Unlearning conformity in Egypt

Cultural Insights — By on May 11, 2010 at 3:59 pm


EgyptEgypt has achieved a great deal in its long history, and some of the culture’s early architecture and pioneering use of hieroglyphics still fascinate people thousands of years later. So it’s a bit jarring to read about efforts within the country to have some students learn how to think more for themselves. In fact, though, it’s common throughout the Middle East, Asia, and some other regions of the world for a culture to value conformity over individualism, and memorization over creativity in education. This topic is covered in a recent article I came across, which discusses how the educational style at the American University in Cairo differs significantly from the typical Egyptian classroom.

Who am I?

What does it mean to be human?

These are the kinds of questions posed to undergraduate students entering this 90-year-old university during what the president, David D. Arnold, called a first year of “disorientation.” During disorientation, the students — 85 percent of them Egyptians — are taught to learn in ways quite at odds with the traditional method of teaching in this country, where instructors lecture, students memorize and tests are exercises in regurgitation…

Egypt, like much of the Arab world, demands conformity in many corners of life. Education is based on the concept of rote learning, and creativity in the classroom is often discouraged. Students at Cairo University say they memorize and recite, never analyze and hypothesize…

“For a lot of the kids here, the idea that you are supposed to have your own ideas is a novelty,” said Lisa Anderson, the university provost who is on leave from Columbia University. “There was nothing in their previous education that would have exposed them to these standards.”

Check out the full story for more on the differences between the Egyptian and Western educational systems, or see previous blog posts for other such examples from throughout the world.

Photo credit: Bob Riel

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