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Arab boarding school brings down gender barriers

Jordan

The first co-educational boarding school in the Arab world is being built in Jordan.

The mixed school represents a radical departure from regional trends towards greater gender segregation and has the personal backing of King Abdullah.

While co-educational schooling is common in Jordan and many other Arab countries, the idea of a mixed boarding school is new.

The King's Academy - due to open in 2006 - is expected to be modelled on Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where the king went to school.

According to Professor Safwan Masri, chairman of the school's board of trustees, it will be "geared towards preparing the next generation of Arab leaders, be they boys or girls". He believes the academy will set new standards of excellence in the region.

While fees for the new school have not yet been fixed, they are likely to reflect the estimated $55-60 million (pound;30-33m) construction costs.

Pupils will have use of an indoor swimming pool and be able to keep horses at the school's riding stables.

Critics of the costly new project say it will be of little benefit to the majority of Jordanians and will merely widen the gap between the Western-educated elite and ordinary Arabs.

But Professor Masri claims the school will become a model for best practice in the state sector, while partnerships between King's Academy and selected state schools will allow for teacher exchange programmes. Also, one in seven pupils will be admitted on scholarships.

Such partnerships will pose a challenge to Jordanian educators. King's Academy is planning to follow the American curriculum, adopt a pupil-centred approach and encourage the development of critical minds.

Teaching techniques used in most Jordanian state schools rely heavily on rote learning.

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