The pandemic is reshaping norms, providing an opportunity for developing countries to give scientific research the focus it merits.
The COVID-19 pandemic is setting the stage for a great shift in how developing countries such as Morocco will view scientific research in the near and far future. Countries that have underestimated the importance of scientific research, shrinking its budget or shifting financing to benefit other sectors, are already suffering the consequences.
These countries are slowly coming to acknowledge a crystal truth: Scientific research is the gate through which they can contribute to saving lives, support long-term survival on Earth, and protect against diseases and pandemics. It is also considered the ultimate motive of intellectual production. Through scientific research, higher education institutions and universities become the economic, industrial, social, and cultural locomotive for societal development.
Scientific research as a reality in the Islamic and Arab world
The Islamic world has been interested in research and authorship since Islam first came to life. Muslims traveled to seek knowledge and engage in research that has benefited all of humanity. Muslim scholars and inventors contributed to spreading scientific insight and new concepts that brought Europe and the rest of the world from the era of darkness into light.
Societies began to orient themselves towards deciphering scientific puzzles related to engineering, medicine, philosophy, humanities, and social sciences. This led to inventions that changed the path of human existence and left a resounding impact, some of which are still valid to this day. The work, achievements, and inventions of Ibn Sina and Al-Razi in the field of medicine provide sufficient evidence of this.
In recent centuries, many countries witnessed economic, cultural, social, and industrial revolutions that established the new era of “machinery” and modern progressive technology. The concepts of capitalism, socialism, imperialism, and worker proletarianism promoted the persistent and eager search for new paths to earning money.
However, there is no single unified definition that includes all aspects of “scientific research” as a concept.
Developing Arab countries’ aspirations to support scientific research
In the 1970s, joint Arab action began to advance Arab scientific policy. The community held conferences, making efforts to develop policies and strategic plans to enhance the bonds of cooperation between Arab countries. They also aimed to raise the perceived importance of scientific research in those countries and relying on it as a lever for economic growth.
These included events such as the 1974 Conference of the Arab Ministers Responsible for Scientific Research and Heads of the National Research Councils in Arab States, held in Baghdad, and the 1976 Conference of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Development of Science and Technology, held in Rabat.
The attendees of both conferences called for necessary joint Arab action and for the establishment of specialized quality centers in the Arab world. These gatherings resulted in a number of recommendations addressed to Arab governments and other recommendations of the Arab organizations that support culture and science.
Resulting policies often led to the creation of marginal jobs that did not meet the aspirations of Arab populations. They also did not meet the desired goals and recommendations set out in those conferences.
Failure to learn from mistakes
Strangely, these countries did not preach or benefit from this failure, nor did they learn the lessons necessary to address such lapses. Concerned parties spent large sums of money on studies. These studies, in turn, led to more costly meetings. The meetings led to the accumulation of results, opinions, and piles of documents that were not used appropriately. This amounted to a loss of efforts, money, and time. It also means that scientific research can still be viewed from a narrow angle that does not meet its objectives.
“The total of what Arab countries spend on supporting scientific research is negligible, as the share of spending on research and development of the gross national product has reached In Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates, respectively, as follows: 0.3%, 0.26%, 0.2%, 0.18%, 0.45%, while Sweden spent 3.02% of its national product.” In contrast, there is “Japan, 2.84%, Switzerland 2,68%, South Korea 2,47%, United States of America 2.8%, and France 2.34%,” wrote Amjad Qazim in 2010, citing 2003 World Bank data on development indicators.
According to reports by the same researcher, that large gap, which harms Arab nations’ efforts in producing international scientific and technical research, and the small number of scholars and researchers in the Arab world, indicate a clear imbalance in educational and development policies in those countries. They also point to a terrible shortage in Arab institutions of scientific research, and their lack of accurate calculations on the returns of scientific activities carried out in the institutions that do exist.
This shortcoming is evident with a quick glance at Arab countries’ spending on their national return on scientific research. All Arab countries fall within the list of countries that spend less than 0.3% of their national product on research and development.
Will Morocco have a better scientific research plan in the near future?
In the light of this severe pandemic, Morocco, as well as the governments of all developing countries, should reconsider the proper concept and procedures of scientific research. They should truly consider this research as the engine for economic, social, and cultural growth. They must also revisit the laws and procedures of research.
These governments must also review the development activities that are organized under the umbrella of industrial bodies and institutions and justified by science and technology policies. Reducing the size of these activities severely limits their role, and as a result, relevant actors pay insufficient attention to the outputs and results of scientific research and development in higher educational institutions.
Developing countries’ governments must also search for new flexible policies and laws that govern scientific research, provide supportive material resources, and motivate all those who observe scientific research in accordance with international standards. Those responsible for the project of reforming the education system should take the issue of scientific research in all seriousness, as it is the main entry point for economic, social, and cultural progress and growth.
Morocco must remember that scientific experimentation in industrialized countries looks at scientific research and development as continuous operations, ranging from total quality control in all its dimensions and public services at the minimum level to exploratory studies and research at the highest level.
In order to communicate and see what others are producing in terms of research, it is necessary to promote the study of foreign languages, including English, which is currently the dominant language of scientific research.
80% of current research outputs are in English, while the remaining 20% are shared by languages such as Arabic and French. We must consider the creation of centers that master the teaching of foreign languages and meet international standards, also accelerating that process in rural areas.
Morocco’s need to encourage scientific research
Scientific research is an integral part of the country’s general security. Military security, political security, food security, cultural security, water security, and other aspects of security are only rings of a longer chain that interconnect, and the strength of any chain is determined by its weakest link.
This comprehensive vision of scientific research is the one that Morocco, for example, seeks to achieve through recently adopted reform projects in various fields and the establishment of many related workshops. The most difficult pillar of these workshops is the reform of the education system, of which scientific research is an essential component.
It seems that Morocco aspires to develop and improve the field of scientific research after the pandemic. Reality also shows that there are opportunities to transfer expertise to other areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa and other Arab countries. There is no reason not to share Morocco’s experience in the field of scientific research internationally.
The key to successfully powering the field of scientific research is in encouraging scientific research from the early stages of education, in a simple way that allows students to become accustomed to the field. Morocco can also succeed by calling on brilliant minds that are working abroad.
It can do so by setting a reward mechanism that will motivate researchers to settle in Morocco and assist the country in rising to meet international standards of scientific research in the near future.
Dr. Abdellah Benahnia is an international researcher, a novelist, a published author, and a consultant in education and cross-cultural issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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