Reforms and Social Changes / Education

Education was a central question in 19th-century European debate on issues of obligation and secularity. In the second half of the century, the colonial powers – particularly France and the United Kingdom – made efforts to advance these (to them) vital issues in their colonies, protectorates and spheres of interest in the Arab and Ottoman world. Sociopolitical movements on both sides of the Mediterranean attributed importance to the ultimate purpose of modern public education as a key factor in the economic, political and cultural advancement of society. Subsequently, in the Middle East, two systems came to coexist: Western-style public and private school education, which left little room for Arabic language and Arab culture, and traditional teaching in Qur’anic schools, which affirmed religious faith and Arab identity.

Working NumberNameHolding MuseumDateMaterialsCurator Justification
TN 071Zaytuna UniversityInstitut Supérieur d’Histoire Contemporaine de la Tunisie19th century PaperTraditional Islamic education emphasised memorisation of the Holy Qur’an, the study of hadith, grammar, Islamic jurisprudence, and other related subjects such as philosophy and astronomy. In the 19th century, European-inspired schools were founded in the Arab and Ottoman world, coexisting with traditional institutions.
MO 087Photograph of a classroom at a traditional Qur'anic schoolNational Library of the Kingdom of Morocco1914Traditional Qur’anic schools continued to exist alongside modern schools. Teaching was based on reading and memorising the Qur’an, with the students gathered around the teacher.
GR 029Lesson at the Benaki Orphanage in Alexandria EgyptBenaki Museum1888–1921PhotographThe Greek community, which was very significant in 19th-century Alexandria, undertook much philanthropic work there, focusing in particular on education. The classroom at this orphanage enabled young girls to be taught the basics of geometry.
FR 079Art exhibition at school, 12–25 June, 1904National Library of France 1904This French poster, dated 1904, relates to the teaching of art in schools. Since 1879, harmonised curricula were introduced and specialist teachers recruited in order to systematically advance the democratisation of practical art appreciation and training.
FR 177A teacher and one of his pupilsNational Library of France 1920In the 19th century, literacy was promoted among the Middle Eastern population primarily in Qur’anic schools: the Qur’an was learnt by heart, and writing was taught by copying out its verses. Fascinated by the use of the Qur’an for teaching purposes, French travellers and scientists photographed these scenes of learning, which were so different from those found in the secular state schools of France.
LB 084Photograph "Under the Oak Tree"Oriental Library, Saint Joseph University (Usj)Late 19th century – early 20th centuryBlack and white photographAmong the European-style schools springing up across the Middle East in the 19th century were many Christian schools set up by their respective church authorities. This priest, Father Joseph Delore, taught at one of the many missionary schools set up in Lebanon during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
ET1 027Secondary school students giving a sports performance during King Fu`ad I's visit to the Fayum DirectorateBibliotheca Alexandrina8 May 1927There were two schools of thought regarding education in Egypt in the 1920s. One remained traditional, while the other was open to modern trends, encouraged by King Fu`ad I. Even sport – following the French and British model – was now encouraged in such schools.