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Volume 19, Number 6November/December 1968

In This Issue

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The Arab Child In School

Photographed by Brian Smith and Sa'id Al-Ghamidi
Additional photographs by Ali A. Khalifa and Tor Eigeland

Education, according to one writer, is a window opening onto the world.

To older students, and to parents, teachers and governments. it may sometimes seem that the window is clouded with the problems of curricula, examinations, administration and financing. But to the child in elementary school, education is wondrously free of such complications. To the child—whether in England or Jordan, Australia or Saudi Arabia—education is simply the adventure of learning. To a child the window opens on a world of flowers, butterflies and bunny rabbits, of finger painting and flutes, of new-found friends and school-yard quarrels, a game of ball or a snack at recess.

In the Arab world as elsewhere this fall, the children down their breakfasts, collect their books and rush to catch the school bus. And if the food they dawdle over is not the same as that of a child in Finland or Florida, and if they wear colorful smocks over their clothes and carry small briefcases, the wonder in their eyes as they head to school is still much the same. Through their own private windows they are about to set forth on another adventure in learning.

In Lebanon, where there is a strong tradition of private schools, some supported by religious institutions, others by foreign-language communities, the adventure might be waiting in a quiet garden courtyard in bustling Beirut or in a cool stone house high in the green mountains. In Jordan, it might be waiting in teeming Amman or in an UNRWA tent pitched at the edge of one of the refugee camps. In Saudi Arabia it will probably take place in a spanking new building no older than the children themselves—one of dozens either completed or now being built by the Saudi Arab Government (some in cooperation with Aramco) as part of a nationwide effort to extend free public education to every child.

But for children all over the Middle East this morning the adventure is waiting and the big window onto the world of knowledge is opening.

No matter where a classroom is, it is made up of desks, blackboards, pencils, books—and children ... and when a word is hard, whether it's in English or Arabic, it helps if a child can scratch his nose ... or press so hard on his pencil that the point breaks and then he can't erase the line... And in any classroom teachers try to get the children to close their eyes and sit quietly for a while or try to interest them in drawing the world outside the window with crayons and colored pencils ... Even in a refugee camp while the teacher watches sternly and her classmates giggle ... although reciting can be fun if you know the answer—or if you're a mischievous little boy ... And after the reading and writing and learning facts and figures there are always stories to listen to, or songs to sing or maybe even musical instruments to practice on ...

Then it's time to run outside ... to use up all that restless energy that children always have ... to play in the sun or—in some schools—run past a fountain and try to keep from getting wet ... Some boys just walk around and swing their bags or hit someone on the top of the head with one ... or get down on the ground on their hands and shake all over while the teacher counts soooo ... slowly ... Girls love baby animals—maybe because they're smaller than themselves—and they like "Show and Tell" and "Keep Away" and playing in a crowded sandbox ... They like to stretch and climb too, and to hang on jungle gyms and creep up on a butterfly, holding their breaths ... They learn to share their ice cream on a stick—the ice cream they need to restore their energy so they can fidget when they get back to class ...

Going home is as exciting an adventure for children as going to school was in the morning; there's so much to tell about what they did and what the teacher said and what they learned today ... They try to remember the books they'll need at home; there are poems to learn, some arithmetic to do ... When the last bell rings the teacher helps the youngest ones to put their coats on and leads them to their bus like a row of fluffy yellow chicks ... Some children feel very grown up when they're walking home from school—even if they still wear short pants ... They poke along the sidewalk instead of running to tell their day to mother ... They might not even believe that learning is an adventure any more ... But one thing about open windows; once children start looking through them, they find them everywhere.

This article appeared on pages 12-19 of the November/December 1968 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 1968 images.