Comparative education proves most valuable in informing the decisions of a language professional in the educational setting. This paper elucidates this fact by drawing both an overview of education systems in the US and those in the Middle East, and on theories of making meaning within Translation Studies. The paper includes specific real-life examples that illustrate how a professional translator or interpreter must have a deep understanding of the systems in both the source and the target languages to be able to produce comprehensively accurate transfer of meaning from one language to another.
This paper refers frequently to the Egyptian Educational System (EES) as a representative of the educational systems in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Not only is EES the oldest and among the most comprehensive and well-developed systems in the region, but it also served as a prototype for many states in the region as they developed their educational systems over the time. Further, since this article targets the US readership, it primarily focuses on the Egyptian Educational System. Subsequently, unless a direct, bilateral comparison between the US Educational System and the Egyptian Educational System is needed to expose a difference, the paper invariably focuses on the latter.
Like most of the educational systems in MENA, EES consists of four main stages: elementary (grades: one through six), middle (grades: seven through nine), high (grades: 10 through 12) and tertiary (aside from military academies and medical and engineering schools, universities in MENA confer their first college degrees in four years). “Education in Egypt is compulsory from [first] grade [through] [ninth] grade” (Clark 2013).
The general responsibility for education in Egypt is shared among the Ministry of Education (elementary, middle and high), the Ministry of Higher Education (post-secondary education), and the Ministry of Al-Azhar Affairs (Al-Azhar schools, institutes and university) (Education System in the Middle East 2013). In terms of public and private education, both varieties exist both in Egypt and in the rest of MENA states (Al-Azhar schools are government-sponsored schools). All public and government-sponsored schools (with the exception of some experimental schools) use Arabic as the language of instruction and follow the national curriculum that the Ministry of Education sets.
In pre-university education, private schools either follow the national curriculum or an international curriculum (e.g., IB and IGSCE) or other countries’ curricula (e.g., American, French and German). On one hand, the private schools that follow the national curriculum use either Arabic, English, French or German as the language of instruction. On the other hand, the private international schools use English as the language of instruction, whereas the other private schools, which follow a curriculum of a certain foreign country, use their respective countries’ languages as media of instruction. The greatest majority of private schools offer college-bound curricula (Education System in the Middle East 2013).
Basic education is mandatory and comprises first through ninth grades (Akkari 2004). “Students are awarded a Basic Education Certificate or [the] Al-Azhar Basic Education Certificate after successful completion of nine years of schooling” (Clark 2013). Students with a Basic Education Certificate or Al-Azhar Basic Education Certificate are eligible for admission to general secondary school, vocational secondary school or Al-Azhar secondary school (ibid). Both general secondary education and Al-Azhar secondary education are college-bound education. The main difference between the two is that Al-Azhar curriculum contains a heavy dosage of Islamic sciences. However, in both general education and Al-Azhar curricula, the curriculum bifurcates into two main tracks: the scientific track, which prepares its students to pursue scientific disciplines in tertiary education (e.g., engineering, medical, agricultural or pharmaceutical) and the literary section, which prepares its students to pursue humanities disciplines during their tertiary education (e.g., literature, languages, history and social sciences).
General secondary school education students must pass the General Education National Exam (Atthanawyya Al- ‘Aamma) to become eligible to apply to university. Similarly, Al-Azhar secondary school students must pass the Al-Azhar Secondary Education Exam (Atthanawyya Al-Azhariyya) to become eligible to apply to Al-Azhar University. Upon passing the General Education National Exam, the general secondary school education students are awarded the General Secondary Education Certificate. Likewise, Al-Azhar Secondary Education students are awarded Al-Azhar Secondary Education Certificate upon passing the Al-Azhar Secondary Education Exam.
Vocational secondary schools offer trade curricula in different fields of industry, agriculture, mail, and business. The duration of study at the vocational secondary schools is either three or five years. At the end of their course of study, the vocational secondary school students are awarded the Technical Secondary Education Diploma. Students who have successfully completed the five-year track at a grade of 80 percent or higher become eligible to apply to college to further pursue the disciplines they studied during their high school vocational preparation (Clark 2013). Overall, the MENA educational system, particularly the pre-college public school system, stands to improve in many aspects. Its curriculum needs to target the development of higher-order thinking among students, instead of catering to rote memorization. Students’ performance needs to be assessed by standardized testing that not only shows gaps of achievements but also prescribes remedies for their closure. “And teachers will need to be held accountable for their performance in results-oriented evaluations, rather than through strict adherence to a curriculum” (Education Encyclopedia 2015).
Universities in MENA are either public or private. The language of instruction in public universities is Arabic. Nonetheless, programs in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and engineering are often offered in English. Some private universities teach in English and French. All public universities and higher institutes must be approved and recognized by the Ministry of Higher Education. The Supreme Council for Universities manages admissions policies and quotas, while also having the responsibility of approving private institutions and their programs of study (Clark 2013).
Normally, universities in Egypt and in the rest of the MENA region grant their bachelor degree (bakkalorius aka licence) after eight semesters of full-time study (12-150 credits), 10 semesters, in the event of obtaining a degree in engineering, pharmacy, architecture, veterinary medicine or dentistry (180-210 credits) or 12 semesters as in medical schools (210-240 credits). Graduates of medical, veterinary and pharmacy schools are awarded Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and Doctor of Pharmacy titles upon obtaining their bachelor degrees (Clark 2013).
Graduate diplomas (diplom ad-dirasaat al-’oliya) are usually one-year programs, which must be in a specialization related to previous study at the undergraduate level. Some graduate diploma programs are two years. Typically, the graduate diploma program consists of an advanced coursework without or with marginal research component.
The master’s degree (magistir) typically requires two to three years of full-time study (30-42 credits) with a mix of coursework and research (thesis). As for the doctoral degree (doktora), it normally requires four years of research-based study (100-120) credits and the production and defense of a thesis before external examiners (ibid).
MENA higher learning institutes, colleges and universities do not have a universal grading system or scale. Even Egyptian universities, although they may agree on the stratification of the degrees of passing (grades): excellent, very good, good and pass, not all of them assign the same percentage value to each of these degrees (grades). For instance, at the University of Alexandria (where I completed my undergraduate studies) excellence in humanities reflects the percentage range of 90 through 100, whereas it reflects the percentage range of 85 through 100 in the College of Engineering at the same university. Further, although the standard minimal passing percentage is 50 in most colleges in the MENA, some colleges lower the percentage to 40 in certain undergraduate disciplines, and some even raise it to 75 in certain graduate programs. This type of knowledge proves essential to language service providers (LSPs) as they engage in translating or interpreting educational documents coming out of this part of the world.
Not only do LSPs working in translation and interpretation for Education settings need to be well-versed in comparative education (at least in terms of environments, systems and trends), but they also need to serve as cultural experts. After all, “translation is a form of rewriting” (Marinetti 2011). Although the cultural approaches in translation generally advocate for unfettering the translators’ hands to exact a greater “manipulation” while translating a literary text in an attempt to transfer its cultural content to the target text’s culture or to create an impact on said culture, some of this manipulation may be needed while translating educational texts. “Translation is rewriting and rewriting is manipulation” (ibid).
Since the source text is a product of its source culture and the target text should prove adequate to its target culture, the two texts may depart from each other substantially (Vermeer 1983). Nonetheless, the purpose of translation must inform the degree of manipulation (departure). Admittedly, translation is different from mere transcoding. The former is “prospectively oriented towards the target culture” unlike the latter, which is “a procedure that is retrospectively oriented towards the source culture” (ibid). Subsequently, translation is re-creation and not cloning. This also sets the tone and the bar of how LSPs should be perceived by their clients and also what they should expect from themselves: they are “experts to whom one must listen” (ibid).
Nevertheless, in his seminal work, “Skopos Theory,” Vermeer maintains that “every text has a given goal, function or intention, and also an assumed set of addresses” (ibid). A deeper understanding of the statement above leads the reader to believe that translation is also a bilingual process of “mediated communication” (Reiss 2017). A process that runs on the basis of securing functional equivalents as conveyances of meaning between SL and TL. Finding functional equivalents inherently denotes changes. Some of those changes could be intentional and some could be unintentional. Unintentional changes “may arise from different language structures as well as from differences in translating competence” (ibid).
As for intentional changes, they are informed by the intended function of a given text. In other words, LSPs need to decide whether the goal of translating a particular text is “(a) the communication of content, (b) the communication of artistically organized content or (c) the communication of content with a persuasive character” (ibid). Subsequently, this should inform LSP rendition approaches. Undeniably, “it is useful to situate the TT on a scale between extreme SL bias and extreme TL bias” (Dickins 2002). As a result, LSPs will be better able to provide a goal-oriented rendition. Not only will they be able to navigate the path between fidelity and transparency, but they will also have the choice to swerve toward either of the two extremes should the goal of the rendition so require. In the light of the above, the term “balanced translation” proves vague, if not altogether fallacious. Simply put, a good translation is a goal-oriented translation.
According to Reiss, both text type and text variety play a major role in the translation process. On one hand, text type determines the general method of translating: informative, expressive or operative. On the other hand, the text variety demands consideration for language and text structure conventions (2017). Nevertheless, LSPs still can create a good blend of the methods above. However, this blend must be informed by the goal of the translation first and then by the salient characteristics of the given text. Yet, the goal of the translation must always override any other consideration. For instance, should artistic form compete with content in an informative text, the latter must be preserved.
Comparative education and theories of meaning coincide in tangible ways when translators and interpreters do their jobs. As a proficiently bilingual school principal, I frequently find myself drawing equally on my knowledge of other non-US educational systems, especially the MENA educational systems, as well as my LSP repertoire, particularly the theories of meaning. This frequently happens when students who have completed parts of their education in MENA apply for admission into Salam School. The school’s guidance department presents the report cards and transcripts of the student applicants to me. Usually, these documents are written in Arabic. However, the linguistic barrier is never the only hurdle to clear.
As an educational expert, I initially evaluate the student’s transcript according to my knowledge of the respective course’s weight (i.e., length, depth and breadth of the course and how often the class of the course is in session weekly and per semester). I then move to trace the course sequence and recurrence (e.g., national public schools and private national curriculum schools in the Middle East teach physics, chemistry and biology every year during the three high school years, unlike the American high schools that teach sciences in the following sequence: biology (freshman year), chemistry (sophomore year) and physics (junior or senior year). Finally, I evaluate the grade the student applicant obtained at the end of the course according to how the percentage ranges equate to latter grades in the MENA and according to whether the cumulative assessment at the end of the course was standardized, state, governorate or teacher-set. Also, the locality, demographic and the status and type of accreditation of the school from which the student applicant is transferring play an essential role in informing my assessment.
My role as a language professional ensues, as I move to reproduce the document in English. Customarily, I set an action plan: goal, intervention (method) and language and text structure considerations. To me, translating and/or interpreting educational credential comes close to transferring a content of a legal document. Subsequently, I am always mindful and most inclined to err on fidelity’s side whenever a TT match appears slippery or dubious. Hence, I set the goal as informative content transfer with special consideration to using idiomatic expressions and localized terminology. More often than not, the document will include footnotes, unless otherwise it is sent to an external credential evaluation agency. Usually, this occurs during the process of evaluating teachers’ foreign credentials as explained later.
Since translation of educational documents and transcripts serves as a form of documentation, the language professional’s role is multifaceted. She is an educational expert whose evaluation of the candidate’s credentials is critical to candidate’s placement. Also, she is a cultural agent. Her rendition of the text should preserve what the ST means in its source culture, while making sense to the TT culture. For instance, I have issued the following email to the school’s guidance director after I had evaluated a sophomore applicant’s transcript. The applicant has completed her tenth grade in an Egyptian experimental public school where English was the language of instruction. Although the transcript was in English, it needed to be re-credited as prescribed below.
Dear Mr. (…)
This is to inform you that the student candidate whose transcript is attached to this email is admissible into eleventh grade. However, she will need to make up for the following course deficiencies:
- A semester in Biology (the “Biology” course she completed during 9th grade was retranslated and re-credited as a “General Science: Basic Scientific Concepts.” Although the candidate covered some concepts in biology, the content she covered comes closer to what the eighth grade students cover during the fourth quarter at Salam School.
- Two semesters in US History (the “History” course encoded on her transcript was retranslated as “Contemporary National Movements in the Middle East.” Please credit it as an elective course.
Wanis H. Shalaby
PS: The candidate should be placed in the upper math track. She has completed pre-calculus. “Mathematics 3” was retranslated and re-credited as “pre-calculus.”
The example above shows how my knowledge of the intricacies of the Egyptian Educational System intertwined with my skill set as a language professional in producing a goal-oriented translation as well as in making accurate educational decisions on the student’s placement.
Also, below is another example that shows how my knowledge of tertiary education in North Africa (Morocco) helped a colleague of mine apply for admission into a teacher preparation program at a local private university. The respective colleague needed to submit her credentials to the Educational Credential Evaluators agency (ECE). Both her diploma and transcript were originally issued in Arabic and in French. They needed to be translated into English before they were submitted to ECE. Since ECE, as one of only four agencies whose credentials evaluations are accepted by colleges in the Midwest, has full-fledged, comprehensive evaluative criteria, I only needed to translate the documents above in a manner that leaned towards fidelity. The reason I decided to produce a fidelity goal-oriented translation was because I knew that the evaluators at the CEC may initially attempt to match the TT to the ST (they ask that the original documents be attached to the translation). Subsequently, my translation needed to withstand that level of scrutiny.
Bachelor of Arts
According to His Majesty’s Decree number 1.75.102 issued on February 25, 1975 , as a Statute regulating universities’ affairs, and based on the ministerial decision number 2.75.663 issued on October 17, 1975 concerning university institutions and the list of degrees they confer, and based on the ministerial decision number 2.82.472 issued on January 31, 1983, concerning the reorganization of the courses of study and examinations that are required to obtain a BACHELOR OF ARTS DEGREE, and based on the minutes of the examination committee occurring on June 30, 2000, the Dean of the College of Arts and Human Sciences in City of Tetuan hereby certifies that the Student (…) (National No: […]) who was born on (…) in the City of Tangier (ID No: […]) has successfully completed a BACHELOR OF ARTS DEGREE in ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE in May, 2000 with general grade (PASS).
Issued in the City of Tetuan on June 30, 2000. Only one copy of this diploma is issued to student. In case of need, the university may issue another copy upon graduate’s request.
As shown in the example above, the language sounds legalistic and, to a greater extent, aims to replicate the ST. However, careful consideration was given to the localization of the terminology the document included. For instance, I used “bachelor” instead of “license.” I also replaced “controlling” by “regulating” in the segment of “Statute regulating universities’ affairs.” Below is another and final example of how I translated her transcript. I am only providing the first page of the transcript’s translation.
|UNIVERSITY ABDELMALEK ESSAADI COLLEGE OF LETTERS AND HUMAN SCIENCES TETUAN||School Year 1996/1997 1997/1998|
|The Dean of the College of Arts and Human Sciences in City of Tetuan certifies that the student (…), born on August, (…), 19(…) in the City of Tangier and whose ID number is (…) has earned the following scores during her undergraduate first and second years in English Language and Literature.|
|WRITTEN||1- Grammar 1&2 2- Composition 3- Comprehension||11/20 13/20 08/20|
|SPOKEN||1- Guided Reading 2- Spoken English: P.C. Reading 3- Arabic & Second Language||12/20 07/10 07/10|
|Final Score||58/100 Pass|
|WRITTEN||1- Grammar, Comprehension & Precis 2- Composition & British Civilization 3- Introduction to Literature||08/20 12/20 08/20|
|SPOKEN||1- British & American Civilization: Introduction to Language 2- Islamic Civilization 3- Arabic & Second Language||12/20 05/10 06/10|
|Final Score||51/100 Pass|
|[Dean] [Signature] Sidi Mohamed EL YAMLAHI PhD [University Seal]
As shown above, the text type caused me to adopt a higher level of fidelity as I rendered the content of the ST. Nonetheless, the text variety informed my consideration for language and text structure. I used US- localized language, tabulated the content of the transcript and used segmented phraseology within the tables.
This paper demonstrates that language-services providers (LSPs) must have more than linguistic competence. A comprehensive understanding of educational systems in both source and target countries proves crucial to making accurate transfer of meaning. Also, it must be observed that meaning is made with more than words. What an LSP leaves out of ST during the translation process contributes to the TT’s meaning as much as what she includes or adds. Finally, an LSP is not only a linguist but also a cultural consultant. To this effect, she must engage in continuous follow-up on the educational developments in her ST region.
Abdeljalil, Akkari. “Education in the Middle East and North Africa: The Current Situation and Future Challenges.” International Education Journal Vol. 5 (2) (2004). Web. www.iej.cjb.net/. 16 June 2018.
Clark, Nick. “Education in Egypt.” World Education News & Reviews. 4 November 2013. Web. www.wenr.wes.org/. 16 June 2018.
Dickins, James. Thinking Arabic Translation: A Course in Translation Method: Arabic to English. USA: Routledge, 2002. Print.
“Education System in The Middle East.” All Answers Ltd. November 2013. Web. www.ukessays.com/. 16 June 2018.
Marinetti, Cristina. “Cultural Approaches.” Handbook of Translation Studies. Vol 2. PP.26-30. USA: Johan Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011. Print.
“Middle East and North Africa – Regional Background, Educational Perspective, Future Challenges and Direction and Conclusion.” Education Encyclopedia. October2015. Web. www.StateUniversity.com/. 16 June 2018.
Reiss, Katharina. “Kind and Individuality of Text: Decision Making in Translation.” Poetics Today. Vol. 2 (4) (1981): pp. 121-131. Duke University Press. Web. www.jstor.org/. 10 October 2017.
Vermeer, Hans. “Skopos and Commission in Translational Action.” The Translation Studies Reader Vol. 2. Third edition. 1983. Print.