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Photo of Torsten Janson

Torsten Janson


Photo of Torsten Janson

Organizer of Roundtable Session: Educational Reform in the Contemporary Middle East: A Crossroad of Global and Local : Roundtable at Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) Annual Meeting, New Orleans, US


  • Torsten Janson
  • Reza Arjmand

Summary, in English

Educational reforms including community-based educational initiatives maintain crucial roles in the processes of democratization in the Middle East. The patterns of reform are diverse and reflect domestic factors as well as varying linkages to global forces. Among the factors driving and defining the effects of reform we find:
1. Socio-economic development;
2. Growth of the civil society;
3. New modes of governance and redefinition of the role of state;
4. Cultural, ethnical and religious factors;
5. International educational policies and practices.

During recent decades, educational reform in the Middle East has been characterized by a number of general trends:
• The emergence and strengthening of the middle-class has contributed to the changes in the educational landscape;
• ‘Domestic actors’ have been instrumental in defining the need for reform, but have commonly been endorsed by ‘external’ (national, regional or global) actors and/or mutual interactions.
• There is synchronization between domestic and international actors to inhibit or enhance the chance for reforms along with larger international practices such as Education for All (EFA), Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Lifelong Learning (LLL).
• Educational reform has been compelled by slow processes of democratization and human rights discourse;
• New conceptualizations of ‘religion’ and ‘tradition’ have been re-defined and re-appropriated in national educational policy and discourse, and lastly;
• Civil society in form of local community organizations, NGOs and individual benefactors are assuming a growing role in monitoring educational needs and policies at a national level, as well as in defining, suggesting and implementing alternative approaches and models for education, not least among (socially and economically) disadvantaged populations;

The roundtable consists of contributions from three researchers of contemporary educational reforms, working with Iran, Turkey and Lebanon respectively, as well as of two representatives for internationally noted community and action-based educational initiatives, running politically independent and innovative projects among children and youth in Lebanon and among youth and women in Jordan.

The roundtable invites discussion based on a variety of empirical instances, highlighting the impact of domestic, regional as well as global factors in defining and initiating reforms. The purpose of the roundtable is to explore, understand and assess current trends in educational reforms and to map out needs for research, but also to assess the roles, effects and possible future routes for educational practices within formal, informal and non-formal sectors.

Contributors and abstracts

Reza Arjmand, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University (chair/organizer/presenter)

Revising the Revolution: Education Reform in Iranian Education
New education reform in Iran is the most recent endeavor of the theocratic state to enhance the vision of the revolution in creating homo-Islamicus (the committed Muslim) and provide strategies for the national education to meet the demands of a globalized and competing world.

The reform builds on the interplay of religion, international discourse and local needs. On one hand, it is deeply rooted in Islam and colored by traditions and culture, and on the other hand it is affected by international educational discourse including human rights, privatization, decentralization and lifelong learning. The re-appropriation of religion seen both in the content of the curricula as well as the structure of the reform is in part result of the failure of the Islamic model of education implemented systematically in post-revolutionary era. Inefficiency of the Iranian Islamic model assessed through the low achievement of Iranian students in such international studies as TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) intensified the need for the reform from within the country. Demands of the international organizations such as UNESCO and World Bank as a pre-condition for the cooperation also provided the ground for change in the Iranian education. Iranian authorities, however,
introduced a new interpretation of the international discourse on education based on Islamic values.

Torsten Janson, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University (organizer/presenter)

Bridging Difference, Breaking Boundaries: Innovative Educational Approaches in Beirut
This presentation will engage with the issue of educational reform in the Middle East, discussing preliminary findings of a recently initiated research project on community based educational projects in Beirut. Such initiatives will be discussed in relation to national Lebanese educational policies and practices, as well as in relation to international educational programs such as Education for All and Lifelong Learning.

The presentation will focus on the role of independent organizations and individual benefactors, working with vulnerable populations of children, youth and young adults, through innovative educational practices, in response to the socio-political, economical, ethnical and religious tensions and predicaments of contemporary Beirut.

Specific questions to be addressed and discussed at the roundtable do for instance concern the advantages and challenges associated with, on the one hand, informal capacity building and dynamic methods aimed at strengthening self-esteem and dignity in face of socio-economic marginality and, on the other hand, formal educational initiatives aiming at providing disadvantaged individuals access to higher education. What challenges and benefits are associated with such different approaches, and what educational methodologies are appropriate for what circumstances and populations? Based on preliminary results from interviews with and observations among beneficiaries of such informal and formal educational programs, the participants of the roundtable are invited discuss challenges associated with varying pedagogical strategies, as well as with the assessment of outcomes of such educational initiatives.

Another, more dynamic but equally important topic for discussion suggested by the results at hand, concerns issues of identity and self-image, such as the beneficiaries’ experiences of and strategies for handling class mobility vis-à-vis community peers and family. For example, are the obviously positive experiences of education and prospects for upward social mobility also associated with emotional tensions, sentiments of guilt and disloyalty? If so, how are the side effects of upward mobility handled by the youths, and what support could be offered to meet them?

Antonia Mandry, Teachers’ College, Columbia University (presenter)

Pedagogic Approaches to Human Rights Education in Turkey
Diverse pedagogic approaches to teaching human rights and citizenship at the university level illuminate challenges facing Muslim contexts. How a particular academic community perceives of and engages with human rights and citizenship discourse can help to understand student and teacher engagement with gender, violence and human rights in Turkey. As international initiatives and research on human rights education continue to evolve, students and educators carve their own path when sharing their perceptions of human rights as they relate to their own lives. The global human rights framework is found to be both insufficient in some regards and foundational in others for how university students engage with issues of social justice locally.

Melek el Nimer, Unite Lebanese Youth, Beirut (presenter)

Aspiring Lebanese Unity: Educational Programs for Undeserved Children
At the planned roundtable “Educational Reform in the Contemporary Middle East: A Crossroad of Global and Local” this contribution will present and discuss informal educational efforts among disadvantaged children and youth in Beirut. The presentation will introduce and present the experiences of the politically independent education support organization Unite Lebanese Youth, ULYP.

ULYP was founded in January2010 to help mitigate internal conflict in Lebanon by targeting the youth of Lebanon. ULYP is a non-profit organization that delivers educational and empowerment programs to disadvantaged children and youth from different ethnic, religious and nationality backgrounds. ULYP designs its programs in a manner that offers the participants a chance to meet others from different backgrounds, enhance their own skills and knowledge base in a safe and enriching environment and explore and practice the values of trust, respect, and cooperation and become advocates for each other. ULYP believes that addressing the child’s self-esteem, self efficacy, social responsibility and understanding of one another are key to getting us closer to a more united Lebanon. These are translated into activities and are interwoven into every program that ULYP develops and offers. The organization works with volunteers from all over the world to actualize its mission.

ULYP's mission is to pioneer a new collective movement in Lebanon which aims to assemble and sustain a task-force of child-advocates from varying cultures and backgrounds aligned together to provide education, empowerment and inclusion opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth living in Lebanon. It strives to impart and instill in children and community members, the ideals of cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect - with the ultimate goal of helping to create a one and united Lebanon.

During a cycle of three months ULYP ‘s programs can serve up to 500 underserved and underprivileged children and youth. ULYP's diverse and interdisciplinary approach broadens the horizons of its beneficiaries by including programs catered to all different age groups. ULYP's doors are open to all underserved and underprivileged children living in Lebanon regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.

ULYP’s programs are based on the belief that education is the best investment: investing in human capital, lifelong learning, quality and equality education contribute directly to the development of society. ULYP acknowledges and respect the great role of schools and aims to compliment their effort by providing services that sometimes remain lacking to some and non-existent to others.

Amer Bani Amer, Hayat Center for Civil Society Development, Amman (presenter)

Raising Awareness in Jordan: Innovative Practices in Capacity Building and Democracy Promotion
The proposed contribution to the roundtable “Educational Reform in the Contemporary Middle East: A Crossroad of Global and Local” will discuss informal approaches to community based education in Jordan, taking the experiences of the Al-Hayat Center for Civil Society Development as the point of departure. Al-Hayat Center is an independent non-profit entity that established on 31 May 2006, by a group of young Jordanians, active in civil society and experienced in implementing community development projects. The idea behind Al-Hayat Center is to equip Jordanians with the necessary interpersonal, life, and participatory skills to meet current issues, and raise their awareness with regard to values of democracy and human rights, such as good governance, rule of law, gender equality, and public participation.
The uniqueness of Al-Hayat Center’s work is accounted for by its outreach to urban, rural, refugee camps and Badia areas outside of the capital Amman, allowing for a wider access to programs and activities that aim at enhancing people’s lives. Al-Hayat also emphasizes the issue of gender balance and equality whilst implementing its various activities. Al-Hayat Center for Civil Society Development aims at achieving sustainable development in Jordan, through building the capacity of local communities to meet current and future development challenges. This is to be achieved through empowering positive attitudes and ethics that encourage creative thinking, problem solving and decision making, gender awareness, and proper public participation, and promote equality, equity, justice, rule of law, good governance, community service, and interfaith and intercultural dialogue on the individual and organizational levels.
To provide an example, one of the educational initiatives of the Al-Hayat Center has provided training and research for young activists (TRU). The TRU aims to build the capacity of individuals and organizations operating in civil society through providing them with critical trainings and research base. Moreover, the TRU aims to increase the available information on democracy and public participation through conducting public opinion researches using qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The TRU provide capacity building trainings in the following critical skill areas:
• Democracy and Participation
• Youth Mobilization
• Lobbying and Advocacy
• Communication and Debating
• Training of Trainers (ToT)
• Leadership and community leaders
• Participatory Approach of Planning
• Public Meetings Management
• Networking and Censuses Building
• Using Qualitative Researches; the PEER Approach, Focus Groups, Semi-Structured Interviews
• Results-Based Management (RBM) strategies


  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)
  • MECW: The Middle East in the Contemporary World

Publishing year




Document type

Conference - other


  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences