UNDP's Hunaidi decries '\'Illiteracy of the Mind'\' in the Arab World
One year after the first Arab Human Development Report was published by the UN Development Program (UNDP), its 2003 successor is continuing the dialogue among Arab intellectuals and political observers on how to overcome obstacles to greater freedom and prosperity in Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Speakers at a December 1st UNDP roundtable discussion in Washington had high praise for both reports, in which a broad section of Arab researchers candidly analyzed the status of human development in Arabic speaking countries. The 2002 report concluded that people in Arab countries are falling behind the rest of the world in terms of freedom, women's empowerment and knowledge.
The 2003 report focused specifically upon the knowledge gap. According to UNDP's assistant secretary general and assistant administrator for Arab states Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the reports analyzed both knowledge production and dissemination in Arab societies.
Knowledge, she said, is the key to building a country's society and economy. Components of knowledge, such as education and scientific research, generate economic growth and increase the demand for more knowledge, forming what Hunaidi termed a "virtuous cycle."
Current methods of knowledge dissemination, through education, socialization, the media or translation, "are really failing to meet the needs of Arabs to acquire knowledge and achieve their full potential," Hunaidi said.
She said the report found that an average 27 percent of men and 51 percent of women in Arab countries are illiterate, but even more troubling, she said, is a widely held attitude, which she called "illiteracy of the mind."
"[I]t has to do with attitudes, in particular passivity, conformity, the lack of incentives for intellectual inquiry," she said. "Our education systems actually may have instilled in many of the generations of this region such attitudes that are inimical to building knowledge societies."
Hunaidi said that, in a region where 70 percent of television stations are state-owned, new media outlets such as Al-Jazeera are challenging the status quo and "allowing Arabs a wider space to discuss issues of real concern to them."
However, she pointed out that, on average, there were only 18 computers per 1,000 people in the region, well below the global average of 78 per 1,000. Hunaidi said the report shows that local environment and governments are stifling the dissemination of intellectual and artistic accomplishments.
Governmental corruption and cronyism is also weakening the motivation for innovation, especially in countries where the interests of the political elite and businessmen are intertwined, she said.
"We feel as Arabs we don't yet have our rightful place and we hope that if we reform and if we introduce all those reforms they are calling for we will be able to have a very bright future for our children," concluded Hunaidi. — (menareport.com)
© 2003 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)