“The nation (umma) that perfects its education (tarbiya) of its sons and daughters, and prepares them to benefit their nation (watan), is a nation (umma) that is happy.” Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi
In the 19th century, debate about education coincided with growing political awareness of country as nation state. In the highly diverse Arab and Ottoman world, education evolved in various ways, based on governments’ desire to reform their societies and initiatives by leading contemporaries. Government, private and missionary schools and universities with modern curricula joined traditional institutions. The aim was not passive acquisition of European ideas but strategies to implement what was useful in the context of the region’s complex realities. Ottoman schools provide a case in point. Since the 18th century, the Ottomans had sought to reform their education system, initially aiming to train a military able to stem the growing menace of the European powers. In the 19th century, the reform debate addressed curricula, structure, teachers and education’s role in modernising the civil service. Underlying was a broader concern to foster social cohesion and an Ottoman identity.