Now, as the result of a programme of reform initiated by King Hussein in 1987, the rented buildings have been replaced, thousands of new places have been created and the curriculum and teaching methods have been completely overhauled.
The ambitious 10-year plan was born out of a general conference on educational development in 1987 and later received funding from the World Bank and the Japanese government.
According to Dr Victor Billeh, the director of Jordan's National Centre for Human Resources Development, the reform's many levels include updating textbooks to suit both slow and advanced learners and to incorporate "contemporary issues such as genetic engineering"; developing a system for curriculum revision, co-ordinating and evaluating the needs of the curriculum with the teachers in the classroom, re-training teachers, and improving school facilities.
The educators behind the reform systematically attacked the system's weak points and tried to improve them: by extending compulsory education from nine years to 10, introducing a restructured two-year secondary cycle of mathsscience, artshumanities and technology, establishing a technological stream, and revising textbooks to suit the new curriculum.
In an attempt to raise the standard of teaching, they tightened up the requirements for entry to teacher training and upgraded the qualifications required of principals. Before the reform, up to 70 per cent of teachers had a two-year community college degree or less, and 60 per cent of principals did not have a university degree.
The reform programme also created a new textbook publishing unit in order to produce the 500 new (or revised) textbook titles into the system, and to try to introduce more co-ordination between the curricula, textbooks and teachers in the classroom.
It brought in editing, design and production specialists and initiated a system whereby books would be tested for a year and then revised according to teachers' feedback.
The reform has also stimulated pilot production work on educational TV programmes, based on the new curricula. (Jordan TV already broadcasts eight educational TV programmes per week).
Dr Billeh explained that the NCHRD was established to "help maintain the momentum of the reform through policy-based and other large-scale sectoral research; to identify cost-effective innovations and conduct an evaluation of the reform program".
Still, after working for more than 10 years to reform his country's education system, and with 16 per cent unemployment in Jordan today, Dr Billeh has to face the facts. An average monthly teacher's salary is $300, (Pounds 200), a sum not likely to attract large numbers of good, well qualified teachers.
Dr Billeh also admits there is still a serious "mismatch between supply and demand" between the 12-15,000 graduates each year and the available jobs, either governmental positions in the universities or in the private sector.
However, he said there is still a strong social demand for education even if people "know they won't be employed".
Sweeping Reform of Jordan's Education System By Helena Flusfeder