*** school schools education : national trends -- Middle-East and North Africa

Country Schools: Middle-East and North Africa

madrasa students
Figure 1.--Here we see some Middle Eastern students, perhaps Medrassa students. I am not sure, however, just where they are from. I think it may be Pakistan. Perhaps readers will recognize the elegant mosque in the background.

Middle-Eastern culture staddles western Asia and North Africa. Our country page is basocally arranged on a geographic basis. The cultureal similarities between the Islamic countries of the Middle-East and North Africa make separating them as a distinct region a logical step. These countries include two great river valley civilizations, became Christian and then were converted to Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. Since then they have to very degrees tolerted other religions. Most were colonized by the British, French, or Italians in the 19th century and obtained their indepemdence at different times in the 20th century. The cultural, political, and religious experiences have of course affected their educational systems.


HBC does not yet have detailed information on Algerian school uniforms. Most of our informaion on Algeria comes from the colonial era. France was the colonial powe and Algerians fought a long and brutal war during the 1950s and early 60s, at times looking more like a civil war, to achieve independemce. We have acquited some images from European schools that existed in the country before independence. The school uniform styles reflect the clothing worn by conmtemporary European boys. We believe at one time smocks were widely worn in Algerian schools, but have few details on modern Algerian schools.


There were some schools in ancient Egypt, but only a few and very small number of children attended them. All the pupils were boys. Most children learned from their parents at home. In Egypt's strictly statified society, most boys pursued the occupation of their fathers and women stayed at home to maintain the houshold. The wealthy elite might have private tutors, normally a slave. Access to schooling was wider during the Roman era, but still very limited. Egypt was conquered by the Arabs (7th century). We have little information about Arab schools. Egypt after the construction of the Suze Canal became a British protectorate (1889). As Egypt was not a colony, Egyptians retained responsibility for local government, including education. This mean there was still very limited public education through the first half of the 20th century. Egypt has made considerable progress in recent years to expand educational opportunity. One estimate suggests that as many as 95 percent of the school age children attend primary schools. Most of the children who do not, especially those who drop out are girls. Even so, the education of girls is much higer than ever before. Youth literacy rate have increased from from 61 percent in 1990 to about 85 percent in 2007. Resources are limited and the Government is unable to fund schools. The quality of state education is seen as relastively poor. Other problems include the wide-spread use of corporal punishment. The current Egyptian educational system is divided unto primary, intermediate and secondary schools. Elementary education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 12 years of age. Graduates of the primary schools may attend either a general intermediate school, which prepares for a secondary education, or a technical intermediate school specializing in industrial and agricultural subjects. The secondary school system is similarly divided into general schools, with curricula designed to prepare students for a teriary education, either universities or technical schools. Only about 45 percent of the adult population is literate. Many women in particular are illiterate.


We have very little information about Iranian schoolwear at this time. Iran of course is the modern name for Persia. This is an ancient civilization dating back to Biblical times. We know little about schools or the training of children in ancient Persia (the Achaemenid period). There are only a few tantalizing clues. One source during the reign of Darius I (yhe Great) describes Persian boys copying texts. Education unlike in Greece was limited to a narrow strata of scoiety. It is believd Most of nobles and highly placed civil servants were literate. This meas there had to be schools. e know next to nothing about those schools, nut they likely would have been attached to the royal court. THe Persin Empire was, however, a large ivrse state. Thus there may have been schools in the courts od satraps and the royal courts of conquered people. The Ionian Greeks comtrolled by the Persians would have had schools. This means education in different languages. The Persians also used foreign scribes (writing chiefly in Aramaic) in the state chancery. We have on image of schoolboys in Yzed about 1908. We believe that smocks have commonly been worn, primarily by girls. Since the Islamic Revolution (1979), girls have been subjct to strict Islamic dress codes.



Jews have perhps the longesr surviving educatiinal tradition in the world today. Education is stressed in the Torah (Pentateuch) and that tradition continued in Jewish communities of the Diasporah throughout the Roman Empire and subsequently Christendom and the Islamic world. It is one of the fundamntal reasons that the Jews have survived as a people. With the Disporah, Jewish education moves beyond the territory of Palestine/Israel, but the Israel page seems the best place to archive Jewish education in general. Modern Jewsish education began with the Eastern European cheder, one of the oldest continually functioning systems of primary education. Modern Israel has one of the finest school systems in the world. This is not surprising given the traditiinal Jewish respect and support for education. Surely one of the reasons that Jews managed to exist as a small minority in Chistian Europe and the Islamic Middle East was the education of their children. At a time when the vast majority of people throughout the Middle East and Europe were illiterate, Jewish children were taught to read abd write, in part so they could read and study the Torah. In this regard they were similar to the Protestants that emerged fromnthe Reformation. Thus it is not surprise that Israel from its foundation have given considerable attention to education. Thus Israel has the finest educational system in the Middle East. Some countries with oil-based economies like Saudi Arabia have belt wonderful physical facilities, but none of the countries have achieved the same academic results. We do not yet have much information about Israeli schools. We do have a page on kibbutz child care. Isreali school children have not worn uniforms. Fashions were influenced by the generally European origins of most Isrealis. Early images mostly show boys wearing short pants. Climate was another factor. Fashions since the 1970s have generall been the same as the American-influenced pan-European fashions worn in Europe, again affected by the climate. A HBC reader describes the experiences at one school in 1979. We also note the first day of school at an Isreali primary school. The children all wear sport casual styles. Sandals seem very popular. We also see very large book packs. Hopefully our Isreli readers will provide us some information about Isreli schools and schoolwear.




We have no information on Lebanese schools at this time. France played an important role in Lebanon. Lebanon had been a part of the Ottomon Empire until the British drove them out at the end of World War I. France created a protectorate for Lebanon and thus help found the modern school system. While we have little information on Lebonese schools at this time, we do have some information on the French schools in Lebanon. French schools in Lebanon appear to have been very insistant that boys and girls wear snocks to school. Smocks also appear to have been commonly wirn in the state schools. This appears to have been a common pattern in many Arab countries.


We have very little information about Libyn education at this time. As far as we know, Libya had no modern schools until Italy began to colonize the country (1911). Libya first fought a war with the Ottoman Empire (1911-12). A longer war with the Libyans followed which was not resolved until Mussolini launched a veery brutal campaign (1920s). Large numbers of Italian settlers migrated to Libya with government support as settlers. The first modern schools in Libya were built for these settlers. We are not sure to what extent Libya children also atended. Evebntually over 100,000 Italians settlers migrated to Libya, mostly in the larger cities along the coast. Libya was referred to as the "Fourth Shore". Italian plans called for eventually settling 500,000 Italians in Libya. The British occupied Libya after the Battle of El Alememaine (October 1942). This ended the Italian colonial period. We are less sure about the Italian colonists. We know, however, that there were Italians living in Libya as late as the 1960s. Many Italian settlers returned to Italy, but some remained in Libya after the War. The Italians were a big community with their schools and organizations, especially in Tripoli. There were about about 35,000 Italians living in Libya as late as 1962. Col. Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup d'etat against King Idris I (1969). He quickly expelled the remaining 20,000 Italian settlers (1970).


HBC does not yet have detailed information on Moroccan school uniforms. We have acquited some images from European schools that existed in the country before independence. The school uniform styles reflect the clothing worn by conmtemporary European boys.



A Pakistani reader has provided us a brief introduction about school uniform code in Pakistan. The Pakistani education system is divided into three broad categories: a) the english-medium system, b) the urdu-medium system, c) the religious madressahs.


The history of Palestinian education is complicated because so many empires have controlled Palestine not only in ancient times, but in medval and modern times as well. The Caliphate controlled Palistine with the Arab outburst fro Arabia. As far as we know the only schools were those attached to moaques. There was also a brief Egyptian period. While the mosques controlled education, the number of children receiving an edication were very limited. The Ottomans conquered the Levant (16th century). They introduced the Empire-wide school system which was not just limited to the mosques, but still quite limited. Standards were not equal to the developing schools in the West. While the Caliphate had some important institutions of non-religious learning, nothing luje the developing universities in the West existen in Palestine or anywhere else in the Ottoman Empire. The British seized Palestine in World War II (1918). Mandatory Palestine lasted only 30 years. The United Nations partition led to the First Arab-Israeli War As a result, the term Palestine took on a whole different meaning. Before Palestine was a geograhic/political term for the southrn Levant, a part of the Ottoman Empire with a majority Arab population (Muslims and Christians) and Jews. Palestinian now became Arabs of both Islam and Chrstianity, although in recent years the Muslim Arabs have taken to driving out the Christian Arabs. Palestine became the areas that both Arabs and Jews claimed and fought. Israel was founded as an independent country. The rest of Palestine was annexed by Egypt and Jordan. The Israelis founded a modern education system. The Egyptians and Jordanians although annexing the West Bank and Gaza did not make the Arab Palestinians citizens. The Palestinians at this time begin to found their own school system with support from the United Nations. Although many Palestinians lived in refugee camps, they soon becme one of best educated Arab groups. Today there are two Palestinian education systems. One operated by the Palestinian Authoity in the West Bank. The other operated by Hamas in Gaza.


National Schools as is the case thriughout the Middle East have a bad repretation. The Royal Family does have a big interest in Education and is building what out here is called Education City. It is supposed to be the forum for all things Education. People with means send their children to private schools. Some of the private schools follow The British Curriculum. Teachers are recruited from Britain and otherEnglish speaking countries.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia at the time of World War II did not have a modern education system. What educatioin that existed was almost entirely Islamic. The younger children attended madrasas which essentially taught the Koran with a major focus on memorization and recitation. Girls were not educated. The oil industry which was developed after the War brought vast wealth to the Kingdom. The Government has made education a major priority, describing it as the bedrock of national development. The Kingdom established a Ministry of Education (1953). The Government proceeded to open thousands of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools as well as colleges, higher institutes and seven universities. All of this in a traditional society that did not even have schools others than madrasas before World War II and in whih only a hanbdful of men had even the most basic educaton. The Saudi government provides free education for all Saudi children, both boys and girls. The education of girls was a major shift from traditional practice. In addition to the Ministry of Education, the General Presidency of Girls Education plays an important role in the education system. There are 6 years of primary school and 3 years each of intermediate and high school. There is also free general and higher (post secondary) education. There are also various financial assistance programs for both male and female students. University students in addition to free tuition receive financial aid and free housing. The Government provides meals, books, and transportation at subsidized prices. Female students are provided with separate and free transportation. The educatioin of women has been an enormous success, wiping out the problem of female iliteracy that has plagued other Arab countries. Other issues remain. Despite the massive spending, there are still issues of educational quality. Islam continues to be a major part of the curriculum. And some of the teaching has included what can only be called as hate firected as non-Muslims, especially Jews. The Government has tried to eliminate the most egregious examples of hate from textbooks, but the overall impact of Saudi education is still a matter of some concern.



The Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest European powers, for a time threatening the very existence of Christian Europe. Gradually the Empire's power declined. There were many reasons for that, one of the principal reason was that the Ottomans did not develop their human capital. Ottoman children for the most part did not have public schools to attend. Nor did secular universities develop for advanced studies and to develop modern technology. This only began to change (19th century). Educastion was part of the Tanzimat Reforms, but the system was not universal or achieved the quality of the Western schools. Not did an important secular university system develop. The Empire instead of developung a modern technological capability, simply imported technology from the West. With the abolition of the Empire, the new Turkish Republic placed a great emphasis on developing a modern education system. The Atatürk Reform included a major effort to develop a modern, secular education system. The goal was to create a skilled professional class for the social and economic development of the country. The beginning of a primary system already existed, but the secondary system was poorly developed. Atatürk also launched a new system of secular universities. This was inadertently, but significantly aided by Adolf Hitler and the NAZIS. One of the first NAZI actions on taking power (1933), was to dismiss Jewish civil servants, including university professors. Thus quite a number of highly competent German professors found positions in the new Turkish universities. This permitted a quality of instruction that at the time was beyond the means of these institutions. The Atatürk reforms instituted school uniforms. Elementary boys in Turkey wear smocks, generally blue smocks with white Peter Pan collars, and long pants. We are not sure, however, just when this fashion was first instituted. Secondary school students also wear uniforms, but we do not yet have details on the style.


We have only limited information on Tunisia at this time. As is common for the Middle East and North Africa, we have been able to find some information about European colonial schools, but little information about Tunisian post-independence schools. We do not fully understand this dichotomy at this time. Tunisia was a French colony. One reader has mentioned the Menzel-Bourguiba school at Ferryville. We do not know much about the school, but the younger boys had a romper uniform.


Yemen is one of the most consrvative countries in the Arab world. Public education is a very new concept. Expanding British sea power came to bear in Indian Ocean ports to end the slave trade and to safeguard sealanes with India. This was especially the case with the opening of the Suez Canal. The British signed a series of treaties which became known as the south Arabian Protectorate. The primary British interest was a naval base in the fine natural harbor at Aden. Even with the British firmly established at Aden, the Ottoman Sultan still had religious authority which in the Arab world has substantial political connotations. Matters like education were left largely to Arab/Ottoman authoritites which meant there was no effort to establidsh a public school system. A few private schools were established in the major cities. schools What education thst occurred what largely conducted in Islamic madrassahs connected to mosques and limited to boys. The boys were taught to read, primarily by memorize Koranic passages. Britain granted Aden indeoendence (1967). Some efforts were begun to build a public school systems, but progressed was inhibited with the outbreak of civil war. The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen was formed, but the north and south descended into civil war (1970s-80s). Yemen was finally unified (1990). The Yemen Arab Republic (North) joined with the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South) to firm the Republic of Yemen. It was not until unifification that Yemen made any substantial effort to build a nationsl public school system. The country's public school system now consists of basic education (9 years) and secondary education (3 years). The Ministry of education reported 2.7 million students and 90,000 teachers (1997). The students received Intermediate School Certificate after sucessfully completing a 9-year program. Some students continue secondary studies. Students who succesfully complete the 3-year secondary program by pasing an exam receive a General Secondary Education Certificate also called 'Al Thanawiya'. Yemeni students, however, do not score well in interntional comparisons. Students can pursue university studies in the major cities.


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Created: 11:54 PM 11/28/2006
Last updated: 7:06 PM 2/1/2020