Jabal al-Hussein walk and talk. Episode 3 with @hussein_alazaat

We did a quick stop in front of Kattu’a Bookshop. “Bookshops” are an important fixture of every Ammani neighborhood. Despite their name they are mostly devoid of books. They are stationary/copy/toy shops.

Kattu’a evokes a very specific memory in me: Tawjihi. That end-of-high-school-examination monster of the Jordanian education system that refuses to die. If you go to a fancy west-Amman school nowadays chances are you would be enrolled in an international high school system like the IB. Tawjihi today is left for the “less fortunate” segment of society. Back in the late 1980s EVERYONE did Tawjihi.

Which brings me back to my buddy Khaldoon, who, you remember from the last episode, convinced me to leave our private school bubble to enroll in the “great” Al-Hussein College. The third year there was our Tawjihi year. I was always a B/C student. He was the A+++ guy. Tawjihi was no match for Khaldoon. He ate Tawjihi for breakfast. His class notes where perfect, written in his signature squarish handwriting. Lucky me I could go to Kattu’a with him a make photocopies of his class notes to augment my more messy ones. This, after all, was Tawjihi year. I stowed away my Commodore Amiga computer and promised my parents and myself to “work hard” at getting a good Tawjihi mark, which, in turn, would determine my university fate, my career, my life. To be honest, I don’t remember thinking in those terms. But still, Tawjihi. Yes. Important.

Kattu’a was, and amazingly, still is, a place where you could buy “courses”, those professionally prepared summaries authored by Tawjihi star teachers which had names like “Tawfiq Abu Sa’a”, who also taught extra classes in Tawjihi help centers. All of this was part of the Tawjihi Industrial Complex. Then, as now, it’s an industry that testifies to how ridiculous our curricula and testing is. Kids need summaries and extra tuition to get past the monster. Today a whole digital industry has grown around our dysfunctional education system. The star teachers of today now reach millions of student through online video courses. COVID only propelled this further. Some very successful startups have sprung up to take advantage of the official education gap. I am sure Kattu’a now sells voucher cards for access to JoAcademy and other similar platforms.

The results of the first semester of the 1988 Tawjihi exam came in. Despite having access to Khaldoon’s class notes, I managed a less-than-stellar 81.6/100. Anything below 90 was a problem if you wanted to study something “respectable” at university. 

But that was not my biggest problem.

My biggest problem was: Khaldoon scored the 3rd highest Tawjihi grade. Not on the school level. No sir! On the Jordan level! He scored 99 or something like that. I had access to the notes of the genius, but I was still too.. I don’t know.. dumb, lazy, slow.. to score above 90.

I vowed to work harder on the second semester. It “worked”. I scored 85.1 as I remember for a final year score of 83.3. Khaldoon “slipped”. He “only” managed to score the 7th highest mark on the national level.







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