Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Libyan Education: Which way is up?

The end of school is a time to evaluate, contemplate, and take stock of what has and hasn't been accomplished. A couple days ago, Khadija Teri blogged about the examinations and results for a couple of her daughters in Libyan public schools. I gathered that one of them is in 9th grade, the other in 12th, and both of these years are diploma years. But I am not sure because the classifications and names that are used now in Libya are not what I went through. Back then, we had 12 years of pre-college schooling, divided into three phases. Primary school lasted six years, then three years of Preparatory school, and finally three more in Secondary school. Kindergarten was optional in Libya, and I think it is still that way. Each phase ended with a diploma year in which the final exams were nationally standardized and administered. The diploma finals were a big deal. The announcement of the results was a huge deal. Now the names have changed to Basic Education (grades 1-9) and Middle Education (10-12), but it seems a lot more has changed than meets the ear. The passing rates are just miserably low, but the failure may be much more widespread than the numbers say. Sadly, and perhaps oddly, negative population statistics put the deepest scars on the perceived competitiveness of the best individuals.

Let's look at some numbers. Unofficially, Khadija Teri reports about 40 out of 400 students passed in her daughter's school. Unofficial numbers can be inaccurate, unreliable, whatever. The problem actually gets worse when you look--closely--at the official numbers! Sure, the national passing rate itself is better than 10%, but it is still dismal. Even worse is the way that it is reported and received.

Here is my translation of a recent news story from the web site of the Libyan ministry of education. The official Libyan name of that ministry is a bit verbose: The General People's Committee for Education. Of course the naming standard is set by the official name of Libya: The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. With that preparation, feast your eyes on the straight translation
The General People's Committee for Education Ratifies Results of First-Round Exams for Certificate of Completing Basic Education Phase ((Preparatory))

In its sixth ordinary meeting of the year, which was held yesterday morning in Tripoli, the General People's Committee for Education ratified the results of first-round examinations for the certificate of completing the basic-education phase, on the level of the Great Jamahiriya for the school year 1375-1376 (P.D.), which coincides with the year 2007-2008 (Christian).

A total of 151,271 (one hundred fifty one thousand, two-hundred and seventy one) public- and home-schooled students took the exams, of whom 58,017 (fifty eight thousand and seventeen) students succeeded, with a success rate of 35.38%.

The number of public-school students taking the exams reached 144,335 (one hundred forty-four thousand, three hundred and thirty-five) students, of whom 87,030 (eighty seven thousand and thirty) students succeeded, with a success rate of 39.57%.

Meanwhile, the number of home-schooled students taking the exams reached 6,936 (six thousand nine-hundred and thirty six) students, among them 906 (nine hundred and six) students succeeded, with a success rate of 13.06%.
How do you like that? Numbers, percentages to the second decimal place, etc. What more could you ask for? Actually, every time I see numbers coming out of official Libya, my bullshit scanners start screaming, especially when there is an appearance of precision and thoroughness, like spelling out the numbers in words over and over. In reality, the spelled out numbers are grammatically incorrect. And the numbers don't add up. So the ministry of education misses on both grammar and arithmetic! According to their numbers, the passing rate for public-school students should be over 60%, not 39.57%. But they problem is, they report a part that is greater than the whole: More public-school students passed (87,030) than the total number of students passing (58,017). OK? There is no single typographical error that can explain the mess. The only way I found to make sense is for the number 87,030 to be replaced by 57,030 and then the percentage would be 39.51% not 39.57%.

You might say, I am just being too picky (a teacher's professional hazard). But we are not talking about someone's passing remarks. This is an official report that takes on the appearance of precision and thoroughness. It is also fundamentally a report on "who got it right" and who didn't, and it is from theeee authority on right and wrong, so is it fair to expect it to be at least
internally consistent? You bet it is fair, but not to expect reliability or quality from Libyan authorities.

The issue is about quality, providing it and demanding it. The authorities have been breathing their own farts for so long that they are simply incapable of recognizing quality, let alone actually offering, maintaining or improving the quality of their service. On the flip side, we have the public, who neither demand or judge quality. The above news item will be circulated all over the place, and it will not get any meaningful reaction. This is what happens when legitimacy loses its foundation, namely rationality, and gets trashed by the force of idiotic oppression. When a society abandons the art of questioning, the taste of truth loses its distinction.


  1. I had no idea that the education names/grades have changed in Libya!
    it is scarry reading this report, to think that generations in Libya are being educated this way while Libya's riches is given away to other dictators.

    and I thought it was only me that did this "my bullshit scanners start screaming"
    thats exactly how I feel when reading anything that Libyan government throws at its people.

  2. Hey, Anglo, I think a lot has changed in the names and types of schools in Libya. It's funny that they keep sticking the old names in parentheses because they know the new names don't register with people. It's like when they once changed the clocks for daylight saving, and the people kept their home clocks on "the real time." lol lol

    Here is something for your BS scanners. The first news about the total number of students to take these exams came around May 19, and it said there will be 138,132 students. Of course, if you look you'll find they botched up spelling out the number! Then, on May 21, which is after the exams started, they reported that "about 120,000" were taking them. Finally, in the above piece they say 151,271. Take your pick, if you can believe any of them! No quality control whatsoever. I guess you can't control what you ain't got. Maybe they should get the General People's Tibeekha to import two boat loads of quality. That's how they solve every other problem.

  3. Most of those who could help change things in Libya aren't living in Libya. It's easy to critize when you are outside. My guess is it is the Libyian gov't that made being outside possible for so many.
    Absalam Salami

  4. Greetings, Sally, and welcome to D-Log. I think some of what you say is true, but I am not sure I agree with your premises. When you say, "Most of those who could help change things in Libya aren't living in Libya," you are actually confirming what I said about the short-sighted, knee-jerk importation of solutions. You are also dismissing/downplaying the potential of over 5 million people vs. the number of Libyans abroad, which could never reach 10% of that! I disagree with that view. To change things, Libya actually needs to get rid of certain people inside, not to import more. Afterall, the Libyans outside are not causing the problems.

    Your crediting the "Libyan government" for making it possible to be outside is misplaced, unless you are referring only to those who were exiled and driven out by the government's repression. It is Libyan natural resources (= oil) that made it possible for some others to be outside. Natural resources belong to all Libyans, not the government or the "revolution," as Libyans inside were indoctrinated. Besides, if Libyans inside were so concerned about the country's financial resources, then we would see some discussion (if not rejection) of their government's doling out billions of dollars left and right. The most recent example amounts to a gift of three billion dollars to the so-called "Cen-Sad" granfalloon. Can you point me to any discussion on Libyan government media that I might've missed? Also, if Libyans were so concerned about their human resources, do you think they would still be in the dark about the mass killing of Abu Salim prisoners that took place over a decade ago? I think not. You see, depending on their experience, people have different degrees of tolerance to oppression and place different values on human dignity. To each his own.

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  6. Top notch reply.