While doing some research to gauge the needs of an area in the Jordan Valley from which some of Jordan’s valuable exports and tourism revenues originate, I came to learn of several real stories about the plight of this district with less than 40,000 people that contributes hundreds of millions of dinars to government coffers, boosts the nation’s balance of payments through tourism receipts and exports, yet receives less than peanuts in cash transfers from the government.
The stories tell the plight of governorates and failure of governance.
For example, a family that has two boys going to school, sends one child to the morning school shift and the other to the evening school shift.
The government had implemented this scheme to save on building more schools. When the father was asked by the school principle why he does not send both boys to the same shift, he said, with obvious pain, that he could only afford to buy one pair of shoes between the two boys.
Hence, one wears the pair in the morning, and when he arrives home from school after a long walk in the blistering heat, he hands the pair to his brother to wear to school in the second shift.
This happens in Jordan, to this family, and every day during the school year. One pair of shoes!
This is not the only story. Another came from this area, one of Jordan’s prime tourist locations where folks, Jordanians and foreigners, spend millions in expensive hotels on weekends and holidays.
It is of boys walking six kilometres in the sweltering heat from their homes in the small village where they live to the school. Back and forth, the children walk 12 kilometers a day.
To this picture one has to add the fact that this area has an unemployment rate of 19 per cent, a poverty rate of 43 per cent, unsafe roads, sweltering heat (the highest in Jordan), and little to no income.
How many children will continue to go to school at this rate? The area does not even have a bus route because some public official is still pondering whether he should walk to the file and read the request made by the community.
Imagine walking such distance in the summer season in the hottest area of Jordan, only for the promise of an education which, we know, will not necessarily provide employment later, and living at a level of poverty that suffocates and strangles every shred of dreams one may have about getting out of the rut.
Most would just quit school, which is why of the 1,440 students that enter the first grade, around 200 make it to the last.
And if a child is courageous, self-motivated and determined to get to the Tawjihi exam, Jordan’s painful and useless exit rite from school to whatever it is that awaits, he/she, like all the students of the three schools in that area that took the exam last year, will not pass.
The region’s pass rate in the Tawjihi exam is 23 per cent and this rate was only achieved after great and much appreciated efforts by companies that operate there.
Two years ago, the Tawjihi pass rate was 15 per cent. The average pass rate in Jordan’s Tawjihi exam this year was over 50 per cent.
And when they look for a job, they will not find it because they are unqualified or because they cannot walk to it.
Yet, they need to go work to feed their families that are starving because they are most likely to be poor, with no income.
Maybe they will work during the tomato-picking season, which is a back-breaking job, when they are young and can afford a sore back for JD5 a day.
I heard yet another story, from a credible source and in a public gathering.
Have you ever heard of someone sweating so much that their sweat would drench the paper they are writing on wiping out everything they write?
The paper would be ruined and the pupils would most likely fail because the instructor would only find a mix of ink and sweat. They could not help it, you see, because the classroom has neither fan nor air conditioning.
The central government has been doing its part; its cash transfers to the municipality are slightly over JD20 per person per month. That’s a lot of money, considering the hundreds of millions of dinars generated in an area from companies and hotel taxes and fees.
And then, here is a funny one: one school that has 12 students ended up receiving 20 laptops. Why?
Because the donor agency or the ministry of education, I really don’t know which, stipulated that since the quantity of laptops available is limited, only one school should receive these 20 and can only get them through a lottery.
So a school with 12 students wins the lottery for 20 laptops. Who is dumber? The donor agency or the ministry that established a school for 12 students?
Couldn’t someone in this bloated bureaucracy of ours come up with a set of guidelines for distributing laptops?
And why not have one large school and bus the students to it and offer proper education in a right environment, through the achieved economies of scale, instead of miniscule, ill-equipped schools that have nothing?
Is it really need to abide by the education law which requires that for every settlement where there are 10 students a school has to be opened, which is clearly ridiculous?
These people live in an area that is considered a gold mine. The Jordan Valley is the country’s food basket. It is also home to some of the world’s largest natural and tradable reserves. And it is one of our two prime tourist sites.
What does the government do with all the revenues generated from this region? Should not some of these fees and taxes return to the region where the money came from? JordanTimes 11/9/2012