Education and Poverty in East Amman- A Catch-22 situation
I think the safest way to start this post is by admitting that it is elitist! Even though I spent 4 hours yesterday trying to figure out a way to put my ideas, which did not seem elitist at the time, in the best possible non-elitist form.
Here we go:
After a few years of working in east Amman, I started noticing a trend among the people I work with there. A few people in East Amman have the right skills to be attractive to good employers. And by right skills, I mean the bare minimum. Let me give an example here, to clarify things; in one of the projects that I was engaged in, a few years ago, I came across a fabulous accountant. She had a wonderful eye for details; she was meticulous in organizing documents and files. I would ask her about any random paper and she could hand it to me within minutes. I can safely say she saved the day on several occasions.
Obviously, nothing is perfect, my accountant had one little problem; she had a wandering mouth! She shared numbers and important information with everyone, not because she was a talkative person, nor because she was a bad account. She did, because she did not know any better, she did not know the concept of confidential information. From her perspective, things looked like this: people with whom she worked were her neighbours and friends. They chatted, they supported each other and they gossiped. Sharing confidential information was the common sense in her world.
Ms. Accountant never went to a good high school in which ethics or good practices, or even universal professional principles were taught. As a matter of fact she never finished her bachelor degree either (reason: poverty); she managed, however, to get herself a diploma from a community college. So all her brilliance is actually hers alone. A sudden pang seizes my heart, whenever I think of her. She makes around 200 JDs, when in reality her skills would qualify her for a thousand more… I know that if she had the opportunity of any proper education, she would be sought after by the Jordanian corporate world. In that parallel world, her children would not be deprived of their basic needs including safe drinking water, they would not be malnourished, and they would not go to the same crappy schools that she went to and be condemned to the same lifestyle she leads.
I know it sounds cliché, but I blame our educational system when I make this statement about people who live in East Amman. Our educational system does not generate qualified or skilled workforce. The assumption I am working with here is that people <madas’ thought>let’s keep it at people I work with and who happen to be from east Amman </madas’ thought>can’t afford to go to good private high schools. <madas’ thought> we all know that high schools are very important to the Jordanian corporate world. In an interview, if two people have the same skills and one is a public school graduate while the other is a private school graduate, the latter takes the job in a heartbeat. </madas’ thought> and so they end up in bad public schools. The Jordanian higher education system is not much better. I mean, we learn technical stuff there, but never the important soft skills. Therefore, if someone doesn’t speak English, they will not learn it at any Jordanian university, if they don’t know how to market themselves, they will not learn how to do so at any Jordanian university, and let’s face it, if they are not presentable for an interview, then they are not learning that at any Jordanian university either.
Is this important?
I am not sure it is important at all. I mean, I truly don’t want to fall in the orientalism trap here. The west knowing what is best for the east… All what I am saying is, from a pure anthropological perspective, things there started to feel like a catch 22 situation. If you are poor, you go to a bad school, if you go to a bad school, you end up with a bad job, if you have a bad job you are condemned to live in poverty, and if you live in poverty… everyone knows what happens.
Unless of course, with divine intervention, you managed to invent something spectacular, or you were lucky enough to meet a teacher who would provide you with the proper guidance and help you break free from this vicious cycle. And then, only then, you stop being part of the 14.2% of the Jordanian who live below the poverty line, and your children stop being part of the 17% who are malnourished.
The sun finally smiled today. I am a summer person. I only like the rain, because we need it…just a fleeting thought.