Efforts to increase Jordan’s digital literacy rates against a backdrop of changing demographics and skills gaps in the labour market are beginning to yield results.
In early May, the Queen Rania Foundation announced plans to join forces with Google.org, a non-profit subsidiary of the world’s largest search engine, to create an online learning platform targeting the kingdom’s pre-university-level students. As part of the collaboration, Google.org will grant the foundation $3m.
Designed as an open education resource to improve access to education for pupils unfamiliar with English, the programme will be delivered in Arabic. While a timeframe for the project’s implementation has yet to be made public, the foundation confirmed that the first phase will focus on creating mathematics courses for students in pre-tertiary education.
Eyeing the knowledge economy
The latest deal comes after King Abdullah reaffirmed the kingdom’s commitment to modernising its education sector on April 15.
At around 9.1%, Jordan’s illiteracy rate is one of the lowest in the MENA region, with 95% of nationals aged between six and 15 registered in basic education, according to data in the Department of Statistic’s 2015 census.
Commenting in a discussion paper, the king noted, however, that improving digital literacy had a key part to play in transforming Jordan into a knowledge-based economy.
One day after the king’s speech, the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development signed a memorandum of understanding with the Arab Banking Corporation Bank for four years’ worth of funding to support educational initiatives targeting the country’s younger generations.
The money will be channelled into two organisations: the Al-Aman Fund for the Future of Orphans, which helps youngsters that have lost their parents to find jobs, university and job training; and the Jordan Education Initiative, which champions the use of technology in the classroom.
ICT facilities taking shape
A report issued by the World Bank in January highlights the progress that Jordan has made in readying the younger members of society for the knowledge economy.
According to the international lender, Jordan’s efforts to strengthen the physical infrastructure of its ICT-friendly labs and classrooms represent one of the most important contributions to the country’s education system.
The report was released at the end of the Second Education Reform for the Knowledge Economy programme, a collaborative venture between the World bank and Jordan, which ran from 2011 through to the end of 2016. Among its objectives, the $407.6m programme aimed to better prepare pre-university children for participating in a modern economy.
A total of 624 classrooms, 13 ICT labs and 34 science labs were constructed for Jordan’s pre-tertiary education system under the programme from a baseline of zero, well ahead of initial targets.
The new infrastructure complements earlier initiatives aimed at bringing technology into Jordan’s education sector and, more specifically, the classroom. With technical assistance from UNESCO, Jordan rolled out its Open Education Management Information System (OpenEMIS) in September. The information gathered from the schools enrolled in the state-owned OpenEMIS system will enable the country to develop more effective strategies for education.
According to the World Bank’s report, all schools in Jordan are now registered in the system, with the government planning to extend the initiative.
Tackling jobless rates
Jordan is also working to encourage the implementation of ICT skills in its programmes for university-aged students.
Unemployment levels had reached around 16% by the end of 2016, up from 14.6% at the beginning of the year, according to figures from the Department of Statistics (DoS). The skills gap between higher education and market needs is seen as one of the major factors in the country’s rising jobless figures.
Another government initiative aimed at fostering the spirit of ICT entrepreneurship among university graduates is the annual Queen Rania National Entrepreneurship Competition.
The eighth edition of the competition, which took place earlier this year, brought together 100 participating teams from 265 applicants. From these, 33 teams made it through to the final round. The competition comprises three separate categories: the university track, featuring teams made up of students and faculty members; the pre-start-up path, for businesses that are not yet established; and the start-up track, aimed at companies that have been registered for three years and have no more than 12 employees.
Pressure of numbers
In recent years, Jordan’s education sector has felt the weight of a growing population and rising demand, triggered largely by the influx of refugees.
According to the DoS census, which was completed in December 2015, 145,000 school-aged Syrian children – or 70% of those in Jordan – were in education. Basic and secondary schools could be required to expand by 8.4% to serve Jordan’s growing population, official figures suggest. Syrian refugee children are expected to account for 7.7% of the total number of students in such schools.
Online learning platforms are seen as a useful means of increasing enrolment rates and better serving the needs of Jordan’s changing education sector.