Illegal Education: Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi received 750 lashes and a 40-month prison sentence for blasphemy after the chemistry teacher allegedly discussed the Bible, defended Jews, and questioned Islam in class. He has denied the charges, which apparently stemmed from complaints by al-Harbi’s students and colleagues, and international civil liberties organizations quoted by the Associated Press have decried the punishment. “The Saudi government is imprisoning schoolteachers for having open discussions with their students,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. “As long as schoolteachers face persecution for doing their job, Saudi children will lose out.”
Supported Learning: To Americans, the phrase “standardized test” doesn’t bring to mind a cheering section. But that’s what nearly 600,000 South Korean high school seniors get when they take the annual College Scholastic Ability Test, the nation’s official entrance exam. According to the Korea Times, younger students surround testing centers and wave placards saying “Success is yours” and “You are the Number 1.” “Me and other 20 friends came here at 5 a.m. to get a ‘good’ seat to cheer our seniors,” said 17-year-old Kim Ji-ung. The junior and his classmates brought hot tea and sticky treats, including traditional taffy, to encourage test-takers in downtown Seoul, on the theory it helps students “stick” to the test and the university of their choice.
Emotional IQ: Students in 50 schools in London and elsewhere are being encouraged to express themselves. The pilot “emotional intelligence” tool kits were ordered by the national government after several primary schools using “worry boxes” and lessons on good behavior reported improved student achievement, increased attendance, and fewer suspensions. The idea is to teach manners and respect through, among other things, discussion of topics such as “new beginnings,” “getting on with falling out,” and “good to be me.” “Schools are not just academic institutions,” secretary-general John Dunford of the Secondary Heads Association told the Times. But a spokesman for the National Union of Teachers worries that the program compounds “parents’ assumptions that their children are someone else’s responsibility.”
Grade-Level Work: According to angry parents in the Chitral Valley, not all the hard work their children do is in the classroom. Teachers at some government-run schools have allegedly forced students to perform chores at the educators’ homes, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports. “Teachers even take them home and force to help in construction of houses and harvesting and threshing crops,” an anonymous resident told a local newspaper. Such conditions cause dropout rates near 50 percent by 6th grade, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. Education officials said they were unaware of such activities.
—Ashtar Analeed Marcus
Vol. 17, Issue 04, Page 13Published in Print: January 1, 2006, as Dispatches