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September 23, 2020

Career Options for Arab Children By Dr. Issam Khoury

This letter is for parents of our next generations in the hopes that the freedom to pursue one’s passion will guide you as you advise and guide your children towards their futures across the different fields, be it in the sciences or humanities.

Doctor, lawyer, engineer or disappointment!

Thus read an unfortunate and yet ever-so-accurate joke in one of my former offices. I wanted to laugh and yet the deep despair in my heart reading this made it impossible to ignore.

Jordanian high school students celebrated passing the Tawjihi exam, and newspaper reports abounded with the number of those who achieved perfect scores. This is cause for celebration, but there are underlying issues that we need to address.

Across the Arab world, we have created a false dichotomy between “scientific” and “literary” streams, as if these two were not at all related, first of all, and that one (scientific) is better (and more profitable) than the other (literary), second of all, and that high achievers with good brains become doctors and engineers, while low achievers with less academic aptitude enter the fields of social sciences and the humanities.

Let us debunk all three. First, never have the natural sciences and the social sciences ever existed in isolation of each other. A good engineer knows why and for whom she creates infrastructure and buildings, while a social worker can only be effective when he is aware of the neurological and biological factors that affect a patient with whom he is working. A social entrepreneur only improves society when he is aware of the environmental factors affecting our global society in the 21st century, while a pharmacist must be aware of the psychological factors of the clients who come to her to dispense medicines.  This false dichotomy also extends to academia where we no longer make this false distinction of “scientific” and “literary”, but indeed are working to create cross-, inter-, and multi-disciplinary teams to address the real and interconnected problems of the 21st century.

Second, one kind of science is not better nor more valuable than the other. We need a society in which we have our healers and our builders. But a society devoid of, or one that creates as second-class citizens, its thinkers, creators, artists, musicians, carers, educators and the next generation of social leaders is one that will remain stagnant. We need to encourage our youth (and I’m speaking to the youth who just graduated as well) to pursue a passion that is divorced from a social expectation that limits you. Pursue a career as a therapist, study the fine arts and explore our rich heritage in Jordan to better help us understand ourselves, understand social and political structures so that you can be the next generation that takes our Kingdom to new heights.

Third, our false dichotomy of “scientific” and “literary” has created a social mindset that smarties become engineers and those less than do not. Again, utterly not true. The majority of world leaders are not scientists. Those who have created the greatest social and economic change in history were not scientists. Those who created the most beautiful art and wrote the most life-changing literature were not scientists. Scientists brought many things to our world, and I am in no way negating their importance nor the diligence required to get a degree in the sciences, but the social sciences, humanities and fine arts are not “lesser than” degrees. Let’s stop this kind of destructive thinking.

This letter is for parents of our next generations in the hopes that the freedom to pursue one’s passion will guide you as you advise and guide your children towards their futures, and to our next generation of leaders in the hopes that you will know that you can be successful in any field in which you choose to enter. The options are endless and we hope that you create futures that bring you happiness, contentment, success and abundance beyond your wildest imagination.

This article was written by the Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Jordan, Dr. Issam Khoury, and was originally published at The Jordan Times on August 24, 2020.

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