Thursday, July 06, 2006

School days, school days....

I read this today in the AngolaPress: The League of Arab school-teachers in Libya has called its members to exert more efforts toward accomplishment of the educational objectives of the League. - Basically what they are saying is that teachers in Libya are being told to enhance their performance.

When I came to Libya 17 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. One of my main worries even from the embryo has always been 'What on earth am I going to do to educate any children I might have in Libya?' Good question! I am still trying to figure it out!

When Adam reached the age where he would begin school we seriously thought about putting him in Tripoli College, which officially has some other weird propaganda name, but is always referred to by everyone simply as Tripoli College. Its curriculum is in English and was for years basically the only English curriculum school that most expats sent their kids to besides the Oil Company School (OCS). Recently more schools have opened up whose focus is educating expat kids or those with tons of money to spend on tuition. We thought good and hard about sending Adam there, but in the end we decided against it and sent him, and the rest of the kids, to regular Libyan government run schools.

Why? For many reasons, first is that even though I'm American and a native English speaker, my kid's native language is Arabic. Though we speak English in our home, often we speak Arabic too, and all around them they are surrounded by Arabic and Libyan culture. We didn't want to mess up their identity by sending them to a school full of foreign kids, with foreign ideas, who would be just passing through their lives as soon as their parent's work contracts finished. Arabic language and an Arabic/Libyan identity were too important. We wanted the kids to have that stability.

Another reason for enrolling the children in Libyan public schools is the 'wasta factor'. Wasta, the Libyan term meaning connections, is extremely important in the day to day life of all Libyans. You need the right wasta (connections) to accomplish many things here and wasta is something that you have to obtain throughout your life. Often times my husband will go somewhere to get something done (paperwork, licenses, healthcare, etc.) and be helped out by someone that he grew up with or attended primary school with, etc. The net of connections are not just those related to you, they can be friends, neighbours, old classmates or people you work with, past and present. We thought that by putting our kids in schools intended for foreign workers we would be denying our kids possible wasta they might need to get through their lives.

Actually, we did dabble a bit in the Libyan private school sector but we soon gave up and put them in public schools as we discovered it was just a waste of money. We found that these schools were being run as money making businesses and not as places of education.

Libyan school systems have a major disaster on their hands when it comes to English. At one point English was removed completely from the curriculum and that in my opinion was a huge mistake. They are trying to correct this, but I have serious doubts that there will be any improvements in the near future. Not only are the textbooks a disaster (with errors on every single page of the new course book for elementary school students) they are also lacking in teachers to teach this subject. It's a huge dilemma - they didn't teach English for years so they weren't training anyone who could teach future generations. Forget grammar, my daughter's English teacher didn't even know the alphabet!

Some say having private language institutes is the answer. I work in a private institute, and yes, it is one way for Libyans to learn the language or improve their capabilities, but the majority of Libyans can't afford to pay to take courses and Libyans who live in smaller towns or outlying areas most likely won't have the opportunity. Here too, is a shortage of teachers.

Learning English is one of the problems Libyan students face, but they have major obstacles in other areas too. Mostly it's having teachers that just simply don't care. They are often absent, and when they are present are seldom prepared to give a proper lesson. Being a school teacher is just a way for a housewife to make a bit of pocket money and get out of the house for a few hours everyday. There are those few who care about their work, but they are too few to make the difference.

Exams are basically a farce - my kids say the teachers usually walk around giving the students the answers, allowing all forms of cheating. Creating exams is an art in itself and it's clearly evident from looking at my kid's exam papers that most teachers don't even have a clue about how to write a proper exam.

Another reason we chose Libyan schools was for tertiary education. Upon graduation from the English curriculum schools what would we do about university? They obviously wouldn't have enough Arabic to be able to attend Libyan university so we would have the added worry about how to manage to send the kids abroad to finish their studies. This would work (provided we could afford it) for the boys, but would not be an option for the girls as in Libya girls don't just go off by themselves, out into the world. Some do travel abroad, but for the most part it just is not done.

My oldest child is still in high school so we're gearing ourselves up to face university in a few years. University students face many problems (that's a whole book itself), but with all the trials and tribulations that make up the education of Libyans, for those who apply themselves there are rewards. Libya for instance, has tuition-free university. How many places in the world offer this to their citizens? I personally come into contact on a regular basis with Libyan university graduates who have opportunities to further their education abroad at the expense of the government or the companies they work for. Many use this as the chance to immigrate to other countries, but many Libyans return to share their acquired knowledge.

It will be years before my children are finished with their education, and I suppose I will worry about their offspring's education as well. One thing that I often remind them is that 'You can have your house taken away from you, your money stolen or lose your possessions, but once you put something inside your brain it's very hard to take it away. Keep studying and working on obtaining knowledge!'

It's true, Libyan teachers need to enhance their performance if they expect Libya to advance. Just how they will do it and how long it will take are the big questions.


  1. In Denmark all education, including universities, are totally free of tuiton charges. But when I was a law student some 10 years back I could hardly afford to buy the books!

    Primary education in Denmark is above average as long as you talk about public schools outside Copenhagen. City public schools are a total disaster, and I have put all my kids thru private primary education.

    When Fatima started high school last August, she chose a public high school (much to my distaste, but she is old enough to make her own decision - only, dropping out is not an option!)

    I have been a halftime teacher at the private school where my kids are enrolled - even taught my kids in class. If somebody had told me 20 years ago I would end up teaching, I would have thought him crazy, but I actually love it.

    I think you - as a teacher - might be able to give your kids home English education, and I probably reckon you do.

  2. Hi,

    But what happens if your kids dont want to have a life in Libya and like many of us want to move abroad for a " brighter" future.
    It does make things a bit harder, I know I wouldnt want my kids to have to stay in Libya just because they dont have any other choice due to education difficulties abroad! Specially having the advantage of having a foreign mother... after all they will always be 1/2 Libyan.. Whatever Dad says!!!

  3. Teri, Libya is very fortunate to have such an inspiring teacher who actually cares about education and values no matter what their culture. (My sister said you were gifted.) My nephews told me that reading and spelling the english language is very difficult. I do hope these schools pay attention to what you have to say, I have a feeling you are a voice to be heard and they better pay attention! Kudos to you for making a difference. Sandi

  4. Anonymous - People from all over the word travel to the US, Canada and the UK to continuie their studies. My husband completed four years of law school in Libya and then went to the US to further his education. I think the main problem he faced was learning about American culture. Nowadays, with satelite television people are becoming much more aquianted with western culture and moving to the west will become even easier than before.

    Also American universities love foriegn students - they usually get more money in tuition fees to those coming from abroad. :)

    I don't expect my children to have any problems where ever they decide to be. The problems arrise for those who raise their children in the west and then try to bring them back to Libya.

  5. Thanks Sandi.... not sure about gifted though...hehehehe

  6. Terri,

    I dont want to sound repetative but I have seen in my own eyes how it is not easy coming from Libya with a 100% Libyan education to Europe or America. When your husband went to the US to study it was different times, now a days life is harder... And also depends what American University he went to ( dont know what level of english he has) but english Universities certainly dont accept most of the Libyans trying to get in due to their lack in English fluency ( HOWEVER MUCH FEE´S MONEY THEY CAN PAY... EVEN IF THEY HAVE WASTA OR BAATA ( government " sponsor") I dont want to sound as if I am putting Libya down as that is not the case.. I am Half Libyan and I am very much involved since I was born in the Libyan culture and the country itself ( travelling at least once a year to Tripoli ) but I was luck enough to have a strong mother that integrated and respected the Libyan and muslim culture but she also had a say in our upbringing.
    1. She made sure that we had English passports ( as she was english) and would make our life easier and YES... THANK GOD SHE DID! Otherwise right now we would be running around worrying about Visas!
    2. Wherever we lived in the World we had a bilingual education on an international standard so that ( as we have all done) we can choose what part of the world we wish to study/ Live/ work in.

    I wont go on about this anyomore.. I promise :) I dont wish to make it sound like an attack or even a criticsm... maybe just a chance to put an idea " out there" and catch it he who wish to! I just think it is a shame that your kids could benefit from all these advantages in the future and they are just slipping away in the present.
    Take care xxxx 1/2 Libyan Somewhere in Europe!!

  7. there's new resoulation concerning the reorganization of secondray school
    next year we'll be have another resoulation which will be cancel this and life in Libya continue

  8. a.adam - thanks! That's from only two days ago - that means my son has only one more year left of high school instead of two.

    Anonymous - if a Libyan student applies him/her self they can study abroad quite easily. It is possible to study English in Libya and also sit Cambridge Univ English exams locally. This is what my kids are doing. Insha'allah, my daughter Nora will sit the First Certifice (FCE) exam next year. . .. . . my kids are also dual national - they don't have problems when it comes to travel.

  9. As we're on the theme of teaching and teachers , I can give an insight on a school I currently visited which has about 150 students and 250 teachers on government contracts !!Now the teachers don't all have classes or show up but do get a monthly salary only 45 of them actually teach !Management problems go hand in hand with WASTA which is a killer in a developing country trying to start anew by opening up to new horizons.I've said it before I will continue to repeat that if laws are not implemented we will never prosper and future generations are to pay the consequences.Teachers must be supervised by an external body and if found not having the capability to teach should be replaced and sent to a training center untill found fit.Only the goverment can implement this so that the filtering of all teachers is amust no matter what previous experience they might have.

  10. yeah Education here is horrible.
    but thanks god they've opened Informatics University instead of Going to Al-Fate7 university , at least u get a real education at the Informatics...

  11. Unfortunately informatics isn't recognised internationally, the diploma is basically useless.

  12. With regards to education up to the 80s high school or e3dadi and tanawi was still ok although things did go downhill when English language was removed.
    However, I find the Libyan students very resourceful because those who need it are able to catch up at uni were the science curriculae are actually in English.
    I think that whatever the challenges those with the intent, will and wish to study and educate themselves will always succeed.

    Khadijateri I think you did well with your kids that they are fully integrated in Libya, I've seen how those that aren't suffer. I'm just surprised you did not teach them English too. Do you speak English at home ?

    To the 1/2 Libyan anonymous : Baata and private Libyan students are accepted abroad if they pass the TOEFL or IELTS tests.So I'm not sure were you got the info that they are not accepted from. So once you have the grade and your undergraduate degree and the English test any university will accept you in the UK or Canada. As for other European countries they will accept Libyans too provided they take a one year to 6 months course in the relevant language.

    Education in Libya now needs major rehauling however there are still people who persevere despite the disadvantages. For the last 7 years at least I know that several English tests can be taken locally, no need to travel overseas anymore.

  13. Highlander - we speak both English and Arabic at home. The kids schools of course are lacking in English so I supplement at home and also by sending them to English courses. I am making it a point to insist that that sit Cambridge Univ TESOL exams. Actually I recommend that to all Libyans! :)

  14. RedEnclave,

    How does dual national works? Does it means that you can hold 2 passports?

    Yep. Not all countries recognize dual nationality, but the US does. So (I assume Khadijateris kids are dual Libya/US nationals) could travel with their US passports, so a visa would not even be required to go to most European or North American countries. And needless to say, travel to the US would be completely easy :)


    Also American universities love foriegn students

    Yes :)

    they usually get more money in tuition fees to those coming from abroad. :)

    Don't agree with you about this part, though! What are you basing that idea on!? Many US universities offer lowered tuition to foreign students as part of their diversity programs. Scholarships are also much easier to get for foreign students, than for American students. Also, most American students can only get student LOANS (which need to be paid back!) whereas foreign students can usually get GRANTS, which don't need to be paid back! The guy who sat next to me in my COBOL II class back in 1991 was from Afghanistan. We went to the financial aid office together, to apply for loans/grants/etc. I had just gotten out of a 6 year enlistment in the US Marines and was living on my own and working to pay my own bills. They pretty much told me to take a hike. My options were student loans, or nothing. No assistance of any kind. I think it's because I was the wrong color (I'm anglo, not a visible minority in the US) but the financial aid officer didn't put it that way. My afghan buddy got a free ride. He got grants for everything. Nooks, tuition and even a large portion of his living expenses. I was happy for my friend, but I ended up dropping out after a couple years... it was taking too long, having to work full time AND carry the number of classes I needed to carry every semester. I was already doing the job (as a software engineer) that I wanted to do after graduating anyway, so it worked out fine for me in the end, but this is one of the main problems with Universities in the US now. They are OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive, for people who have to pay their own way.

  15. i would like to add my opinion about informatics university; yes it gives diploma by the end of the three years of study but you have to finish the fourth year in England to get your university degree (at Southampton University).
    i think the informatics is giving a good opportunity to students to study most of their unviersity life in thier home country, so they have only one year to spend abroad (which is good on financial basis).
    although it is not a solution for most of the families who are concerned about their kids and their education ,, but at least it is an good option!

  16. Dear kHADIJA

    i just would like to say that Informatics is Recognized internationaly and it's possible to stop the semstre and continue studying in most British Universties around England such as Southampton , Portsmouth , Northumbria , Hertfordshire...etc
    and believe me studying there is not easy at all .....
    and the INFORMATICS GROUP has a good reputation worldwide especially in England , when i went there especially to make sure that the Informatics is recognized worldwide it seems like every body knew The Informatics Group , and it has a partner ship with Thames Business school which is famous worldwide .....
    alot of peaple told me that the Diploma is Useless , but believe me i went to England i found the oppisite....
    and Still a 1000 times better than Al-Fateh.
    another thing is having an Advanced Diploma from the Informatics open for you a big opprutunity to finish the Bacholer degree abroad then it's possible to finish the master degree in the year after u get the bacholer from the same university you choose in England, Australia, Canada and not sure but maybe the US..

  17. hey
    thank you for ur comment in my blog , iam doing my best to improve my spelling and verb tences , iam good when it comes to conversation but when it comes to writting iam soo bad in Both Arabic and English and iam not proud of it ....
    that's why iam taking a Business Communication course for this reason , and this blog will help me out...


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