Youth and Education in the Middle East: Shaping Identity and Politics in Jordan.

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By: Daniele Cantini

Publisher: I.B. Tauris

London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016. 240 pp. $99.00, ISBN: 9781784532475

Volume: 4 Issue: 11

November 2016

Review by:

Sadiq Alabbas, ABD

University of Nebraska at Omaha

Omaha, NE

Youth and Education in the Middle East: Shaping Identity and Politics in Jordan is a theoretically sophisticated ethnography of higher education in the Middle East and its contradictions. It focuses on the University of Jordan as a site for modernity by addressing crucial issues; including global policy initiatives, student lives, campus activism, and the gendered challenge of the labor market.

Daniele Cantini provides an introduction entitled “youth and education in Jordan” where he describes the link between youth and higher education in a variety of ways that range from the actual structure of the university, the changes in policies, social and political lives of students, and the entrance into the labor market in Jordan. The author mentions that “the country’s university system has long played an important role in the political socialization of Jordanians” (P.21). In addition, he highlights the Palestinian Arabs and refugees status and the government’s efforts at building the nation as a complex intermingling on Jordan – particularly, state bureaucracies and religious establishments and their effects on politics and social issues.

Chapter 1 introduces the early history of higher education in Jordan, its birth and development, its philosophical foundations, and discusses its political and social relevance. The author reports that on September, 1962, law no. 34 was the first law which authorized the establishment of the Jordan State University. However, “Teaching at the university started on December, 15 1962, with only 167 students” (p.27). Later economic development in the region reinforced the emphasis on higher education. Now “Jordan is ranked 18th in the world and first in the Arab world by UNESCO” (P.29). The remainder of the chapter discusses Jordan University’s concrete function in two particularly relevant ways: admission policies, and differences between teaching methodologies in different faculties by analyzing two lessons in the faculties of sharia and literature, as examples.

Chapter 2 discusses the crisis of the university in Jordan, describing some of main reforms that have taken place during the last 25 years, such as privatization and budget cuts, as well as the language in which these reforms are wrapped. The second part of this chapter deals more specifically with policies, including an in-depth analysis of the HERfKE (Higher Educational Reform for Knowledge Economy) program, sponsored by the World Bank, as “the project, officially approved in 2009, aims to support the development of a higher education system” (p.74). The final section of this chapter deals with yet another set of policies enacted by international agencies such as the European Union through its TEMPUS “ promoting cooperation in higher education between the European and 29 partner countries” (p.79) including Jordan.

Chapter 3 expounds how university students live their years on campus, trying to observe their everyday experiences in the context of attendance at the university as a foundational moment in their lives. However, most students tend to spend the entire day on campus, rarely engaged in study-related activities; more often they are “engaged in conversations with peers, in walks to neighboring faculties to meet friends and ongoing attempts at setting up some flirtatious to meet with members of the opposite sex “(p.90).

Chapter 4 deals with the contradictory character of universities as organized spaces of political dissent. The chapter discusses the history of student movements in Jordan, and how they integrate with the political development in the country. The chapter asserts that the protests on campus are limited to “national and international political events and to student elections” (p.126) and focusing on the broader relationship between education, citizenship and stability in Jordan. The chapter moves to describing the main clashes that occurred on different campuses as a result of unresolved tensions at the university level, as well as at the social and political level.

The concluding chapter investigates the relationship between the university and the labor market. The chapter presents the varying trajectories of students after graduation with reference to the “most fundamental conceptual tools of social analysis, such as class differences, and social and economic background, while always bearing in mind individual orientations” (p.136). In addition, the chapter discusses the gender paradox situation as a result of cultural and political factors.

Generally, the book provides a balanced combination of ethnography and literature about the contradictions of the higher educational system in the Middle East. Indeed, the importance of this book is in its theoretically sophisticated ethnography and contribution to the anthropology of higher education in the Middle East by examining the University of Jordan as an example. It may be considered required reading for those interested in the higher educational reforms in the Middle East, especially in issues of university structure, the change in policies, social and political lives of students, and their entry into the labor market.

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