INTRODUCTION TO THE BLOG

This blog is a component of a project we are working on regarding the communication challenges that think tanks have in conveying complex research to diverse audiences. Our work is a subset of a larger project organized by GDNet. Our specific aim is to examine how think tanks communicate research--and most importantly, policy recommendations--to policymakers, reformers, journalists, and other researchers in the Middle East, specifically on the topic of education, at both the university and pre-university levels. We are concerned with the issues that arise from disconnects between the international trends in education reform and the local beliefs and institutionalized practices of education in Arab countries. With this in mind, we would like to introduce ourselves and the format of this blog. 
Ted Purinton is Associate Professor and Associate Dean at the Graduate School of Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. His research focuses on the sociology, politics, and economics of education reform. Amir ElSawy is a graduate student at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and a former ESL Instructor and Languages Department Chair in the Egyptian Military Academy.

Our interest is in research communication within the field of education--particularly education reform--within the Middle East/North Africa region, particularly in this time of massive political and social transition. Many messages that permeate the landscape of education reform in this region have been built from American and European interests for quite some time, obviously, and they have been presented to the political powers that have, by and large, been toppled by revolutionaries hoping to shape new, more democratic forms of governance. At the same time, democratic governance has yielded in many places, particularly Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, strongly conservative constituencies that may be at odds with some of the reform ideas.

Of course, it is not appropriate to generalize across MENA countries, or even across MENA countries that have been sites of protest in the past two years. Yet, with a common language and religion, MENA countries are often targeted simultaneously by think tank research and advocacy messages. We are interested in understanding the complexities, contradictions, commonalities, challenges, and successes of think tank research and advocacy for educational reform. We will begin with Egypt, but we will also explore Gulf countries, and a few other countries undergoing social and political change. Our intent is to understand how the shaping of messages can take into account the complicated regional changes and still promote positive and productive educational reform. Our main interest, of course, is indeed educational reform, and especially coming from an "American" university, even our efforts are highly questioned within Egypt. Yet if we desire to influence educational reform, we have to ensure that our messages, and the vehicles we use to convey our messages, are appropriate, sensitive, and targeted. Understanding how to do so is the purpose of our chapter.

Every one to two weeks throughout the rest of 2012, we will post new comments about a report that has come out in the past couple years. We will engage in dialogue, hoping not to sound too committed to our ideas, in the usual academic approach, but instead to question ourselves and each other as we attempt to understand how to best communicate research on education reform in this region.

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