With the school year starting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), millions of children are busily preparing to resume their studies. Some, caught in conflict, may not be able to go to school at all; others may be joining schools in countries neighboring their own. At peace or in war, throughout MENA more emphasis is being placed on early education and care. World Bank Practice Manager for Education, Safaa El Tayeb El-Kogali, co-authored a study on Early Childhood Development (ECD) in 2015, which found that, with a few exceptions, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was faring poorly.
In the last few decades, we have seen an increase in the number of countries investing in social protection programs. These programs help individuals and families especially the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks, invest in the health and education of their children, supporting young people by developing their skills and finding jobs, and protecting the aging population.
Ending poverty is within our reach. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved since 1990, thanks to the sustained efforts of countless individuals, organizations and nations.
We recently met Mariana Costa from Laboratoria – a nonprofit that empowers young women by providing them access to the digital sector. In the next three years Laboratoria will train more than 10,000 young women as coders. This tech social enterprise located in Peru, Mexico and Chile, helps young women - who have not previously had access to quality education – enroll in an immersive five-month training program at Laboratoria’s Code Academy, where students achieve an intermediate level on the most common web development languages and tools. Their technical development is complemented with a personal development program that helps them build the soft skills needed to perform well at work. Successful graduates also receive mentoring and job placement and are usually able to pay-back the cost of the course during their first two years of employment. Most of the time, these young girls are the only breadwinners in their households.
There has been an increase in attention on Africa’s changing population. Academics, development organizations and the media (among others, BBC, The Guardian, Financial Times, The Economist) have highlighted Africa’s late demographic transition – the population is young and will remain so for a long time, as fertility rates are not falling there at the same rate as they have fallen in the rest of the world.
Recently, the World Bank Education Team on Sri Lanka Higher Education organized its first Facebook Live to discuss how Sri Lanka’s universities can become world class institutions where students acquire relevant skills. More than 50,000 viewers have so far viewed the video and we have received a large volume of follow up questions and comments.
It is evident that there is strong interest among Sri Lankan youth in their education system, particularly the current state and the future of higher education system, as well as their job prospects.
The questions raised by Facebook viewers spanned across issues on the need to increase access for higher education, improve quality of teaching and learning at tertiary education institutions, increase relevance of higher education, enhance skills development for employment.
Here’s a sample of questions asked and discussed:
- Learning opportunities in higher education have been significantly increased but higher education enrollment rate is well below comparator countries. How can Sri Lanka increase higher education opportunities?
- teaching-learning is still one way In majority of Sri Lanka’s higher education institutions: lecturers deliver information and students listen. How can we change our system more towards student-centered learning to get students actively involved in their learning? How can Sri Lanka strengthen its universities’ teaching-learning practices?
- What are the skills employers most want?
- How can higher education institutions help students acquire the right skills to succeed in today’s job market?
- The foundation of higher education is laid during the senior years at school. But after-school tuition classes have invaded school children’s lives. How can we ensure that teachers are doing their role effectively during school hours to prepare children for higher education?
While the team has been working on these very issues for over a decade since the preparation and implementation of the first higher education project in Sri Lanka, Improving Quality and Relevance of Undergraduate Education (2003-2010), followed by an analytical work on the sector, The Tower of Learning: Performance, Peril and Promise of Higher Education in Sri Lanka, and a follow up operation, Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Project (2010-2016), this was an exciting opportunity to directly engage with the stakeholders through social media as the team is embarking on the next phase of engagement for the higher education sector through the preparation of Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development.
Transformation of the education system is essential to meet the economic and social challenges of a rapidly evolving and knowledge-intensive world.
Sri Lanka has a well-established system of higher education but its expansion is facing major challenges.
Bringing excellence to Sri Lanka’s higher education where students are able to acquire the relevant skills for the global market was one of the main goals of the World Bank supported Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Project.
The Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development Project will aim to expand access to higher education with a special focus on the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics which will increase opportunities for young people, including youth from rural and estate sector families, to access better paid jobs.
In addition, it will aim to improve the relevance and quality of priority areas of higher education and increase research, development and innovation products from universities.
The team is grateful to Facebook viewers’ active engagement through Facebook live on Sri Lanka’s higher education and looking forward to the next rounds of discussions.
Happy UN Day for South –South Cooperation!
Investment in skills is vital to economic growth and competitiveness and poverty reduction. I believe that there is no better way to do that than to educate young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas to help grow African economies, create jobs, and support research.