June 7, 2022

Curriculum Reform in the Arab World Ideologies, Power Dynamics, and Knowledge Production


26 March 2022

Virtual Conference 


Overview of the Conference 

This conference engages with curriculum reform in the region with a social justice-oriented approach. This conference is part of CLS’s continued efforts to promote a dialogue on education, curriculum reform and social justice. The Curriculum Reform conference 2022 builds on the results of the CLS’s first conference on curriculum reform held in January and February 2021. It also builds on the main findings of the eight National Consultation sessions with key actors in the community that took place across Lebanon in July and August 2021. Through this conference we aimed to continue facilitating the space to engage with and critically discuss issues related to curriculum reform with a social justice lens. Seven presentations by eight academics and practitioners from four countries (Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Morocco) took place during the one-day conference focusing on the following key themes:

  • The ideologies underpinning curriculum reform in the region.  
  • Unpacking power dynamics that manifest in the processes of curriculum reform.
  • Curriculum reform and knowledge production
  • Values education in Arab Curricula: Citizenship and Transparency 
  • Refugee Education and building of identity 

The conference took place online and was live streamed on Facebook.  

The presentations were in both English and Arabic, the presentations and discussions were simultaneously translated. 


Opening and Framing Session 

The conference started with an opening presentation by Dr. Maha Shuayeb, the director of CLS. Dr. Shuayb highlighted the role of educators in building social justice through curriculum reform and how the process of building a collaborative and bottom-up approach for curriculum reform that is democratised is key to furthering justice and equity. She also stressed the idea that the curriculum is not about subjects and assessments, but it is the space to talk about the role that ideologies and politics play as well as the role of the values embedded in the curricula and what is the aim and philosophy of these ideologies and values. Maha, stated that in the Arab countries there are many agendas that draw and dictate curriculum policies, but in general there are neoliberal ideologies that dictate the teaching and designing of curricula. The curriculum is considered a technicalitiy, even in higher education in teachers’ programmes, the curriculum is taught as a technique rather than a vision and a philosophy. Through the work of CLS we aim to shift this dynamic and create a space where engaging with the curricula raise the questions of how, why and for whom. This is a part of the process that started four years ago and this conference is part of this effort. 

For the purpose of this conference, we asked our presenters, who are specialised in the field of education, to focus on particular themes and we supported the research through a process of discussions, exchange of ideas and critical engagement with their work, and we built a community. Today we have a group of researchers from the Arab world and here we would like to highlight that there is a rarity in those scholars and practitioners working on curricula which is an indication that the curriculum is only in closed doors. We hope that this conference will be a step in the ongoing process of making the curriculum more accessible and a democratic process.  

Dr. Mai Abu Moghli, CLS Senior Researcher and the Manager of the Curriculum Reform Programme, stated that the aim of the conference is to deconstruct the idea that curricula are a holy script, created in closed rooms by experts, far away from us. We aim to critically engage with the idea that ideology within curricula is not a bad thing! On the contrary it gives us the space and the opportunity to think about values in the curricula. Mai also highlighted that the work with the curriculum is not only theoretical but it involves working with the teachers and the wider community and this was reflected in the eight national consultations conducted across Lebanon in the summer of 2021. Mai also mentioned that CLS created a space for teachers for reflect, think and change under the title: Educators Hub for Expression and Change, which was launched with 16 teachers from across Lebanon on 20 March 2022.  Finally, Mai mentioned the MOOC on curriculum reform that will be launched, and the content is based on the national consultations will be launched soon and it is open to all Arabic speaking participants. 


Panel (1): Curriculum and Ideology- Palestine, Syria and Lebanon

The panel was facilitated by Dr. Maha Shuayb and included three speakers. The first speaker was Ms. Amal Zayed who presented a paper based on her PhD research on ‘Keeping Alive the Palestinian Right of Return (RoR): Education and Memory Transmission Among Refugees’. In her presentation Amal highlighted three forms of education which Palestinian young people are exposed to: Schooling, familial education and contextual education. She discussed these types of education and how familial education impact the consciousness of young Palestinian refugees while formal education proved to be the least impactful on Palestinians formation of identity and future imaginary. 

The second speaker was Mr. Hammoud Emjedl, who talked about ‘Educational curricula in post-war Syria- Citizenship Education as a model’. Hammoud highlighted the fact that there is lack of engagement with the education system inside Syria particularly after the war, research is lacking particularly when issues of values education are discussed. Citizenship education in its philosophy, curricula, interpretation and conduct have changed in Syria reflecting the fragmentation of the country and the various political groups and powers controlling the different geographies. For example, while there are hyper nationalist values that solely build the loyalty to the ruling party in areas still controlled by the regime, there is hyper islamization in areas controlled by ISIS, where extremist interpretations of Islam are the basis for citizenship education. Mr. Emjedl questioned the possibility of imagining a unified civics curricula in post war Syria and what would the aims of these curricula be. 

The third speaker was Ms. Eliane Haber, who in her presentation tackled the issue of ‘ Curriculum Ideologies: The Arab region with a focus on the Lebanese Republic’. Elian through a thorough literature review identified gaps in the system that lower the quality of education in Lebanon and the region as a whole. She discussed the ideologies behind the curricula in the Arab world, and it went deeper when analyzing the Lebanese curriculum and understanding it. Her research showed that religions and politics have always affected the development of curricula in Arab countries. In Lebanon, the history curriculum revealed a flaw in the 1997 version’s roots and intentions, which are political, religious, sectarian, and discriminatory. She also highlighted that when students, teachers, school principals, and parents were asked, they all agreed that the curriculum is outdated, that it concentrates on memorization rather than analysis, that it does not teach students how to be decent individuals, that it does not contribute to the formation of a good society, and that it does not prepare students for the future. Elian included a number of recommendations in her paper and presentation maintaining that to change a country requires a change in education. Children should be taught about the environment, how to be sustainable, how to be gender-equitable, and how to be good citizens. Students should learn peace, love, forgiveness, acceptance, diversity, inclusiveness, and understanding. Children need to learn about the digital world, including how to make the most of it and how to stay safe in it. Social and emotional learning should be included in daily activities and kids need to be taught about mental health. Above all else, and before everything else, students need to be taught how to accept, forgive, believe in, and love themselves. People who know how to handle themselves with empathy will know how to handle the world the same way, and the entire planet will achieve the peace that it seeks.

The full panel and the following discussion can be viewed here 


Panel (2): Curriculum, political engagement, and reform from the bottom-up in Lebanon 

This panel was facilitated by Dr. Abu Moghli and had two presentations and three speakers. The first speaker was Dr. Tsolaire Jederian who talked about ‘Empowering Anti-Corruption Education in Lebanon to Fight Against Corruption: An Emerging Need to Reform the Lebanese Civic Education Curriculum through Anti-Corruption Modules Integration’. In her paper, Dr. Jederian ustilised a comparative approach to highlight anti-corruption education in the region and linked it to changes socially and politically to the deteriorating situation particularly in Lebanon. Interestingly, Dr. Jederian discusses how the integration of anti-corrucption values within the curricula can be a tool to tackle profound and structural problems particularly in Lebanon. Dr. Jederian drew a picture and an imaginary where anti-corruption within civics education can be a way forward for a better future in Lebanon. 


The second presentation was by Mr. Fahd Jamaleddine and Mr. Naji Talhouk from Inspiration Gardens. Fahd and Naji discussed a possible ‘A pathway towards a decentralized curriculum development process’. Their presentation was based on a mass engagement with teachers across Lebanon, where over 1,100 teachers attended and actively participated in eight national consultations in the summer of 2021. Their presentation highlighted four pillars: What is education and what is it for; the meaning of curricula; the process of creating curricula and reforming them; and teachers’ profiles. Under each of these pillars Naji and Fahd highlighted key aspects of the consultations with the teachers where there is a blueprint and an imaginary where the curriculum in particular and education in general can be more just, equitable and perspiratory. 

The full panel and the following discussion can be viewed here 


Panel (3): Dynamics of Curriculum Reform- Examples from Morocco

The third panel featured two speakers from Morocco, Ms. Iman Er- Rami and Mr. Adel El Rami. Mr. Fahd Jamaleddine facilitated this panel. Ms. Er- Rami talked about Education policy in Morocco: The educational system, the curriculum at the heart of the reform dynamism. In her presentation she presented a 60-year history of the education system in Morocco and how curriculum reform was linked to political and social changes in the country. Ms. Er- Rami Also stated that although the expenditure on education is reasonable, yet the reform efforts have not yielded in positive results, and she stated that this lack of impact is because reform does not take social issues into account while only focusing on the economics of education. 

The second speaker was Mr. Adel El Rami, who also discussed issues of ideology and education in Morocco. In his presentation ‘The ability of the educational system to reform an governance: Updating educational curricula to keep pace with the requirements of the information society’, Mr. El Rami tackled issues of curriculum reform and how that can be done an era, particularly during and after COVID-19, technology and EdTech have dominated the field and became a forced and informed necessity. Mr. El Rami highlighted issues of teacher training, infrastructure and systems needed to ensure the success of integrating technology into the curricula. 

The full panel and the following discussion can be viewed here


Closing Remarks 

Dr. Maha Shuyab and Dr. Mai Abu Moghli facilitated the closing remarks where Dr. Abu Moghli started with a summary and key points discussed throughout the day. The floor was opened for questions for the participants to ask the presenters. Dr. Shuayb stated that there is a necessity and a need to widen and deepen the research in the region on curricula particularly on ideology, curricula and knowledge production and not only consider the curricula as a technical issue, rather as a societal and political issue that can make change. Mr. Jamaleddine stated that it is important that we all learn from each other’s experiences and when we conduct research on the curriculum to ensure that we deconstruct key concepts that are usually used and are present in curriculum discussions. Ms. Haber stated that ministries of education and other bodies responsible for planning and designing curricula do not seem to want a critical, thinking, able young people where a society can become engaged in policy making, what they are producing is a curriculum that keep young people objects that memories and do not think. Elian also highlighted that there is no perfect curriculum, what should be focus on is the participatory process to build a curriculum. The process is ongoing and responds and reflects the social and political changes. Dr. Abu Moghli stated that in terms of research in the field of education in general, researchers need collaborative, critical and safe spaces where they can be innovative and look at education from an interdisciplinary lens. Dr. Jederian commented on the new Lebanese curriculum strategy draft, and she noted that the draft is still using similar theories and concepts and ideas that are imposed on the Lebanese education system and society rather than involving those who are most affected like the teachers and the students themselves and build real participatory curricula that respond to real needs and build on their imaginaries for the future. Ms. Haber highlighted the idea of learning from other experiences around the world and questioned if it is a good idea to do that or is it better to build the curriculum design and content from the Lebanese community? Dr. Shuayb said that it is not a good idea to work alone, knowledge is global but it’s all about equal exchange of ideas, what is important is to create a curriculum that responds to the needs and aspirations of the society and young people but ensure that a global discussion is in mind. Also, teachers need to have the flexibility and be able to respond to their contextual needs. Dr. Abu Moghli mentioned that the most important is to ensure that the aim of education is beyond creating workers for the job market and that education means building individuals and collectives who are engaged politically, socially, and culturally and that can be done if the curriculum building and designing process was truly participatory, equitable and representative. Mr. Jamaleddine stated that there is a need to raise awareness amongst educationalists that the way they teach and the values they instill should not and cannot always be what they think is right and what they believe in. Issues that are considered taboo needs to be presented and discussed freely and as part of the education process. Dr. Shauyb mentioned that the ability of teachers to have this flexibility is dependent on teacher diplomas and teacher training programmes in higher education institutions and how critical, participatory, and engaging they are. The participants highlighted the role of the teacher and the teachers’ agency and ability to make the change on an individual level that has a national level impact, teachers need the space for criticality, but they also create that space themselves. Teachers’ role is beyond the classroom and is critical to not only change the curriculum but also to realise a better imagined future. 

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