How to Jumpstart Jordan’s Tech Potential? Scrap the Education “Meritocracy”

In 1980, my father, at 17, sat in his high school classroom when his national entrance exam (the “Tawjihi”) scores were received. His science stream score was .2 points below his classmate, a girl from a nearby village, placing her as the top-ranked student in his class.

For a week straight, he begged his classmate to switch her seat at the University of Jordan’s College of Medicine with his seat in engineering. After hours of pleading with the girl, using hearsay arguments from aunties who preferred the flexibility that accompanied engineering to the long days spent within a hospital, he was successful. He won the coveted “medicine” seat. And a few immigration processes later,  my father spent the past two decades as an ER doctor in the Midwest.

Since his “Tawjihi” year in 1980, Jordan, along with Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, have not changed their “merit”-based determination of the university and subsequent career path of their youth through a singular metric. By using a numbers-only approach, these scores are used to fill “seats”' in the national universities given out by each department and profession. My family recently went through this process again during the 2021 cycle of the “Tawjihi”. My twin cousins had their fates determined as they matched into international relations and translation seats at their local university, a far cry from their passions in nursing and technology

The “seat” approach is a classic example of the scarcity mindset that keeps emerging economies behind regions like the Silicon Valley, where the abundance mindset is ingrained. There have been minor advances as Jordan-based venture fund Silicon Badia secured $50 million in June 2021 and companies like Abwaab secured $20M in fresh capital in November 2021. Yet, the time of exponential change is eminent, as venture capital funding within the MENA region grew four times in August 2021 as new and larger players entered the region, includingSequoia Capital, which conducted its first MENA investment this past summer.

To continue this momentum, scrapping the cultural hierarchy of professions and signaling the Tawjihi supplies is a necessary first step. Unemployment is still around 30% for young people between the ages of 15 - 24. In 2021, 67% of jobs within Jordan were filled by non-citizens. The lack of “talent” for this region will be a never-ending cycle, as prime candidates are matched with professions antithetical to their interests at 17. My changes to the Tawjihi process consist of 3 main claims.

  1. The bucketing of majors and removing “seat” protocol until after year 1 of the university.  Removing the stratification of majors into top performers and bottom performers takes away the grace and importance of each specialty.
  2. A co-operative year or a work engagement requirement facilitated by the university. Education should successfully combine the classroom with on-the-job understanding, preparing the next generation for the business world. These are similar to the many programs stimulating local economies in the Midwestern and Southern United States.
  3. The addition of a personal statement or purpose pushes young people to think beyond cultural hierarchy. College and career matching is a very complex problem to fix, but the addition of more holistic measures of work ethic and motivation will be key.

With these major changes to the higher education process in Jordan and its MENA neighbors, we can showcase their educated populations to be competitive with the giants of the world.

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