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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Libya

24th November 2015 Tripoli, Libya

Education: Turning Mirrors into Windows

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”  Is this quotation relevant to today’s Libya?

Definitely.  The Libyan economy is going down the drain.  Oil production and prices are down; the country is spending more than it earns; the black market exchange rate is going up; the cost of living for ordinary people is rising.  If Libyans think they are living in a rich country and the state will provide them with jobs, they are wrong.

A major challenge will be jobs.  At present, large numbers of people are paid by the public sector including almost half a million teachers, though, according to a Libyan expert “perhaps half these teachers don’t actually teach at all”.

The shocking statistic comes from the World Economic Forum’s Africa Competitiveness Report for 2013 which assessed the quality of education in 144 countries; Libya came 142nd.   An expert commented that “years of under-resourcing and poor management have left the Libyan education sector in a dire position.  Coupled with corruption and injustice, the overall quality of education provision is now severely questioned.”

With a bit of luck and flexibility, a new Government of National Accord will start work soon.  Their priorities will be to give the Libyan people peace, security and prosperity.  Part of the aim of making Libyans more prosperous will be trying to create jobs, especially for the many people who have joined militias.  Offering them gainful employment will help reduce the threat of new conflicts.

Who will create these jobs?  Creating more jobs in the public sector is not the most productive use of available funds.  The private sector has to be the motor for growth.  But businessmen will not invest in Libya unless they can find people with the skills they are looking for.

The fact is that, in Libya as in other parts of the Middle East, schools and universities are not producing the people with the skills that companies are seeking.  If the curriculum, teaching methods and exams focus only on memorising facts – rather than using them – essential skills like creativity, innovation and critical thinking will be missing.

Education reform is not easy.  It means challenging traditional practices, vested interests and cultural perceptions. It means changing the exam system to test a student’s initiative and practical skills.  And it means harnessing a person’s natural talents by letting them study what they are good at rather than what their parents regard as prestigious.

A system that encourages people to fulfil their potential will produce a workforce that business wants to employ.  This applies not only to schools and universities but also to training in later life.  Education policy should include vocational training in technical subjects in the oil sector, construction and agriculture.

The British Council is supporting improvements in teaching in Libya and is considering how the UK can offer more support to the education sector in general.   Students can take UK exams and teachers can obtain UK teaching qualifications.  Just this week representatives from Libyan universities are meeting in Tunisia to discuss how we can work together to develop university education.

Education is an investment for the future.  As a famous philosopher said: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  If this were the governing principle for education reform, the promise of a more prosperous future would be brighter.

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”  Libyans clearly want to change their world.  They can use education as a weapon to fight ignorance, selfishness and future unemployment.

In that way, instead of education holding up a mirror in which they see nothing but the current chaos, they will see windows through which they will see a brighter future.

1 comment on “Education: Turning Mirrors into Windows

  1. I strongly agree that the priority must be given to education reform in the very near future. It has to be done through a carefully designed plan that takes into consideration the current problems facing the whole education sector and at all levels. While the quality of outcomes of education is a major concern of the reform, the psychological, moral and social problems the Libyan and youth had faced in the last five years should be taken seriously in this process. In addition, I strongly believe that BC, UNICEF or UNESCO will be very helpful and supportive in this respect.
    Warm regards

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.