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How to reach the heart of every family

Inger Andersen's picture
Also available in: العربية
We touched on many important topics during the Live Chat I hosted last month and when we generated a word cloud out of the conversation we had and the issue that leapt out big and bold was EDUCATION.

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That’s no surprise. I imagine many of the voices who joined me in the chat were young and among young people education and jobs loom as especially significant. But for a number of years now my colleagues at the Bank have been working on education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with a sharp focus on quality. They’ve been making the case (and I think many in our chat would agree) that the quality of education in MENA is the major challenge and with it the kind of marketable skills that better quality can produce.

The prominence of education in our word cloud prompted me to gather my education experts and think through how best we can help right now. Interestingly, they said they were hesitant to push education to the front of the agenda following the revolutions because they saw the education fix as long term and the revolutions had thrown up such immediate challenges.

World Bank l Arne Hoel, 2011 But we can’t put education on hold, so what now?  Mourad Ezzine, my superbly skilled colleague who, with his team, manages the education work in MENA has been thinking deeply about this and he sees us proceeding in three phases:  the NOW, the Short to Medium Term and the Medium to Long Term.

What needs to be done NOW:

> Make space for participation in education. Open up school councils to real and transparent debate, let the voices of parents and education employees be heard;

> Measure what students are learning, collect data on which policy decisions can be made. And feed the data back to the schools and the parents openly; and

> Let the private sector invest and innovate at all levels of education (Did you know that in Tunisia for example, the private sector can deliver education but the schooling offered has to be a perfect mirror of that offered by the state?)

Mourad makes a compelling case that if the impetus of the revolution is used to makes these new spaces, this will trigger change and pave the way for short to medium term reforms such as:

> Curriculum reform, teacher professionalization, early childhood development programs etc.

This is the piece of reform that requires lots of discussion and open consultation and where real results don’t emerge for a minimum of five years.

The third big piece of the education reform agenda is accountability and that’s medium to long term:

> How to hold educators accountable for teaching and real outcomes? In other words are teachers helping students shape the skills and knowledge needed for a real chance to make it in the world? 

Here I think Mourad is especially wise, arguing that the system in MENA is not ready for this accountability yet, that teachers need a chance to professionalize, that curricula need to be developed first, that no one knows who’s good and who’s not because the system has not been set up that way.

This three-part framework helped me think through the education challenge and what’s  very clear is that politicians in countries where there have been big changes and even in those where the changes are more gradual, have a real opportunity now to push reforms ahead. People are waiting. And reforms in education reach right into the heart of every family, to the children who are MENA’s future.


Submitted by Amina Semlali on
Thank you for an interesting blog. I fully agree with the content and would like to emphasize and further elaborate on one aspect that you brought up: Early Childhood Development (ECD) – and emphasize the need to start the investments early in life – long before the children begin school- to establish the foundation for lifelong learning. Nobel laureate James Heckman, points to ECD as the most cost effective form of human capital investment, compared to primary education or any subsequent schooling. The impact early child health and stimulation has on cognitive development is tremendous. In MENA ECD programs targeting 0-3 year olds are next to non-existent. Although Kindergarten programs (targeting 4-5 year olds) have grown in the past decade, it covers only a fraction of the eligible population and poor children display very low enrollment rates. Moreover, curricula are rarely play-based and are focused on teacher-led rote learning rather than interactive child-teacher engagements centered on the child. There is an abundant need for qualified child care teachers and “community-mothers.” - At the family-level trained “community-mothers” can through home visits reinforce the importance of interactive child stimulation, importance of breast feeding, and increase awareness of the damage corporal punishment has on a child’s development and help parents in need find constructive child-rearing practices. A bonus: many young women could be encouraged to work by having access to affordable quality care for their children, and the child care education industry could be economically important in itself since it could become a very large potential employer – particularly for females! Thanks again for an interesting blog. Amina

Submitted by Dr.Syed Aiman Raza on
Its great to see a well organized scheme to propel education amongst the poor and helping them to move out of poverty. Inger you have rightly said that accountability is a must for bringing in quality education in the region. Accountability can be achieved if the teachers are given perks/incentives from time to time on their performance levels. Parents-teacher unity/fusion is also a vital strategy to help children learn more at their respective homes. I believe that it is the lack of quality education that has bumped up unemployment and underemployment in MENA.Perhaps their ubiquity and salience have been spotlighted in the recent rise of political discontent, unrest, and rebellion across the Middle East and in the “Occupy” movements in the West.But too seldom have unemployment and underemployment been a central focus of inquiry. Therefore, with quality education we must also push forward the idea of technical education to the masses, so that they can reap benefits in their countries and even abroad. Dr.Syed Aiman Raza Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology Shia PG College Lucknow-India.

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