Work is under way in Jordan to develop a strong, holistic education system covering all phases of schooling from kindergarten to university. The system is likely to see improvements thanks to several initiatives aimed at refining learning methods and upgrade resources in primary schools. Additionally, Jordanian universities are taking steps to reduce the current gap between the classroom and workplace by encouraging student interaction with industry and teaching entrepreneurial skills. Jordan’s education system can be broken down into three categories: pre-school or kindergarten, basic and secondary education. Pre-school runs for up to two years and is followed by 10 years of basic education, which is both compulsory and free. Upon completion of the basic cycle, students can enrol in a two-year secondary education programme. Two tracks are offered at this stage: a general education track with the option to specialise in an academic field, and an applied education track that provides students with vocational training and instruction. Those who choose the first track take a general secondary examination, known as the Tawjihi, at the end of the secondary cycle. A student’s score on the Tawjihi plays a major role in determining if and where the student will enrol in university.

OVERSIGHT: The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels, and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR) supervises both public and private tertiary education. Established in 2001, the MoHESR carries out its responsibilities via a number of different agencies including the Higher Education Council, which sets general policy in relation to tertiary education; the Higher Education Accreditation Commission (HEAC), an accrediting body; and the Jordan Scientific Research Support Fund, an institute established in 2007 with a mandate to support scientific research. According to the most recent data provided by the Department of Statistics (DoS), over 1.15m students attended government schools during the 2010/11 academic year. Female students totalled over 600,000, making up a little more than 51% of the student population. Private school enrolment during the same year reached over 380,000 students, with male pupils accounting for around 59% of the total.

STUDENT BODY: The largest portion of students attending government schools, almost 960,000 in total, were enrolled in the basic education cycle during the 2010/11 academic year, according to the DoS data. Around 154,000 students were enrolled in a government academic secondary school, and over 24,000 students were studying at a vocational secondary institution during the same period. Similar to the government-provided education system, the largest percentage of students attending private schools in Jordan were enrolled in a basic education institution. DoS data indicates that more than 270,000 students, or around 70% of private-school students, attended a basic education school in 2010/11. The next largest categories of private-school students were enrolled in kindergarten and academic secondary school, respectively.

SCHOOLS: The DoS reports 3466 government schools and 2368 private schools in operation during the 2010/11 academic year. The largest number of government schools – over 2200, or about 65% of the total – provided basic education, and academic secondary schools made up the next largest category with around 1000 institutions in 2010/11. By contrast, almost 60% of private institutions were kindergartens. Private basic education schools numbered about 750, or 32% of total private schools, in 2010/11, and academic secondary institutions totalled more than 200.

TEACHERS: Over 72,000 teachers worked at government schools in the 2010/11 academic year, with the majority (over 75%) teaching at the basic education level, according to the DoS. About 15% of the total taught at academic secondary schools, and a little over 8% worked at a vocational secondary institution. The private sector employed over 25,000 teachers in the same period, with nearly 70% teaching at the basic education level. Almost 60% of teachers at government-run schools were female, and over 87% of private school teachers were female in the 2010/11 academic year.

According to the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) most recent data, over 92% of Jordanians aged 15 years and older were literate as of 2011, and nearly 80% of the school-age population was enrolled in either a primary, secondary or tertiary institution. The UNDP also estimated that the average child entering school in 2011 would receive just over 13 years of schooling. According to Philadelphia University (PhU), a private institution in Jordan, the government devotes around 10-12% of its budget to education.

NEW INITIATIVES: Several steps are being taken to improve and refine education in Jordan’s basic and secondary schools. Much of this effort is driven by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who has launched a number of programmes in recent years. The Jordan Education Initiative (JEI), for example, is a non-profit organisation set up in 2003 that focuses on three primary areas: research and innovation, expansion of successful education methods, and global outreach and collaboration.

Over the past decade, the organisation has introduced various forms of technology into hundreds of classrooms in the kingdom via a network of both public and private – as well as local and global – partners. In one recent project, JEI teamed up with American telecommunications firm Qualcomm to launch the “1 to 1 Anytime, Anywhere Learning” project in two government-run schools in the capital. Students were given a laptop with 3G connectivity to expand learning outside of the classroom and encourage self-initiated and independent learning. According to December 2012 JEI figures, the project reached 223 students and 32 teachers.

Madrasati, which means “my school” in Arabic, is another initiative spearheaded by Queen Rania. Set up in April 2008, Madrasati has a five-year strategy to improve the educational experience of about 250,000 students at 500 government schools in the country, according to project data. The organisation aims to provide students with a modern environment in which to study, both by making material improvements to school facilities and by developing new curricula. It has chosen an approach that includes participation from private, government and non-profit organisations.

TEACHING TEACHERS: Queen Rania Teacher Academy (QRTA) was set up in 2009 under the patronage of the Jordan Education Society, a non-profit organisation based in Amman, in partnership with the Columbia Middle East Research Centre and Columbia University’s Teachers College. QRTA offers several academic programmes including an induction programme for new teachers and principals in Jordan. With the aim of helping all new teachers meet the National Teacher Professional Standards within one year, QRTA has assembled teams of public school teachers to design draft curricula in six subjects: generalist teaching (grades 1-3), mathematics, sciences, Arabic, English and leadership. These draft curricula will form the foundation of the QRTA’s induction training programme.

Efforts are also under way to provide education to refugees living in the kingdom. As of early 2012, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) operated 172 schools in the country, which provided education for grades 1-10 to nearly 118,000 students. In addition, the UNRWA trains upwards of 600 teachers every year at the university level, according to UNRWA data. The agency also operates two vocational training institutions: the Wadi Seer Training Centre and the Amman Training Centre.

UNIVERSITIES: The DoS reported that over 225,000 students were enrolled in undergraduate degree programmes in Jordan in 2010/11. Female students made up almost 52% of total enrolment. Commercial and business administration programmes were the most popular at both government and private universities, with over 54,000 students. The next-most-popular undergraduate programmes were engineering, humanities and religion, mathematics and computer sciences, and educational sciences. Average fees paid by a university student are around $5000 per year at a private institution and roughly $1500 per year at a public university, according to recent data provided by PhU.

Postgraduate students at Jordanian universities numbered about 16,000 in the 2010/11 academic year, with the majority of these students studying for a master’s degree. Like undergraduate studies, business administration master’s programmes were the most popular postgraduate degree, according to DoS figures. Over 2100 of postgraduate students (roughly 16%) were enrolled in a PhD programme in 2010/11. And the two most popular doctoral programmes were educational sciences and humanities and religion.

PUBLIC PROVISION: According to MoHESR, there are 10 public universities in operation in Jordan. Recent DoS data shows that, in terms of undergraduate enrolment, the largest institution in the country in the 2010/11 academic year was the University of Jordan (UJ). Founded in 1962, UJ is a public university located in Amman and operates a satellite branch in the southern, coastal city of Aqaba. A total of 32,131 undergraduate students were enrolled at the university during the 2011/12 academic year, of which roughly 1150 attended UJ’s Aqaba campus. Approximately 65% of the undergraduate student body was female, according to UJ data.

As of early 2013, the university offered over 3500 courses in 18 different faculties, with 63 programmes available to undergraduate students. Undergraduate enrolment at the main campus in the 2011/12 academic year was highest in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, reaching nearly 5400 students. With over 4500 students enrolled, the Faculty of Business attracted the next-highest number of undergraduates, according to UJ figures. While administration and finance was the most popular subject among undergraduates at the Aqaba branch, the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality attracted the second-largest number of students. The vast majority of UJ’s undergraduate student body are Jordanian and study on a full-time basis.

Nearly 3500 postgraduate students were enrolled at UJ during the 2011/12 academic year, with female students comprising a little over half of the total. Educational sciences and medicine were the most popular postgraduate subjects, attracting roughly 630 and 350 students, respectively. The university reported that around 75% of the postgraduate student body were nationals. As of the 2011/12 school year, almost 160,000 students had graduated from UJ.

Yarmouk University (Yarmouk) is another large public university in Jordan. Founded in 1976 and located in the north-western city of Irbid, Yarmouk offers 56 undergraduate programmes, 63 master’s programmes and 19 doctoral programmes. Nearly 28,000 students currently study at the university, with over 900 faculty members spread over 13 faculties. Yarmouk also supports 11 centres for career development and research. A number of peer-reviewed research journals, such as the Jordanian Journal of Physics, the Jordanian Journal of Chemistry and the Jordanian Journal of Modern Languages and Literature, are based at Yarmouk.

Located near Yarmouk, the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) is a public institution with about 22,000 students. JUST was established in 1986 and has 12 faculties and 55 departments offering 42 undergraduate and 95 postgraduate programmes. Approximately 5000 international students – close to 25% of the total student body – attend JUST. The university employs over 800 full-time faculty members, and roughly 1800 graduate students study at JUST.

PARTNERSHIP PROVISION: One relatively new university in the kingdom is the German-Jordanian University (GJU). Established in 2005, the government-run institution is located near Madaba, about 30 km southwest of Amman. Modelled after German universities focused on applied sciences, GJU has seven schools and offers over 30 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Several of GJU’s programmes – such as business informatics, water and environmental engineering, logistical sciences and chemical-pharmaceutical engineering – are unique in the MENA region. The university provides students with a one-to-one mix of practical and theoretical training, and all GJU students study at one of the university’s partner institutions in Europe in their fourth year. This includes a six-month internship at one of GJU’s industry partners in Europe.

About 3000 students currently attend GJU, and enrolment for the 2012/13 academic year reached roughly 750 students. While female students make up 41% of the undergraduate student body, roughly 55% of postgraduate students are female, according to GJU data. Around 400 students, or 13% of total enrolment, are currently either studying at a German university or are working as interns in Germany. Close to 88% of the student body are undergraduates, and international students make up about 14% of total enrolment.

PRIVATE PLAYERS: According to the MoHESR, there are 20 private universities in Jordan. One of the first private universities in the kingdom, PhU was established in 1989 and is located approximately 20 km outside of Amman. The university’s first class graduated in 1993. PhU maintains eight faculties, including three in the humanities (law, administrative and financial sciences, and literature and arts) and five in the sciences ( engineering, science, pharmacy, nursing and information technology). The university also offers master’s degrees in engineering, literature and information technology.

Roughly 5500 students are enrolled at PhU, and international students from 37 countries make up around 20% of the total student body. According to recent figures provided by the university, PhU employs around 300 faculty members. The university also maintains several specialised centres focused on a variety of subjects, including water and the environment, scientific consultancy, computer technology, languages, futuristic studies, Chinese language and faculty development. PhU also recently added a centre for renewable energy research and a centre for Asian studies.

Established two years after PhU, Petra University (PU) is a private institution in western Amman. The university has 24 departments and employs an academic staff of nearly 250. Nearly 6500 students, representing 32 nationalities, are currently enrolled at the university. PU offers six master’s degrees, including an MA in Arabic/English translation, an MSc in pharmaceutical sciences, an MA in media and journalism, an MBA programme, and an MA in information technology. PU also plans to launch an undergraduate engineering programme. With students already showing significant interest in such a course of study at the university, PU expects to eventually have around 200 students enrolled in the programme each year. PU found that industrial and mechanical engineers, rather than civil engineers, are especially in demand in the current economy. Consequently, industrial and mechanical engineering will be the focus of the university’s new programme.

The World Islamic Science and Education University was set up in 2008 with a view based on Islamic values that enhance a solid education in all branches of science, humanities and education. Thus, the university combines traditionalism and modernity at all levels in courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

SETTING GOALS: As tertiary education in the kingdom continues to expand, the MoHESR has worked over the past five years to implement the goals of its 2007-12 National Strategy for the Higher Education and Scientific Research Sector. These objectives focused on areas such as university accreditation, vocational training, admission standards, funding for scientific research, financial aid and the general campus environment.

While not all of the strategy’s goals were met, progress has been made. In mid-2012 the Royal Court implemented positive changes in Jordan’s scholarship programme for public universities. Perhaps most notably, the court announced that a fixed quota system that guarantees set scholarships to several communities in the country would be scrapped. A special committee found that the quota system did not result in scholarships being awarded on an equal opportunity basis. The Royal Court noted, however, that students at schools categorised as underprivileged would still be given an advantage in obtaining funding.

MEETING CHANGE: Jordan’s higher education system still has room for improvement. Private universities are not yet fully independent, for example, as the MoHESR retains some control over university policies and governance. Additionally, Jordanian universities today focus primarily on education and research and are less engaged in efforts to solve major socioeconomic problems. One way the university’s role in Jordanian society can be deepened is by conducting research centred more on practical, rather than theoretical, concerns.

Another challenge is a growth gap between the wider economy and higher education. While the economy has grown substantially over the past several decades, tertiary education in Jordan has expanded more rapidly. This has resulted in some underemployment among university graduates. Efforts are under way to correct this problem, and the government has asked universities to better align with the job market by encouraging students to develop the skills most needed in the current economy. The kingdom also has the potential to foster new industries associated with the already-strong pharmaceuticals, phosphate and potash sectors that could create many employment opportunities for graduates.

University administrators are well aware of the gap between higher education and the economy and are taking measures to ensure that students are able to transition quickly from the classroom to industry. PhU, for example, now requires all of its engineering students to take a course in entrepreneurship, and plans to eventually make the course compulsory for all students. In addition, PhU students in the faculties of pharmacy, administrative and financial sciences, engineering and science are all required to complete a project before graduation that focuses on translating an idea into a commercial reality. To facilitate the process, the university has also created a technology incubator, which is also available as a support centre to anyone in the general public interested in creating a business.

“Creating links between what students learn in the classroom and the realities of the job market must be a primary goal of all universities,” Ibrahim Badran, advi-sor to the president for international relations and scientific affairs at PhU, told OBG. “This involves more than simply transferring knowledge: it requires helping students learn how to be innovative, take risks and understand how to commercialise an idea.”

One school that had considerable success in solidifying links between education and the working world is Princess Sumaya University for Technology. Currently, it is seen to produce the leading IT graduates that form the backbone of the domestic sector. PU has also taken significant steps to facilitate students’ transition from university to employment. The university encourages students to apply skills being learned in the classroom by spending one to two semesters working part-time with a company. In addition, the university has created an entrepreneur programme, the Creation and Innovation Centre. As part of the IT college, the new centre provides resources like office space, computers and funding to those students with entrepreneurial ideas approved by the university. A similar incubation project will be set up in PU’s Faculty of Administration and Financial Sciences.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING: While studying at a traditional university is more popular, vocational training remains a key pillar of the kingdom’s educational system and the wider economy. “It is essential that Jordan develop its vocational school offerings, as these professions address skills-gap needs and can be a remunerative form of employment,” said Badran.

The Vocational Training Corporation (VTC) is one of the main centres for vocational education in Jordan. Established in 1976, the VTC falls under the Ministry of Labour and provides training programmes that prepare students for various levels of technical proficiency. A newer vocational training initiative is the Youth Career Initiative (YCI). Created in Amman in 2007, YCI is a six-month vocational education programme that prepares students to work in hospitality. The programme is run by the Jordan River Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by Queen Rania that focuses on child safety and economic development in low-income areas. Students are trained in several areas, including English, technology, interpersonal skills, personal finance and health. Students also spend time training at a hotel in Amman. Several local hotels participate in the initiative, including the Marriott, two Starwood hotels, the Four Seasons and a Hyatt property.

Educators in Jordan realise the importance of English language education, and the country has invested significantly in its English instruction – much more so than many Arab countries. Indeed, the World Bank noted in a 2007 report that curricular reform in Jordan for a number of subjects, including English, had outpaced many other countries in the region. However, there is still room for improvement as some English teachers in the kingdom do not receive sufficient training.

REFUGEES: As Jordan has become home to a growing number of Syrian refugees, several steps have been taken to provide basic education to refugee children. A new school was built for Syrian refugees in November 2012 at the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan. Known as the Bahrain Education Compound, funding for the new school was provided by Bahrain’s Royal Charity Organisation. Gulf News, an English-language daily based in Dubai, reported in late 2012 that around 3500 children had enrolled to study at the $4m institution, which is composed of four schools, two for girls and two for boys. Roughly 30,000 refugees lived in the Zaatari camp as of October 2012, according to the UN Children’s Fund.

OUTLOOK: Jordan’s education system has historically been one of the most competitive in the MENA region and continues to be strong today. This is due to a number of factors. For instance, given the country’s lack of natural resources, there is a strong cultural emphasis on education within Jordanian society as a means to economic advancement. However, despite the sector’s successes, there is still work to be done. Perhaps the most needed change is a shift in Jordanian schools and universities away from learning by rote to an emphasis on teaching students to think creatively. Naturally, this type of transformation cannot take place overnight and requires substantial effort over a sustained period of time. Fortunately, the country appears to have the capacity and resolve to carry out such reforms, reinforcing what is already a strong education system.