I was watching an Olympic TV show when I was stunned by the sight of two and three-year-old Chinese children doing push ups, sit ups and handstands and walking around a room upside down. I have seen a European private school for one-year -olds who are taught to swim and breathe underwater. Excessive? Perhaps. But it shows the interest, dedication, passion and investment Asians, Europeans and especially Americans have in sports and competition. These are concept aliens to most Arabs.
Since 1928, Arab athletes have collected a grand total of 75 Olympic medals. That’s one less than Brazil alone. To put things in perspective, the US has collected in the same period 2188 medals out of which 894 were gold and 692 silver. Of the Arab total, only 20 were gold and 8 were silver. Pathetic considering that the 380 million Arabs outnumber the US by about 100 million.
I am big fan of the Olympics but that’s because I am big fan of sports. The other millions that watch the Olympics have the additional incentive of rooting for their countrymen and women. Arabs have little to cheer about except for the occasional surprise and exciting athlete or two.
During the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Ahmed Al-Maktoum brought in the first ever Gold for the UAE in the Shooting-Double trap competition. Karam Gaber of Egypt earned a gold medal in wrestling and Hesham El-Karoug of Morocco became an international star for his golden performance in the 1500 m and 5000 m track and field competitions.
Poor Arab achievements at the Olympics speak volumes for the investments and emphasis on sports, PE, talent scouting, training and equipment in the Arab region. Here schools and universities don’t have a sports and competition culture that their US, European and Asian counterparts do possess. While International schools in the region do place an emphasis on competitive sports and physical education, PE teachers in many private and public schools are at the bottom scale in terms of importance versus other teachers. There is no Darwinian evolutionary explanation for why we falter in sporting events. We are neither physically nor mentally inferior as athletes. We are just almost never given a chance to shine. Until the talents of our national athletes are identified, encouraged and harnessed starting as early as the KG, Arab athletes will bottom feed for Olympic scraps while the rest of the world basks in glory.
It is probably a parent’s worst nightmare to find out that any of their children has a learning disability or disorder. Affecting a broad range of academic and functional skills, learning disorders include the inability to adequately speak, listen, read, write, spell, reason or organize information. And while it is natural for parents to initially resist this reality, the disorders are quite recognized and common nowadays that parents are increasingly aware of them. Yet, Teachers in the Middle East are faced with the difficult task of convincing parents that their child has a special need. Arabic culture makes it shameful for parents to admit such shortcomings for they are tantamount to admitting they produced failures or that they are failures themselves, which is unacceptable.
These culturally-born denials are rooted in parents who are also oblivious of the fact that special needs is not an indication of low intelligence. Quite the contrary, research found that special needs children have above average intelligence and other intuitive skills that normal people don’t possess. Having a problem with short term memory due to a chemical deficiency in that area of the brain that controls the process has no bearing on deductive reasoning which a special needs child might excel in.
So it is not uncommon to have an Arab parent tell a teacher “My kid is fine! You are not teaching him properly.” Unfortunately, it is the child who pays the price, who stands to suffer from being labeled stupid for not having a good memory, not being able to read letters or write them properly. Children are apt to believe anything they are told and when enough people ridicule them or disapprove of their disabilities, children start to believe something must be wrong with them. Instead of utilizing their hidden talent in productive and ingenious ways, these kids generally become society outcasts. Treating special needs children starts by operating on parents. They need to recognize that their kids are indeed special. That’s a positive thing and not something to shun, hide or deny.
The number of illiterates in the 22 Arab countries is around 67 million accounting for 40 percent of the total population aged 15 years and over. Meanwhile , Gulf oil revenues are expected to exceed $600 billion in both 2008 and 2009, according to a recent report. That means that if all Gulf oil revenues are spent on educating all the “out of school” children, spending $8,000 yearly on each, that would eradicate illiteracy altogether. But spending $8,000 per child is high, even by international school standards and education in public schools does not require much money. At best $200 per year would suffice. That’s $13.4 billion annually, leaving Gulf states with a whopping $586.6 billion annually.