Education is a unique topic about which everyone has an opinion, regardless of their profession or background. On one hand, it naturally draws interest as every single part of life is tied to it. On the other hand, amid such uproar, how is it possible to understand the difference between right and wrong?
A more appropriate question would be: Who should we listen to and why? As a researcher studying the intersection of applied linguistics and education, I feel that it is crucial rather than extraneous to offer my opinion on the topic.
By examining the major scientific journal list by Thomson Reuters, one can easily deduce that the top 25% of the journals – also called the "first quartile" – are heavily influenced by American and European institutions. It is rare to see journals from other parts of the world, the Middle East in particular. One might be surprised by my emphasis on the Middle East; however, I belong to this culture and am furious about this trend. Apparently, there is a problem here.
In order to solve a problem, the most important thing is to accept that there is a problem. This is also the basic tenet of research: First, you state a problem and then, utilize an appropriate method and get results. It is easy to say but once we come across the realities of life, stating the problem becomes a major task. I believe this is the first thing to do before looking for solutions. As I stated before, education has strong ties with every aspect of our lives, from politics to the economy. However, approaching this topic with half-blind eyes will produce half-blind results. Then, what is the problem?
When we are talking about the problem in education, we need to know that this is a multifaceted subject and trying to define each problem in this article is way beyond our limitations. However, it is necessary to point out essential issues to raise awareness based on a solid foundation. Before sprouting seeds, it is necessary to create a clean environment that can support a harvest in the future.
First, education in the Middle East lacks modernity. Bewildering intellectual richness has paralyzed all post-colonial countries. In order to catch up with developments in the West, the Middle East has sacrificed a lot of its culture, from the purification of languages to changing clothes. However, it seems these concessions have led to little progress. Changes in daily life were usually superficial and did not address the roots of the problems. It is unrealistic to expect things that work in the West to work the same in the East as well. There are significant differences among people, customs and world views. These differences require problem-solving based on a local perspective rather than a holistic approach. Although intellectual richness thrived in the East for hundreds of years, two consecutive world wars and imperialistic policies suppressed and discredited these nations. This led to a shift in perspective and intellectuals in the Middle East no longer harbored enthusiasm to pursue the glittering progress in the West. They buried their heads in the sand, isolated themselves from the rest of the world and created a radical conservatism never before witnessed in Islamic history.
Second, education faces a dilemma amid conservatism as well. While maintaining local traditions is a sacred duty, resistance to any change also blocks progress. To make it clear, we love our customs and stick strictly to folklore, which certainly deserves praise. On the other hand, life must continuously change and adapt to some extent. In such a dilemma, the clash between old and new brings about countless problems and most of the time, the former enslaves the latter and does not leave any room for progress. The gap has widened so much that differences among people are interpreted as threats rather than richness. Our social life is divided sharply between old and new, and no one is in search of a common point to make our life more bearable; meanwhile, we are teetering on the verge of a world crisis.
Third, our education does not promote the importance of freedom. We continue to be unsuccessful in raising independent individuals who can think and decide on their own. Of course, this problem is ubiquitous all over the world, but in my opinion, it is much more prevalent in the Middle East. Surprisingly, this problem is present in both left-wing and right-wing circles. Unfortunately, we are creating a generation who are committed to their social circle and are unwilling to search out other viable solutions for existing problems. It is easier to support our unquestionable political parties and insult our “enemies.” Thinking out of the box about solutions often means loneliness and isolation. Then, if we are not in pursuit of the truth, what is the point of getting degrees in schools?
Next, education no longer inspires creativity. With the right amount of money, almost everything is accessible. Whatever you need, there are available options. This upon-demand culture inevitably fosters laziness and does inspire an urge to do something better or unfold our hidden potential. If you have a chance and stroll around the forgotten streets of our cities, you will come across many talented people. Since they do not always have an opportunity to manifest these skills, they pursue a business only valuable for the market demand. On the other hand, the ones who have a chance to study at a university do not even think about doing their best in school. The copy-paste generation is usually exhausted and does not have the ambition to stamp its own seal. In the end, we have individuals unwilling to fight the challenges of our societies. This should not be surprising as ongoing problems in today’s world create a vicious circle, and this could only be possible with creative people who have unorthodox approaches to these challenges.
Overall, the problems I have listed so far constitute only a small portion in the wider picture, and there are many other crucial points to consider. As I have stated earlier, if we want to overcome our problems, we need to create awareness before looking for solutions. This is a strenuous task and requires time and effort. However, once we make progress, I believe the road ahead will be much smoother and full of surprises we have never witnessed before.
* Assistant professor in the English language teaching department of Hatay Mustafa Kemal University.
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