EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.
In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.
The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.
In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.
The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.
EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
MENA parents are attracted to e-commerce for the “Back to School” shopping, increasing their interests and buying habits at exponential levels between 2017 and 2019.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August
In 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017
With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market competitive sellers, the Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern
ADMITAD analysts recently released an online sales report that shows Back To School shopping has grown 6 times since 2017. Analysts observed data over the course of 2 years measuring the buying trends in the Back To School categories across different countries in the MENA region.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August. However, in 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017. With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market’s competitive sellers, Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern, expecting to reach in August 2020 the highest level measured in the past years.
“The growth we’ve seen in 2 years is indicative of MENA region developing into a more mature market in e-commerce, with giants like Amazon, Noon, Namshi creating outstanding value for the customers. Other factors are contributing too, such as the rise of social media influencers and the unparalleled cash value offers online shopping provides. Having said that, this is just the beginning as we estimate the growth to continue at a rapid rate in the next 2 years” said Artem Rudyuk, head of MENA Operations at ADMITAD.
The convenience of fast-delivery, an abundance of offers and eye-catching promotions alongside a wider diversity of the products, are some of the top reasons why MENA region Back-To-School customers’ interest in online shopping is growing.
One of the fastest-growing marketplace for parents, Sprii.com, is confirming the positive climb of the online sales during August, with a growth of 181% in the back to school category. Sarah Jones, CEO, and Founder of Sprii said: “Sprii has seen a 181% increase in sales in its back to school category over the last year. We see traffic fast moving away from your traditional bricks and mortar stores to online platforms as product ranges increase, prices are cheaper and delivery becomes easier. The leading contributor of growth in this category has been kids lunchboxes and healthy snacks, which we see in keeping with the regional movement towards healthy sustainable living, and the site-wide increase in organic product sales.”
The estimated increase in back-to-school spending represents an opportunity for MENA based e-commerce companies to capitalize on this new profit-making shopping season, together with Christmas, Ramadan, and Back Friday. The MENA region players have an unprecedented opportunity to convert customers with competitive advertising, offers, prices and bundles during the online browsing process.
Artem Rudyuk is the Head of MENA Operations for Admitad, heading the Development of affiliate partnerships between e-commerce merchants and online publishers on cost per action basis and bringing affiliate marketing in MENA region to a new level with the most transparent and tech advanced platform.
The skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and could leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.
Only one in five working-age women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has a job or is actively looking for one, according to the World Bank and the region has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world.
If the MENA region continues along this trajectory, it could take at least another 150 years to match the current global average for female labour force participation.
Despite good progress in some countries, challenges and inequities persist.
Increasingly, there is a realisation that the levels of female unemployment are not simply a mirror of the business cycle, but a persistent structural issue that has distinct causes and requires specific solutions that cut across socio-economic and education policies.
This not only represents a great loss of human capital, but it also seriously hinders the region’s potential for social and economic development.
Across MENA, restrictive barriers including limited mobility, restrictive laws and closed industries, coupled with long-standing political and social issues, continue to impede women’s access to the labour market.
However, one factor that stands out is that education does not always lead to employment. There is a persistent mismatch between employers and jobseekers – whether in terms of skills, attitudes or expectations.
For example, in Saudi Arabia, female enrolment in tertiary education has doubled in the last decade (68.5% in 2017 compared to 34.2% in 2007), but still only two in ten working-age women participate in the labour force.
In Egypt, unemployment among women with advanced education is almost six times that among those with basic education only, according to World Bank Development Indicators. While in Tunisia, only 41% of women are enrolled in tertiary education and they represent just 26.5% of the total labour force in the country.
This skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and has the potential to leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.
I believe that women can be change-makers for the political, economic and social development of MENA.
However, participation from governments, employers and education providers is needed to bridge the gender gap, increase regional output, and put MENA on a more sustainable and inclusive growth path in the long run.
Companies can do their part by engaging in thoughtful planning, cooperating with others and getting strategic about their staffing practices. This could range from supporting access to soft and technical skills programmes, endorsing philanthropic partnerships, designing policies and spearheading discussions among the education community to pushing inclusive job opportunities.
Over the next decade, it is estimated that 50 million women will come of working age in the region. Therefore, corporations are in a unique position to bring about significant change through empowering a previously untapped human resource.
Despite increased focus and spending over the past decade, MENA governments still have a long road ahead in improving women’s social and political barriers to employment. Without a drastic overhaul of personal development and soft skills programmes, companies will continue to struggle to fill jobs across the region.
The influence and investment of companies is crucial to start to re-shape the position of women across MENA and successfully bring them into the workforce – ultimately shaping a stronger, more inclusive economy.
Carmen Haddad is the Chief Country Officer of Citigroup Saudi Arabia and the Citi Saudi Arabia Business Governance Head. Citi Foundation has partnered with international NGO Education for Employment to tackle the MENA unemployment crisis.
* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The MENA region according to a UNICEF report, without improved education and meaningful work opportunities will have to face the critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children, and over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030. Xinhua came up with the following article edited by Mu Xuequan.
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Without improved education and meaningful work opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the region faces a critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children by 2030, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report: MENA Generation 2030, which was published Thursday.
MENA Generation 2030 is the first report to make a direct link between investment in children, economic growth and social development.
The report warns that over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030 is expected, if the situation remains unchanged.
According to the report, the region has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world; nearly 15 million children are out of school due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning, violence in schools and armed conflict.
“We are at a serious risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region with devastating consequences on children and young people,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The only way out is through the implementation and budgeting of policies for children, ending violence and armed conflict, having a politically and socially stable environment, and promoting gender equality,” Cappelaere added.
The report urges governments to increase financing for early childhood development, improve basic education and simultaneously nurture the skills needed to match the rapidly changing economy.
According to UNCHR, those fleeing their own countries for fear of persecution travel collectively around two billion kilometres per year to reach a safe haven. To honour their resilience and determination and to remind us of the long and tortuous journeys they are forced to make on their way to safety, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched the www.stepwithrefugees.org campaign to mark 2019 World Refugee Day.
The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world has grown by 26% since 2000. Eight years on from the beginning of the Syrian conflict, a new paper released today and at an event in the Netherlands looks at the importance of making sure that education systems are set up to address the trauma that many of these children face before, and during their journeys to new countries. In particular, teachers need better training to provide psychosocial support to these children, including through social and emotional learning.
In Germany, about one-third of refugee children suffer from mental illness, and one-fifth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. One third of 160 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Norway from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, 37-47% had ‘severe or very severe’ symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Rates of trauma among the displaced in low and middle income countries are also high. For instance, 75% of 331 internally displaced children in camps in southern Darfur in Sudan met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression.
In the absence of health centres, schools can play a key role in restoring a sense of stability. Teachers are not and should never be leant on as mental health specialists, but they can be a crucial source of support for children suffering from trauma if they’re given the right training. But they need basic knowledge about trauma symptoms and providing help to students, which many do not have. NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, iACT, and Plan International, are training teachers to face this challenge through their programmes, but their reach is not enough.
In Germany, the majority of teachers and day-care workers said that they did not feel properly prepared to address the needs of refugee children. In the Netherlands, 20% of teachers with more than 18 years of experience working in mainstream schools reported that they experienced a high degree of difficulty dealing with students with trauma. The vast majority of these teachers (89%) encountered at least one student with trauma in their work. A review of early childhood care and education facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America found that, although many programmes recognized the importance of providing trauma-informed care, appropriate training and resources were ‘almost universally lacking’.
The paper shows the importance of social and emotional learning, as an approach to psychosocial support which targets skills, such as resilience, to manage stress, and is often rolled out through interactive, group-based discussions or role play. It shows the importance of this approach for less acute situations but emphasizes that for more challenging cases trained specialists are needed.
It is also important to involve parents in social and emotional learning so that activities can continue at home. One programme in Chicago looked at addressing symptoms of depression among Mexican immigrant women and primary school children with in- and after- school programmes and home visits, for instance, and improved school work, child mental health and family communication.
Learning environments must be safe, nurturing and responsive.
Teachers working with migrant and refugee students who have suffered trauma face particular hardships and need training to cope with challenges in the classroom.
Psychosocial interventions require cooperation between education, health and social protection services.
Social and emotional learning interventions need to be culturally sensitive and adapted to context. They should be delivered through extra-curricular activities as well.
Community and parental involvement should not be neglected.
East Africa is famously the birthplace of humankind and the location where our ancient hominin ancestors first invented sophisticated stone tools. This technology, dating back to 2.6m years ago, is then thought to have spread around Africa and the rest of the Old World later on.
But new research, published in Science, has uncovered an archaeological site in Algeria containing similar tools that may be as old as 2.44m years. The team, led by the archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni, excavated stone tools at the site Ain Boucherit that they estimate are between 1.92m and 2.44m years old. This suggests that human ancestors spread to the region much earlier than previously thought or that the stone tool technology was simultaneously invented by earlier hominin species living outside east Africa.
The artefacts belong to the “Oldowan” – the oldest known stone tool industry. Rounded river cobbles, used as hammer stones, were used to flake other cobbles, turning them into simple cores. The flakes were then transformed into scrapers and various knives by resharpening their edges. Essentially this was a tool kit for processing animal tissue, such as marrow, bone and brain tissue, but also plant material. However, it is not known for sure which hominin species first created Oldowan tools – potentially Australopithecus or Homo habilis.
The stone tools are very similar to those of early Oldowan sites in East Africa. Bones at the site even have cut marks, where a stone tool has gouged into the bone during butchery. The cut marks may mean these hominins were actively hunting.
But we have only ever found early Oldowan tools in the east African rift valley before, more than 4,000km away. We have always assumed that it started there some 2.6m years ago, so we shouldn’t find it so far from its original home at that age unless we have missed something.
Many archaeologists do indeed suspect there is an unseen ghost somewhere in the machine. There have been discoveries of early hominin sites to the south, in Chad, that suggest that some of our earliest ancestors lived well beyond East Africa. Oldowan-like sites have also been found outside of Africa, in Georgia, beginning at 1.8m years ago – which seems surprisingly early.
The new discovery is telling us that our focus on East Africa as the birthplace of early humans is too narrow – we should be doing what Sahnouni and others have done all along and looking elsewhere. The same team recently published findings about another Oldowan site in Algeria that is about 1.75m years old, but to find early Oldowan tools well over half a million years earlier is a bit of a game changer.
It all hinges on how reliable that 2.44m-year-old date really is. Dating specialists will be scrutinising the details very carefully. According to the paper, four different techniques were used. Palaeomagnetic dating measures the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field in sediments – this is locked into rocks when they form, helping to tell us how old they are.
The team found that the upper level mapped onto a short period of normal polarity taking place between 1.77m and 1.94m years ago. The lower level’s sediments fitted into a long period of reversed direction at between 1.94m and 2.58m years ago.
To get more precise dates, the team turned to a dating technique called electron spin resonance dating, which measures radioactive decay in quartz sand grains. However, they used a less common version of the technique that was operating close to its upper limit of reliability at this age range. The measurement delivered an age of 1.92m years old, younger than suggested by paleomagnetism.
There are some concerns about how suitable this last method is but the team has been honest about that. They also compared the dates with extinction times of animals present at the site, which suggested the date wasn’t impossible.
To get a better idea of the maximum age of the tools, they used a technique for estimating the rates of sedimentation – basically how long the different layers at the site took to build up. You have to throw in some fancy statistical work though, and map it onto the palaeomagnetic results. Extrapolating backwards in time, the team calculated that the actual age of the lower level is 2.44m years old. I suspect dating specialists will be looking at this carefully.
Now to our ghost. The oldest tools ever found outside of Africa are the ones from Georgia dated to 1.8m years ago. There is a small Oldowan-like site in Pakistan from around the same time and more core-and-flake sites in east China at 1.66m years ago. If the Georgian site represents the first move out of Africa, then these early African migrants got to Pakistan and China extremely quickly.
In Georgia, the tools may have been made by early Homo erectus, which dates back to about 1.8m years ago. As there is a Homo erectus specimen from China dated to 1.6m years old, it is easy to assume that Homo erectus must have been the species that spread the tool technology around the world – and much quicker than we had thought.
But we cannot be sure of that. What if our ghost was an earlier hominin species from Africa predating Homo erectus – such as Homo habilis? Perhaps the Oldowan actually began earlier than 2.6m years ago, and was already widespread throughout Africa by 2.4m years ago.
Maybe our mysterious hominin began to migrate out from Africa before 1.8m years ago, and carried its core-and-flake industry eastwards. That would certainly give it more time to cover those huge distances. Perhaps Homo erectus only migrated eastwards out of Africa later, following in the footsteps of an earlier traveller that we know nothing about.
So that’s a lot of maybes, but then nobody expected there to be Oldowan tools in Georgia when they were first found. It caused a lot of controversy, but now most archaeologists are comfortable with the finding. The Georgian archaeologists went back, did more work and proved their case. I don’t doubt Sahnouni and his team will be doing the same.
ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com
DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.
Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.
People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.
Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.
The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.
What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.
High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.
Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.
Audiovisual Heritage of the UN News came up with this call to action for all to try and ‘bring to life’ any audio-visual recordings of their life, be it private or public, all presumably for posterity’s sake.
Old, grainy film and video footage from years gone by, not only stirs powerful memories – it’s also a vital resource for future generations, the United Nations cultural agency has highlighted, urging everyone to safeguard audio-visual heritage and make archives more accessible.
These images and sounds recorded on film, video and audio tape, “feed into our collective memory and establish links between generations”, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in her message marking the official World Day for Audio-visual Heritage.
“[However,] this memory, which has remained alive and is essential to historians, scientists and ordinary citizens seeking knowledge of their past, is nonetheless fragile,” she added, noting the increasing neglect of archives which are made up of what is now obsolete analogue media, like LP records and quarter-inch audio tape.
Focusing this year on the theme, “Your Story is Moving,” UNESCO, in partnership with the Coordinating Council of Audio-visual Archives Associations (CCAAA), is calling on everyone to showcase personal and family archives.
“Bringing them out of lofts and cellars, sharing slices of life, moments captured on film or videotape, can bring alive, with emotion, an existence that has become a thing of the past,” continued Ms. Azoulay in her message.
“Heritage is not an inanimate object; it is full of meaning, significance and all the emotions that have accompanied the lives of past generations,” she added.
Alongside events globally to mark the World Day, UNESCO is also appealing on everyone to share their stories with the hashtag #AudioVisualheritage to bring their own “moving stories” to the world.
Preserving world history at the UN
In this special video, take a peek into the work of our expert UN archivists, as they protect tens of thousands of records documenting the history of diplomacy from the last century, preserving them for future generations.
Marked annually, on 27 October, the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage aims to raise awareness of the importance of audio-visual documents, redouble efforts to safeguard them and promote greater access to archives.
The World Day is a commemoration of the adoption, in 1980, of the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images by the 21st UNESCO General Conference.
Students from less advantaged backgrounds are grossly underrepresented in Britain’s top universities. This underrepresentation of certain groups is particularly pronounced in highly competitive courses such as medicine. In England, for example, 80% of medical students come from just 20% of the country’s secondary schools. This leads to a profession dominated by certain demographic groups. So, should Universities lower entry grades for disadvantaged Students?
This has left the NHS heavily reliant on the recruitment of overseas doctors to fill such posts. But such staff are frequently recruited from low and middle income countries that can ill afford to lose their own homegrown doctors.
It has been highlighted by Julian Simpson, who has written on and researched the subject, that this “shortage” of doctors willing to work in certain areas stems, fundamentally, from a “lack of alignment between the aims and needs of the NHS and the social and professional aspirations of doctors trained in British medical schools”.
Recent research shows that, once in university, students from England’s most poorly performing secondary schools generally do as well academically as their peers from England’s highest performing schools. Even if they achieved somewhat lower A-level grades. Similar findings from higher education in general have been reported.
This lends evidence to a fact that seems intuitive. That is, the grades a pupil achieves at A-level (or equivalent) are, on average, at least partly dependent on the school they attend. So, in order to make university admissions fairer, should students who attend schools where pupils generally leave with lower grades, be offered places based on reduced A-level achievement – known as “grade discounting”?
Some universities – such as Birmingham, Southampton and King’s College London – have already trialled such A-Level “grade discounting” for medical school place offers for applicants from less advantaged backgrounds. The early evidence from such schemes is that the differences in academic outcomes between students entering with reduced A-level requirements and mainstream entrants are minimal, at most.
At present, it is unclear whether any meaningful differences would exist between qualified doctors who entered medical school via conventional policies or those who had gained admittance via such schemes. After all, people just want to be treated by safe, competent and compassionate practitioners.
Like for like?
But rolling out such an approach on a university wide scale, wouldn’t be a straightforward matter. For a start, there is the issue of how to effectively “contextualise” A-level (or equivalent) achievements. In this way, clear information about how to compare secondary schools would have to be available to university selectors – and such information currently is not always easy to come by. Likewise, for overseas applicants, making comparisons between institutions would be difficult, if not impossible.
Then there is the issue that some pupils from less advantaged backgrounds may not even consider applying for more prestigious or competitive courses at university. So such A-level grade discounting would have to be part of a package of measures to increase universities’ outreach among schools and the dissemination of information to teachers and careers advisers.
Such policies would also be clearly vulnerable to “gaming” from well-resourced families. It is easy to imagine, for example, how some advantaged pupils may be independently schooled until the last couple of years of their education, and for them then to be moved to state schools to take advantage of such admissions policies.
In the US, “affirmative action” policies have been used to encourage ethnic diversity within some universities. Such policies have been weighed and tested through the court system. The resulting verdicts make it clear that such approaches to widening participation cannot rest solely on the issue of “moral equality”. Rather, the case has to be made based on the educational advantages of a more diverse population of students.
The most recent US Supreme Court verdict also stressed that any “positive discrimination” in favour of underrepresented groups should also be proportionate and regularly reviewed. This implies that “grade discounting”, involving modest reductions in the A-level requirement for entry to certain courses for certain disadvantaged applicants, if applied with clear objectives and regularly reviewed, is likely to withstand legal challenge, at least in the US.
So while grade discounting is unlikely to cure all the lack of diversity on the most competitive university courses, it may well play a useful role as part of a package of measures designed to widen access to certain professions in the UK.
History repeating itself over and over, Iraq and its Capital City Baghdad know how the first to pay is as always those that the mob instinctively understand as being the seat of power. Knowledge that is; so destroying the libraries was like getting rid of the symbols of the civilisation. However, unlike their predecessors, the latest invaders as elaborated here in this article are helping in the endeavour to reconstruct the most significant collateral damage of all through the initiative of an Artist Rebuilding war destroyed Baghdad Library.
“168:01,” an installation now on view at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, encourages visitors to donate books to the University of Baghdad
In 2003, at the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, looters set fire to the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. The college’s vast collection of 70,000 books was destroyed, and 15 years later, students still have few titles at their disposal. So, as Hadani Ditmars reports for the Art Newspaper, an installation at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is asking the public to help replenish the school’s lost library.
“168:01,” as the project by Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal is titled, is a stark white display featuring bookshelves filled with 1,000 blank books. Visitors are encouraged to replenish the volumes with titles from an Amazon wish list compiled by the college’s students and faculty; donations can be made by sending the books on the wish list to the museum, or by gifting funds to the project through Bilal’s website.
In exchange for their donations, visitors are able to take home one of the exhibition’s white volumes that represent a rich cultural heritage stripped bare by years of conflict. In turn, the colorful books they contributed to the project will ultimately be sent to the College of Fine Arts.
“I wanted a simple visual representation of what’s been lost,” Bilal told Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star last month. “But what’s important is that, over time, this place comes back to life.”
Though Bilal’s project is focused on recouping the losses of one tragic event, “168:01” calls attention to a long history of cultural destruction in Iraq. The installation’s title refers to the destruction of the House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma, a grand library possibly founded by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur in the 8th century. Legend has it that when the Mongols laid siege to Baghdad in 1258, the library’s entire collection of manuscripts and books were thrown into the Tigris. The river is said to have run black for seven days—or 168 hours—due to all the ink seeping into its waters. But the “o1” in the installation’s title is meant to signify a new era of restoration in Iraq—one that looks beyond centuries of loss.
Bilal, who came to America as a refugee in the wake of the First Gulf War, often reflects upon the traumas that have taken place in the country of his birth. In one of his best known works, the 2007 project “Domestic Tension,” the artist sequestered himself in a gallery space and broadcasted live on the internet. Viewers could chat with him at all hours—and opt to shoot him with a robotically controlled paintball gun.
“168:01,” by contrast, seeks to move forward from violence. “To be completely frank, when we talk about war and destruction, when you try to bring that image here, I don’t think it resonates,” Bilal told Whyte of the Star. “There’s an obsession, I think, with images of conflict — when war is taking place, you want to engage people with that. But what happens post-conflict? Either you move on, or you look and say, what needs to be done now? I want to reflect the time now, and now is about rebuilding.”
“168:01” was first conceptualized with the Art Gallery of Windsor and curator Srimoyeee Mitra for Bilal’s major solo exhibition at the museum in 2016. The project has since appeared in various iterations at other museums and galleries around the globe—from a tall tower of books at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool to an entire room at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
Though the installation at the Aga Khan Museum winds down Sunday, it will be rebuilt for the National Veterans Art Museum Triennial in Chicago next summer.
To date, thanks to visitors who have donated to the project, Bilal has been able to ship 1,700 texts back to Baghdad, contributing to the effort to rebuild the College of Fine Arts’ once prolific collection.
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