula in the south,
with Egypt and Sudan on the African continent. (p. 1)

North Africa is bounded by the Sahara Desert in the south and the Mediterranean in the north. Modern North Africa is made up of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, and the Maghrib (western North Africa) comprises Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. Some of the countries in North Africa are also found in the region defined as the Middle East. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) include Algeria, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the Western Sahara, and Yemen. The Middle East is also sometimes referred to as Southwest Asia.

Most of the countries in the MENA region were once part of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Charlemagne (Charles the Great) is noted for promoting formal schooling in the Byzantine Empire. It is often stated that his interest in education was so great that he looked to the West for a famous educator, Alcuin of York, to manage the schools in the Byzantine Empire. Charlemagne and his family members enrolled in some of the palace schools he established and studied to read and write. During this period, the concept of the seven liberal arts came into use. The seven liberal arts constituted the curriculum that was often used in the schools at the time. They consisted of the trivium

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