by Rosie Alfatlawi
Bad teaching is a form of corruption, Saudi Arabia’s education minister has claimed days after dozens of high-profile anti-corruption arrests.
Ahmed El-Eissa was quoted in a tweet by the Ministry of Education as saying: “The failure of a teacher to perform his duties is a kind of corruption that must be addressed.”
#وزير_التعليم: قصور المعلم في أداء واجباته نوع من الفساد الذي يجب التصدي له.— وزارة التعليم -عام (@moe_gov_sa) November 9, 2017
It is not clear what he meant by "failure to perform his duties" or whether his statement would have any legal ramifications.
El-Eissa’s comment comes after at least 11 princes and dozens of ministers were detained by a new anti-corruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The arrests were widely seen in the Western media as an attempt by the young prince to remove opposition to his swift ascent to power.
Many analysts have pointed out that corruption is pervasive in Saudi Arabia, and accusations hard to evaluate due to the nature of its monarchy.
Muqtedar Khan wrote in the Huffington Post: “The whole system in Saudi Arabia is corrupt, arresting anyone for corruption is meaningless.”
Vague charges of corruption can therefore serve as a means to legitimize the removal of opponents.
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Even as the arrests were being made, a new anti-terror law was announced which included challenging the king, crown prince or religion in its definition of terrorism. The offense carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
In this way, legislation couched in legitimate legal language - anti-terror, anti-corruption - appears to be being used by Bin Salman to strengthen his position.
The minister of education’s extension of “corruption” to cover “inadequate” teachers might also be seen in this context.
Even among Saudis online, who have largely responded enthusiastically to the supposed anti-corruption drive, the minister’s comments have sparked anger.
Some claimed the including poor teachers in the definition of corruption undermined its use to target “real corruption.”
@SAADALZHRANI said on Twitter that: “It is not right that the Minister of Education reduce corruption to the absence or inadequacy of teachers and students, and ignores or defends real corruption suffered by the teacher, students, education and public money.”
Others claimed that blame for deficiency in the Saudi school system lay instead with the Ministry of Education.
“Corruption is instructing the teacher to teach a curriculum that is not his specialism and chargig him with bluffing his way through classes in excess of his power and energy, and leading to the deterioration of his health, under the pretext that this is the system,” tweeted @8m999.
Numerous hashtags emerged including “Minister of Education, stand with your teachers” and “the teacher is not corrupt, but rather is a victim of corruption.” Saudis criticized school curricula and the practice of making teachers take classes not in their specialism.
In September, a Human Rights Watch report revealed one way in which Saudi teachers are expected to follow the official line in schools.
“They Are Not Our Brothers’: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials” found that anti-Shia bias in the Education Ministry’s curriculum “is instrumental in enforcing discrimination against Saudi Shia citizens.”
The education minister’s words seem to suggest that any teacher refusing to tread the government line on matters like this can be labeled corrupt and sidelined, just like the figures targeted by Bin Salman's arrests.
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