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Dalton Academy CEO & Superintendent Spencer Fowler Makes Country Visit to Jordan

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Dr. Garay Menicucci


Dalton CEO and Superintendent Spencer Fowler made a country visit to Jordan from November 12 through November 19, 2018, to assess the education conditions and their relevance to the Dalton Access Scholarship Program that offers scholarships for in-need students from Jordan to complete their secondary education in Beijing. He was accompanied by Dr. Garay Menicucci who is the Chair of the Social Sciences Department at Dalton.


The Access Dalton Scholarship Program was established in conjunction with an ongoing course offered every spring semester since 2017 that focuses on the refugee crisis in the Middle East and includes a two-week experiential learning trip to Jordan where Chinese students meet their peers – both refugee and regular Jordanian high school students. Of the almost 6 million Syrians who have become refugees since the onset of war in 2011, 1.4 million have found refuge in Jordan. Jordan hosts other refugee populations including the Palestinians who are multi-generational refugees prohibited from returning to their homes. The continuing influx of refugees to Jordan from areas of conflict in the Middle East, including Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia, have stretched educational resources to the limits. Almost 70% of Syrian refugee children are not in school. The Palestinian refugee school system run by UNWRA has an operational crisis caused by the withdrawal of funding by its largest donor country. The Jordanian public school system is running double shifts to try and accommodate the demographic overload. 


Spencer Fowler began his visit on November 12, 2018 with a meeting with staff and the Director of Cultural Relations at the Jordanian Ministry of Education. The Ministry set up several site visits to under-served Jordanian public schools in Wadi Seer and the Jerash Governate. Spencer gave a presentation on the Dalton scholarship at the Wadi Seer secondary school for boys. The school is one of the most under-funded public schools in the Amman area. The school principal and students were excited by the visit and the chance to study in Beijing. The Ministry of Education will disseminate news of the scholarship program throughout the Jordanian secondary school system. Later Spencer met with Chinese and Italian UNICEF officials, a Jordanian private school teacher, and Dr. Abla Amawi, the Director General of the government’s Higher Population Council that reports directly to the Jordanian Prime Minister.


Spencer Fowler met personally on Nov. 13 with dozens of potential applicants for the Access Dalton Scholarship. On his second day in Amman, he held two information sessions for applicants and their families at the Jesuit Refugee Center in Jabal Hussain. JRC has a range of educational training programs that include English proficiency and computer literacy courses. The morning and evening meetings were attended by over 50 interested applicants. JRC serves refugee populations not normally targeted by humanitarian NGOs. The room was filled with Iraqi, Sudanese, and Somali refugees. It was noticeable that an unexpected number of Yemenis were present as the war in their home country shows no sign of abating. Every student was eager to have the opportunity to study in Beijing. The common complaint during the information sessions was that there were not enough scholarships to meet the desperate need for a key to the door of high-quality English language secondary and post-secondary education.


Spencer had a productive meeting on Nov. 13 with Dr. Oroba Subhi al-Mousa, the Chief of the UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) Field Education Department in all of Jordan. UNWRA administers a system of primary and secondary schools for Palestinians registered with the UN as refugees living both inside and outside the refugee camps throughout Jordan. The UNWRA school system is facing an emergency budget shortfall that may result in the closure of many schools and the dismissal of hundreds of career teachers. Dr. Oroba was keenly interested in giving the Access Dalton Scholarship the widest possible publicity among UNWRA high school students and their families as many of the students will be forced to discontinue their education at the 10th grade beginning in Fall 2019. She facilitated a site visit to an UNWRA secondary school in the Marqa Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman.

Marqa is one of the older Palestinian camps established in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The UNWRA boys' secondary school is one that is in danger of being closed. The school principal is himself a refugee from the Gaza Strip. Gaza Palestinians have no legal permanent residence status in Jordan. If the school closes, the principal has no prospect of employment or possibility of moving to another country. The guide and translator for the site visit was the school English teacher who had previously worked as a hip-hop artist. Spencer met with a group of prospective applicants for the Access Dalton Scholarship. All the students were eager for a chance at higher education. He visited every classroom in the school and greeted every student. Classes were crammed with 2 students sharing a single desk. Just as the morning shift was finishing, the second shift boys were crowding the UNWRA car leaving the school to say goodbye and shake Spencer’s hand.


Dr. Abla Amawi, Director General of the Higher Population Council, welcomed Spencer on Nov. 14 for a formal meeting at her office that included members of her executive staff. Her deputy personally made any appointment that was requested. Dr. Amawi briefed Spencer on the effect that the Syrian refugee population has had on long term development goals in Jordan. Lack of educational capacity has led to mass illiteracy among the increasing refugee population. One consequence of illiteracy and refugee poverty has been the uptick in child marriage among refugees. The Council is formulating policy proposals for the government to adopt to bolster the education sector. Dr. Amawi welcomed the Dalton scholarship initiative and lamented the fact that the scholarship program was not more expansive. She offered to sponsor an internship at the Higher Population Council for a Dalton student in 2019.


Spencer addressed prospective student applicants for the Dalton scholarship at the Karak Creativity Club. The information meeting was organized by the father of the current Access Dalton Scholarship recipient. The Creativity Club is an after-school education center that services low-income residents of Karak and surrounding villages. Over 20 students attended the information session and wanted to apply for the scholarship.

Spencer and Garay were invited to the home of the Syrian family of the scholarship recipient in the small town of Rabbah on the outskirts of Karak. The family fled the war in Syria in 2011 when their home was bombed. They now live in a modest rented house within walking distance of the shop where the father works as a barber. A feast of salad, olives, rice, and maqloubeh (chicken, cauliflower, spices, cooked in a pot and then turned upside down over rice) was laid out for the guests. As is the Arab custom of hospitality, the family of five did not eat until the guests were thoroughly stuffed with food. The father did not finish high school, but is self-taught and a voracious reader. He has written four novels. He presented copies of his latest novel in Arabic to Spencer entitled Road to Zataari. It is the story of Syrian refugees fleeing the war and ending up in the second largest refugee camp in the world called “Zataari.” Spencer showed videos of their son in Beijing. The mother cried and the father offered warm embraces of gratitude.


Spencer and Garay visited the Ministry of Education Field Office for the Jerash Governorate on Nov. 18. They were hosted by the Director of English Programs, Dr. Mohammad al-Fadel. He then took them on a tour of the Souf Secondary School for Boys. Spencer addressed two classes of boys. He described the Dalton educational model and what it would be like for them to study in Beijing. A group of 10 boys from the two classes were then invited to the principal’s office to have a deeper discussion of the scholarship application process. Souf is a rural village and the school serves some of the Gazan Palestinian refugee community who have even less educational options than other refugees because of their inability to obtain permanent legal Jordanian residence. Dr. Mohammad wanted Spencer to visit several schools that were even worse off than Souf, but there was no time. He begged Spencer to come to his house for the afternoon meal. A promise was made to make a return visit.


Spencer visited King’s Academy near the town of Madaba on Nov. 19 before leaving for the airport. He was hosted by the Dean of Admissions, Dr. Imad Zahr. King’s Academy is the premier international school in Jordan sponsored personally by King Abdullah. The school is residential and has an English language IB curriculum. It is in sharp contrast to the public and UNWRA schools that were visited. It has spacious modern high-tech facilities, small class sizes, and a highly credentialed local and foreign faculty, many of whom hold doctorates. It accepts international students, including students from China. Mandarin is offered as a foreign language. It gives partial and full merit-based scholarships for in-need students from Jordan including refugees. It does not have the resources or capacity to adequately address the educational crisis caused by Jordan’s changing refugee demographics.

The Jordan trip ended with greater insight into the gaps in international donor assistance to the educational sector in Jordan. It reaffirmed the value of the Access Dalton Scholarship initiative as a small meaningful step in addressing the global issue of educational inequality among refugee and economically marginalized communities in areas of conflict.


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