What comes to mind when you hear the name Jordan? While Americans might reminisce about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, those outside the U.S. will think of a small country in the Middle East near nestled between Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank. Steeped in thousands of years of history, the Kingdom of Jordan is more recently known as the provisional home of millions of Palestinian refugees from various regional wars and the place where T.E. Lawrence fought alongside Arab fighters during the Arab Revolt of the early 20th century, famously depicted in the film Lawrence of Arabia.
Since King Abdullah II ascended to the throne in 1999 many educational reforms have taken place, including the expansion of many universities to incorporate a concept which many groups like the World Bank have called a “knowledge based economy.”
Less than a quarter the size of its Southern neighbor Saudi Arabia and a much smaller population, the Kingdom lacks natural resources such as oil and has become heavily dependent on aid from the UN and USAID to fill the financial gap to sustain the growing population of almost 7 million people. But unlike Saudi with their abundant oil fields and other countries revenues from minerals and waterways, Jordan has used its aid money to invest in educating the young population, its human resource. Jordan has a very young population with 40%, approximately 2.2 million, between the ages of 12-30 and 74% of the entire country under 30 years of age . It’s no wonder that such attention is paid to educating the future generation.
One morning during a cross-country trip to attend a training session at a branch office for one of Vittana’s upcoming partners, our car slowed to a crawl along the road. Prior to coming to Jordan I lived in Los Angeles, the traffic capital of the United States, so I was more than acclimated to such an occurrence. I notice a queue of yellow school buses and cars lining the side of the road with groups of smiling moms and dads walking faster than my car crept, heading to a destination not far in front of us. To my surprise I discovered the congestion began at Philadelphia University, just a few hundred meters from me. It’s hard to put into detail the joy I saw from parents and students rushing from the schools main gate as they met each other.
By the way some of the parents were dressed I could tell they came from a poorer section of the near-by town. I guessed that these parents, like all parents, were hoping that the education their children were getting at this university would allow them to overcome their disadvantaged surroundings. More likely than not, some of these students were the first in their families to achieve a college education. I had to wonder what the future held for them; I was glad that if nothing else, a friendly face was waiting for them at home.
More of those bright faces are now flocking to the 10 public and 12 private institutions all over the country where enrollment at 4-year universities has increased annually by 14% since 1999, just after King Abdullah I inherited the Kingdom after his fathers’ death. The World Bank estimates that 92,000 students per year will be entering private schools by 2013, a leap in registration since the numbers were estimated at just over 55,000 in 2006. Public schools have also seen an increased demand for education as well. Between the 2000-2001 and 2006-2007 academic years the total enrollment grew from over 77,000 to 218,000 students .
Philadelphia University, which carries the ancient name of the capital city Amman, is an example of how the government has assisted schools by expanding the number of programs at many institutions while creating three new public universities in recent years to accommodate the growing numbers in matriculation.
Although the Ministry of Higher Education wants to create the ‘Student Loan Bank‘ project to help fund many youth, the hopes of a university education seem out of each for for students from poor families when adding in rising cost of living in the Kingdom. The Higher Council for Youth calculates that “by the age of 20, only 20.5% of women and 22% of men continue their education in pursuit of a university degree.” To many in Jordan desperately seeking a way to break out of poverty through education, the inability to afford their degree due to financial constraints can be a devastating reality.
I’ve only been in Jordan for two months, but I’ve already seen how the youth in Jordan would benefit from Vittana loans. There is so much potential in the people, but so little access to education. Considering the number of four year and vocational schools, the schools exists to empower youth in Jordan with education and end the cycle of poverty. I’m excited that Vittana is here to help make that happen.
The purpose of investing in an idea or product (or a person) is to enable it to eventually blossom into something bigger and better than what it is now, something that effects the lives of many. Education for young people, like any other product, is the perfect example of how an investment can have long term, large scale impact.
The Jordanian government has an intense focus toward their human resources and their “Knowledge Economy”. And while more students are starting to reap the benefits of the Jordanian government’s investments, many are still left behind; and that’s why Vittana is here. Maybe one day when I return, that same road will be filled with the smiling faces from families who would have missed out on an education if not for others willing to invest in their children’s future.