Announcing PJ’s newest Collaborative Social Accountability project in Jordan

We are happy to announce that Partners-Jordan, in partnership with the Global Partnership for Social Accountability-World Bank and the Open Society Foundations, is launching its newest Collaborative Social Accountability project titled “Strengthening Inclusive Education in Host Communities Through Collaborative Social Accountability Processes in Jordan.” 

This project aims to enable other local CSOs to engage more directly with the education system to monitor its services and inform policies, as well as to work with key actors at the Ministry of Education in Jordan and in local communities to create and adapt solutions to tackle issues of quality and accountability as identified in the new Education Strategic Plan. The goals of this project include monitoring and supporting collaborative social accountability by enabling collaborative engagement and problem resolution for key actors in education, identifying key service gaps that exist within schools and subsequently improving service delivery to fill those gaps, and strengthening social cohesion with communities with a special focus on vulnerable groups (including girls, persons with disabilities or specific needs, and refugees). Another important goal of this project is to include different viewpoints on how best to improve educational challenges, by generating citizen feedback that can be used in turn to inform the policy decisions and solve educational quality and governance problems. 

By the conclusion of the project, “Strengthening Inclusive Education Through Collaborative Social Accountability Processes in Jordan” Partners-Jordan and the GPSA-WB and OSF are aiming to facilitate the inclusion of the community in efforts to improve teaching and learning conditions for both Jordanian and non-Jordanian children.

JERSP: Revitalizing Jordan’s Educational System

The World Bank has partnered with Jordan’s Ministry of Education in order to boost the
effectiveness of the country’s education system. While Jordan is regularly ranked as possessing
one of the most robust education systems in the Middle East, its effectiveness has stagnated in
the face of chronic and new issues, such as corruption, improper training of educators, and
classroom overcrowding from influxes of refugees.

The Jordan Education Reform Support Program-for-Results is a World Bank program in
partnership with the Jordanian government.

It seeks to address three key issues in Jordan:
         1) low access of quality early childhood education (which leaders to poor school
readiness, especially with Syrian refugee children),
         2) poor student learning outcomes, and
         3) lack of effective feedback for student assessment systems.
In response to these challenges, JERSP strives to expand access to early education and
improve student assessment and teaching and learning conditions for Jordanian and Syrian
refugee children. The focus is Early Childhood Education, but primary education, secondary
education, and public administration are also in the mix.

Thus far, the program has experienced mixed results. In some areas it has almost
achieved its goals. As of April 2019, 101,000 Syrian refugee children were enrolled in primary
school, just shy of their goal of 110,000. In other areas, the program has quite a way to go
before achieved its goals, including reducing the Syrian refugee rate, implementing reforms into
Jordan’s standardized testing and implementing new training seminars for teachers. But,
considering the program is not even halfway through its proposed timetable, there is still time to
improve these areas.

The State of Civic Spaces in Recent History

         In 1989, American scholar Francis Fukuyama published a talk titled “The End of
History?”, in which he asserted that the eventual victory of liberal democracy over the
communist experiment would bring about the democratization of the whole world. The
publication seemed prophetic - shortly after its release, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the Berlin
Wall toppled, and eventually even the Soviet Union, the champion of communism for over eight
decades, fell. Communist China and Vietnam developed robust capitalist economic systems in
order to boost faltering economies. The number of countries considered “free” climbed nearly
23% from 1987 to 1997 alone. It seemed that liberal democracy had indeed won.

        Unfortunately, it was not meant to last. Freedom House reported that 2018 was the 12th
year in a row that the world experienced a general decline in human rights and civil liberties.
With the ascent of populists and autocrats in many influential countries, it seems that Liberal
democracy is now on the defensive. Democratic experiments such as post-Soviet Russia and
the Arab Spring have withered and/or died, replaced by a new generation of strongmen
presidents and politicians.
       There is no better field to witness the retreat of liberal democracy than in civic spaces.
All across the world, civic spaces have come under attack. According to CIVICUS, a leading civil
space monitoring organization, “nearly six in ten countries are seriously restricting people’s
fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.” Attack on journalists
and censorship are the most common of these restrictions. Even France, a bastion for civil
liberties, narrowed the state’s freedom of assembly by declaring states of emergency in 2015
and cracking down on protests throughout 2018.
        The outlook may seem bleak, but much work is being done to counteract this
contraction. In Jordan alone, as of 2015 there were almost 5,000 civil society organizations
        And so, while it may appear that liberal democracy is on retreat across the world, rest
assured that there are many committed individuals and organizations determined to fight back,
whatever the cost.

Defining Civil Society & Its Role in Jordan

At Partners-Jordan, our main focus is on advancing Jordan’s civil society. To be frank, when I first started interning at PJ, I was not totally sure what the term “civil society” actually meant. Perhaps the simplest way to define it is as the third branch of society, separate from the government and business branches. At its core, civil society, composed of individuals and non-governmental institutions, should represent the needs and interests of the citizens. Civil society encompasses a wide range of organizations and groups, from academia, NGOs, political parties, and religious organizations to trade unions, charities, sports clubs, and foundations.

In Jordan, the power and importance of civil society only continues to grow. In the fall of 2018,an article from the Jordan Times underscored the crucial role of Jordanian civil society inexpressing social and economic challenges, as well as the wants and needs of the people. Inthis way, civil society activism serves as an informal feedback loop, when formal systems maynot exist or function properly. Additionally, civil society gives a socio-political voice to those oftennot heard, including women. Women have been at the forefront of many civil societymovements in Jordan, as attention is paid to the crucial role women play in their communitiesand the greater economy.

The Philosophical History of “Civil Society”

The concept of civil society stretches back to western antiquity. Although the term “civil society”,or ​societas civilis ​was first used by Roman statesman Cicero, certain aspects crucial to afunctioning civil society, such as the need for public dialogue, justice, and civic virtues, weretaught by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

However, from the Middle Ages until the Age ofEnlightenment, the notion of civil society took a backseat to the practices of feudalism andabsolute monarchy.However, with the rising popularity of Humanist thought, the Enlightenment resurrected theclassical concept of civil society. This movement questioned the absolutist governments inplace, as well as the true source of political authority, which had always been credited to themonarch and his divine right to rule. Thinkers and political philosophers such as ThomasHobbes and John Locke called for a social contract between government and civil society toensure the functioning of the former while protecting the freedoms and rights of the latter.

In the modern age, the meaning of civil society took on new meaning, particularly with the worksof Hegel and Marx. In classical thought, the concept of civil society is the middle groundbetween the political and the social; however, German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel separatedthe two spheres, writing that civil society actually exists as the middle ground between the wantsof the individual and the wants of the greater state. Although Marx agreed with Hegel’s new understanding of civil society, he viewed the state as the champion of the bourgeoisie and theirinterests, to be ultimately dismantled by the working class.

Following Marx, the concept of civil society continued to grow and evolve, as did itsinterpretations. In Soviet Europe, communist propaganda served to popularize the concept ofcivil society as a third sector with the ultimate intention to eliminate the welfare system. In the1990s, the role of civil society in developing states receiving loans facilitated by the WashingtonConsensus changed in response to their changing economic and political surroundings. Andwith the rise of nongovernmental organizations, civil societies around the globe have continuedto grow and expand to become inclusive and participatory bodies.

Autonomy and Accountability in Jordan’s Educational System

Ranked the top education system in the Middle East, Jordan boasts a strong public schoolprogram. The average educational journey of a Jordanian student is composed of four stages:pre-primary (ages 4-5), primary (ages 6-11), secondary (ages 12-17), and tertiary or universitylevel (ages 18-22). Following required primary education, students may choose to enroll in acomprehensive secondary school or a vocational secondary school.

The system itself is highly centralized. At the top is the Ministry of Education, which designscurricula, does initial recruitment of faculty and staff, and designs budgets for individual schools.The Board of Education, composed of public and private stakeholders, advises the Ministry andapproves educational policy and curricula. Below the Ministry are 41 regional Directorates ofEducation, which are in charge of the second hiring stage of faculty and staff. Directoratesreport back to the Ministry with their schools’ standardized test results, and individual schoolsreport those scores to their respective directorates.

In recent years the World Bank has devised the Systems Approach for Better Education Results(SABER) initiative, which aims to compile a database of information on educational policies andpractices from around the world with the ultimate goal of assisting countries in improving theireducation systems. Within SABER is the School Autonomy and Accountability division (SAA),which measures the degree of autonomy and accountability present within an education system.Jordan’s quality of education is quite high; however, it lags behind comparable systems due tothe systemic lack of accountability and the little autonomy present at the individual school level.SABER-SAA lists five criteria its uses to measure an educational system: (1) an individualschool’s autonomy in planning and managing its budget, (2) an individual school’s autonomy inpersonnel management, (3) the role of the school council and greater community in schoolgovernance, (4) school and student assessment, and (5) an individual school’s level ofaccountability to its stakeholders. Each criterion is then classified as latent (policy is not in placeor severely limited), emerging (policy work is in progress), established (good policy and practicewith some limitations), and advanced (international best policy and practice). In all fivecategories, SAA ranked Jordan as emerging.

SAA lists several recommendations that would vastly improve the levels of accountability andautonomy present in Jordanian schools, and, therefore, streamline the processing of informationbetween levels and give schools more independence in the decision-making process.Ultimately, this would improve the general quality of a Jordanian education. Suchrecommendations include expanding the operating budget items that individual schools’ havethe authority to plan, manage, and execute; revising existing policies with the civil service totransfer legal authority for teacher and school staff recruitment to the local Directorates;increasing the input and authority allowed to parent-teacher councils; requiring a parent-teachercouncil representative at major school meetings; mandating regular assessments of schools;publishing results of standardized tests to allow for transparent and comparative assessment ofschools across the country; making those results and subsequent analysis readily available toschool administrators and the general public; standardizing the dissemination of individualstudents’ results to parents, like a report card; and standardizing guidelines by which a schoolreports on its operations to the appropriate Directorate and Ministry of Education.