The Middle East is known as ‘the cradle of civilisation’, a part of the world rich in culture and ancient history. But sadly these days it is more often known as a region riven by conflict and war. It’s impossible in just one article to do more than skim the surface of this region’s complexity. However, we hope to give teachers some pointers and ideas for exploring the region in class and supporting students’ learning.
Some of the bigger questions about conflict in the Middle East could be explored through a Philosophy for Children (P4C) enquiry. This helps children to develop their own questions around the region, and encourages group enquiry.
What subjects does this fit into?
Geography: KS3 Locational knowledge
KS2 Early civilizations eg: Ancient Sumer, Ancient Egypt
KS2 Non-European society, eg: early Islamic civilization, including a study of Baghdad c. AD 900
KS3 The First World War and the Peace Settlement
RE / RS: The history of religions; exploring controversial religious issues in the modern world.
Why is it called the ‘Middle East’?
The term originates from how British and European colonialists described the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the ‘Near East’ being the Balkans, Turkey and Egypt, and the ‘Far East’ being South East Asia, China, Japan and Korea; the ‘Middle East’ was in between.
Which countries make up the Middle East?
There’s no agreed definition, and the number of countries generally considered part of this region has grown since the early 20th century when the Middle East consisted of the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and Persia (Iran). The map we’ve used at the top of this page is from The State of the Middle East Atlas published by New Internationalist (a really useful resource, by the way). It shows a ‘Middle East’ that extends from Iran all the way westwards to the Atlantic coast of Africa, bringing in countries that share similar culture, politics and challenges.
According to The State of the Middle East Atlas: “The reason why there’s no universally agreed definition of the region is that the very concept of the Middle East is political. In defining it, judgements are made about some of the key issues that preoccupy it and the key factors that influence it.”
Starter Activity: Try out this Rethinking Schools map game. You have to drag each country name onto the right place on the map (quite hard for many teachers to do, let alone students!) The map includes some countries not generally considered to be ‘Middle East’ (and was created before the birth of South Sudan) but it can help students find out more about the region and reflect on the connections between these countries. They could then research more information about individual countries, or view them in closer detail by using Google Maps or Google Earth.
Vox: 40 maps that explain the Middle East is an amazing set of very diverse maps which explain all sorts of things: history, culture, ethnicities, resources, and the impact that conflict has had on the region.
There are also teaching resources on the I Am Syria website; it is a non-profit campaign to educate the world about the Syrian conflict. The resources are mainly aimed at US schools but could also be used in the UK.
Al Jazeera: Life on hold explores the difficulties faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon. And in this short film clip a 13-year-old boy dreams of returning to Syria – perhaps you could use this to explore children’s rights.