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Arabs are losing the learning game - Illiteracy is costing region future economic prosperity - The Daily Star

Even in Lebanon, experts say successes of education system are being thwarted by troublesome political atmosphere

Lebanon is not home to many of the 65 million Arab adults who remain illiterate, but the country's political atmosphere is undermining the quality of its educational system according to participants in a 'knowledge' workshop Wednesday.

The Social Economic Council organized the one-day event at its headquarters in downtown Beirut to discuss the results of the first Arab Human Development Report from a Lebanese perspective.

The report, penned by the United Nations Development Program in conjunction with the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, had forecast a bleak economic future for the region if current trends persist. The report predicts it will take the average Arab 140 years to double his or her salary if per capita income continues to grow by only 0.5 percent a year.

However, participants at Wednesday's discussion highlighted the status of education in Lebanon, which has a high rating in comparison to other Arab countries. The report estimated that two-thirds of illiterate adults in the Arab world are women.
"Lebanon does not fare too badly with regard to gender equality in education," said Adonis Akra, a professor of philosophy at the Lebanese University. "Lebanon has a whole load of other debilitating conditions."

Akra blames sectarianism at the state-run university. 'I work in a place where teachers are imposed on faculties to suit confessional needs." The deficiencies in Lebanon's educational system are not due to a lack of investment, according to Akra."The cost of public education is sometimes equal to, if not higher than, that of private education." The inflated payroll of public sector teachers is one factor contributing to Lebanon's high education costs.

However, even private sector businesses related to the "knowledge economy" are not spared high costs. One such field is information and communication technology, which is still at a low standard despite a Lebanese reputation for know-how in the high-tech industry.

"In a nutshell, the Lebanese information and communication technology sector suffers from diarrhea," said Jalal Fawwaz, head of the Professional Computer Association. "Its ailment is pretty simple, but if left unattended it could turn dangerous."

Fawwaz added that the cause of this illness lies mainly in government policies that have kept connectivity costs high and investments in research and development low. "If there could be an award for the most disruptive government impact on access and connectivity, no doubt the Lebanese government would win it easily," said Fawwaz.
"A combination of political rivalry, greed and a lack of vision has deprived Lebanon of rare opportunities for conducting a successful showcase experience with an important economic impact on the country's information and communication technology sector."

He added that such policies have rendered the country less inventive than neighboring Arab countries. "Only five years ago, Lebanon was leading the Arab world in internet and mobile communications, whether in introduction and penetration or in quality and innovation," said Fawwaz.

"Now it has slipped to middle ranks."

Beirut,12 02 2002
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star
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