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Top-Ranking Woman Reflects on Role in Jordan’s Education Ministry

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Editor’s Note: Education Week Assistant Editor Mary Ann Zehr is on assignment in Jordan to report on the education system of this strategically located country in the Middle East. During her two-week visit, which began April 1, she will also be filing occasional reports for edweek.org.

I was delighted today (April 10) to interview Muna Mu'taman, one of the highest-ranking women in the Jordanian Ministry of Education. She's been in her post as the managing director for general education and student affairs for six months. She is the first woman ever to hold that prestigious job. Her responsibilities include early-childhood education and student counseling.

Ms. Mu'taman has the same ranking as 16 other general directors in the ministry, three of whom, including herself, are women. One of them works in public affairs; the other is in charge of sports and activities for schools. The three posts above Ms. Mu'taman—two general secretaries and the minister of education—are held by men.

Minister of Education Khaled Toukan and the two general secretaries work in a section of the ministry with polished hardwood floors and handsome furniture. Ms. Mu'taman and others of her rank work in a section of the ministry with tile floors and modestly furnished offices. "Sixty-two percent of our teachers are female, but not the same representation of women is enrolled in the decisionmaking process," Ms. Mu'taman told me.

She noted that very few of the 35 people who supervise schooling for Jordan's governorates, which are like states, are women.

I asked Ms. Mu'taman if her male colleagues in the Education Ministry treat her well.

Muna Mu'taman, managing director for general education and student affairs, and one of the highest-ranking women in the Jordanian Ministry of Education. She is the first woman ever to hold that prestigious job.
Muna Mu'taman, managing director for general education and student affairs, and one of the highest-ranking women in the Jordanian Ministry of Education. She is the first woman ever to hold that prestigious job.
—Photo by Mary Ann Zehr

She laughed and said she gets along well with them. "I'm strong," she said, and added, "Leadership is winning the hearts and minds."

She and her male counterparts in the ministry joke about what influence she has on her government agency. For example, she's hung framed posters in the ministry’s hallways spelling out its vision, approach, and core values. The goal, or approach, of working toward a "learner-centered educational system," as stated on one poster, is dear to her.

She told me that she tells the men, “ ‘Please, after I leave, don't take it off the wall.’ "

They joke back that if and when she leaves the ministry, they'll hand her the posters to take with her.

Ms. Mu'taman also keeps up with how Jordanian girls are doing in school.

Girls, on average, score better than boys on Jordan's national 12th grade exam, she says. Jordanian girls also perform better than Jordanian boys on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. Ms. Mu’taman speculates that the results are because girls have fewer opportunities for extracurricular activities, such as spending time in Internet cafes, and are thus more motivated and have more time than boys to take advantage of their schooling.

It doesn't hurt, she adds, that most teachers are women and serve as role models for girls.

The only department in the ministry that is dominated by women is the division that oversees kindergartens, which also falls under Ms. Mu'taman's umbrella. Seven of the eight staff members in that division are women.

All of Jordan's kindergarten teachers are women.

In the same way that Ms. Mu'taman would like to see more women making decisions about education for the country, she'd like to see more men engaged in early-childhood education. "It's a gender issue," she said. "We need the male role model also in the kindergarten."

My interpreter was able to take a rest while I interviewed Ms. Mu'taman, who speaks fluent English. She has a master's degree in educational leadership and a Ph.D. in transformational leadership from the University of Jordan. She has also written about school policy for the journal Educational Leadership.

She served me mint tea and answered my questions candidly.

I wish her well.

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