North African millennials need better education

In Islamic tradition, the first divine revelation received by our beloved Prophet Mohammed was ‘Read’, and this was repeated three times by angel Gabriel. This emphasises how important it is to seek knowledge, and how crucial knowledge is in defining human integrity and dignity. We must also think about what it means to nurture and share knowledge. In this article, we look at the benefits of providing a more holistic and practical learning style to Arab millennials. Teachers and parents must learn to trust young people and to accept healthy intellectual discourse, stimulation and even challenges. We must continue to progress as a region and, if anybody can correct the woes facing the Maghreb, it is the younger generation whose thinking is not bound by problematic nationalist constructs.

What is holistic learning?

In learning, there are various learning habits, theories, styles and domains. The main three learning domains are:

  1. the cognitive domain
  2. the behaviourist domain
  3. the affective domain

The cognitive domain relies on thinking, comprehension and memorising pathways. The behaviourist domain focuses on the Master and his Pupil. This is the traditional pedagogical approach. Finally comes the affective domain, dealing with the emotional side of learning, where the student becomes wholly or partially involved in the process of learning but with a special emphasis on feelings. This cannot be separated from the other two domains of learning which, together, form a holistic approach to education. Students’ opinions, wishes and feelings must be truly considered and highly valued. This feeling of importance enhances the social, mental, personal and emotional well being of the pupil. In this humanistic approach to learning, a more horizontal dialogue with a teacher occurs where all parties are being intellectually stimulated.

Beyond interaction between different age groups, mixing learners of various abilities is also crucial to developing diverse modes of thinking and communicating. The ability to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, and the ability to reflect and share ideas freely creates a sense of value and brings out the best in any student. This association also makes young people retain knowledge for longer. This is why some of the most effective teaching methods in the humanistic approach to learning are group exercises and practical assessments. Seeing physical changes to their experiments in laboratories can make students feel that they can surely make a difference – and they must therefore also be trusted to put their learning into practice.

Why is a revival in education needed for North Africans?

A holistic and more interpersonal approach to learning is particularly important in a globalised world where Arab millennials can travel to or interact with others in all corners of the globe. In North African and wider Arab culture, we have recently started treating learning – from the parenting to the pedagogical spheres – in a very hierarchical manner. In the classroom, questioning can sometimes be dismissed as deviance; whilst at home, the children’s place at the dinner table is sometimes with other children at their own table and not with other adults where young people can learn and develop their communication skills amongst a more varied group. We must remove this idea that directly associates age with importance or respect. Respect should be earned according to the integrity of the individual, and not according to a biological factor that cannot be helped by the subject. This was the traditional approach amongst many North Africans, particularly at the height of the Umayyad Dynasty.

The current millennial generation is now the first to grow up with the internet for what will almost be an entire lifetime. This means that, instead to being bound by nationalist ideas like some of their parents, today’s younger generation are the first to have their minds operating in a globalised space, being connected on Facebook and Twitter and receiving instant information in different languages from people of varied religious, political, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This is why access to internet is also particularly important. North African millennials with internet access can zoom out and look at international affairs in a more holistic and balanced way. This can be advantageous, and these individuals can grow up to be future ambassadors of North Africa and the Middle East – not just political ambassadors, but scientific, cultural and social ambassadors too.

Instead of feeling threatened by this, or reducing this type of holistic and critical thinking to ‘confused identity’ or ‘treachery against the nation’, we should be extracting exactly this type of thinking from younger generations and targeting it in a way that can be beneficial for the technological and political revival of the North African region. After all, the nation-state is only 400-odd years old. This type of thinking needs a different type of teaching approach: one that is more globalised, progressive, horizontal and holistic.


Education, whether at elementary, secondary, university or postgraduate levels, is crucial for the advancement of any nation. The success of any nation is usually measured by its levels of literacy, economic growth and social cohesion. We usually notice that the so-called advanced nations, such as Germany and the Scandinavian countries all fulfil their duties in promoting more holistic education systems that match current realities.

The Arab nations of North Africa, in particular, have a long way to go – especially post-“Arab Spring” – in terms of advancing their educational systems. Learning aids for the disabled and better teacher training are of particular importance. North African governments are not prioritising enough annual expenditure on these developmental needs. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency, wealth distribution, accountability, process, equal rights and democracy is mixed in with – as well as contributing to – this substantial level of procrastination from our governments.

Authored by Dr Asma Shebani and Sami Oussama Filali Naji.

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