Education and the Future of Youth in the MENA
By Emad Botrous
The World Bank released a new report on education in the MENA Region at a recent consultation held in Cairo on November 13, 2018. The purpose of this consultation was to discuss “the tensions holding back education in the region and call for collective efforts to unleash the power of education to realize the potential of the region’s large youth population and contribute to future growth and stability.” The report identifies four key tensions in the education system: The tensions between credentials and skills; discipline and inquiry; control and autonomy; and tradition and modernity.
This is a crucial piece of information to which Egypt must pay attention, as there is a healthy conversation about the significance of education as a key to growth, prosperity, and most importantly the development of the country. Though Egypt has been “embarking on a system wide transformation, using technology to deliver, support, measure and manage learning and the professional development of teachers,” such efforts have been critiqued by many, as much attention is given to embracing new educational technologies, while pedagogical methodologies, essentially rote memorization and indoctrination, remain the same. There also exists the challenge of an inadequate number of quality of elementary and secondary schools. Parents are questioning the success of traditional approaches to education; rather, they are demanding a major shift in the philosophy of education, with a focus more on creativity, attractive environments for learning, the development of critical thinking and the acquiring of new skills. Many demand higher quality schools regarding structure and content and, importantly, wish to remove religion from the school system. Ultimately, embracing new technologies will not be enough to create the transformation that many are longing for.
When the Book of Proverbs speaks about wisdom and learning, it does not speak of abstract knowledge. Wisdom is not only concerned with what one understands, “but also what one does with that understanding. Wisdom is about developing both discernment and character.” In this sense, education becomes more concerned about creating a learning environment wherein a younger generation is able to develop the skills needed to learn and engage in critical discernment for themselves. As they grow up, this young generation will be well prepared to make decisions, examining and questioning traditional cultural norms, and rethinking potentially harmful values held for a long time by society. Thus, education is more concerned about the character formation of a person, and how learning contributes and applies to day-to-day situations and challenges in life.
 Koptak, P. E. (2003). Proverbs (p. 24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Book of Proverbs challenges the church as it contributes to the well-being of society in various ways. It begins with examining whether the church presents to the society a more adequate biblical model of learning that focuses on discernment and character formation, for example, in teaching our kids in Sunday Schools. Regarding theological education, our seminary is very committed to preparing leaders who have developed the critical thinking necessary to function effectively in tomorrow’s world, as well as to training future Arab leaders of the church to gain the skills of relating and applying Scripture to their Arab-Islamic culture and day-to-day life situations. Of course, this is not an easy task as our students often come from communities where indoctrination is the only means of education. But, we purposely work very hard to avoid such indoctrination ourselves. Finally, the church is invited to be more and more involved in secular education as part of its mission. This can take place by encouraging the followers of Jesus working in the field of education to see the workplace as a mission field; the body of Christ should use its gifts, skills and financial resources to contribute to the development of quality of schools and the well-being of students. May God inspire all of us to grow in wisdom.