Jordan’s school year began with some noticeable changes to its school materials last month. Along with women who appear without headscarves, clean shaven men are featured alongside traditionally bearded men, and heavy reference to Islam has been scaled back.
The New York Times reports that 70 such changes have been made to school materials and syllabus in Jordan. Though the changes are small when compared to what remains, the new textbooks, which are being trialled in the Ma’an region of Jordan, are the first steps to discouraging extremism amongst young people.
The changes have prompted protests in the region as well as in the Jordanian capital Amman, where a group of female teachers burned a pile of the new text books shouting:
We don’t need these textbooks anyway! We will teach them what we want!”
It could be a test case for the region,” said Musa Shteiwi, a sociologist who sat on an Education Ministry committee for six months last year to change the textbooks. “All of us in the Arab world have the same problems. We are all entering this battle.”
The changes were introduced without public consultation, and even moderates who pressed for changes believe that this lack of discussion could be what is contributing to the outrage.
Jumana Ghunaimat, chief editor of Al Ghad, a liberal newspaper said:
“I fear that this will not bring positive change.”
The changes were prompted by a step up in attacks by radical extremists in Jordan and the case of a Jordanian military fighter pilot who was kidnapped and murdered by the so-called Islamic State group.
However, the recent protests have prompted the Jordanian education department to review the changes. Implementation of the new syllabus has been patchy, with some schools, actively defying the government altogether, or adding their own traditional syllabus to retain the status quo.