For a region that is considered middle-income, it is unacceptable that one in every 40 children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) dies in the first year of life mostly from preventable causes. Neither does it makes sense that one fifth of its youngest population is stunted from malnutrition, and more than half are missing out on critical micronutrients such as iodine in salt, which impairs cognitive development. Moreover, with only 27 percent of children ages 3-5 enrolled in pre-school, almost half the world average, three quarters of children in the region are missing the opportunity to build the foundations for school readiness, and to acquire the skills they will need to lead a happy, autonomous, and healthy life.
What are the implications of these alarming trends?
Middle East and North Africa
Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.
I travel to many developing countries in the context of my work for The World Bank. I visit schools that receive financial support and technical assistance from the Bank to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students. Each time, I ask teachers in these schools what they think would make the biggest difference in the learning outcomes of their students. The most common answer is “better parents.” I often wonder if this response is, in some conscious or unconscious way, an excuse to help teachers explain the poor outcomes of their students (especially those from the poorest households) and their low expectations of what their students can achieve. However, both common sense and solid research indicate that parents matter.
The call for ‘Learning for All’ in the Education Strategy 2020 is particularly appropriate for the Middle East and North Africa region, where education quality has been a major concern for more than a decade.
Even if the Arab world has made considerable progress in improving many aspects of education in recent decades, the quality of that education is still far from satisfactory: slightly more than 50% of Arab students who participated in TIMMS 2007 ranked below the “low” mark in mathematics, and employers complain that schools are not producing consistently well-trained graduates, endowed with the knowledge and skills they require.
The challenge becomes even more acute when demographic evidence is considered: school age populations (0-24 years) in the Arab world will grow by about 2 million by 2015 but will surge by 10 more million between 2015 and 2030. If these large cohorts are well served by good quality education, this could be an unprecedented window of opportunity; if neglected, the promise that education should be making to the young will continue to be broken. This leaves about five years to address this question.
The World Bank Group’s new Education Strategy 2020 champions learning for all and recognizes that global progress towards this goal will require the commitment of all actors – including governments, communities and private entities. The strategy acknowledges the vital role the private sector can play in helping expand and improve educational opportunity. Private sector participation in education is a growing part of education systems and has helped make significant educational advancements possible in many countries.
How can we leverage the valuable contributions of the private sector to help realize the goal of Learning for All?
The headlines are sobering:
• The Arab World has 25% youth unemployment – the highest in the world – and female youth unemployment is even higher reaching over 30%
• The economic loss of youth unemployment costs US$40 to $50 billion annually – equivalent to the GDP of countries like Tunisia or Lebanon
• One third of the population in the region is below the age of 15 – a further third is aged 15 to 29.
• Two thirds of young people surveyed believe they do not have the skills required to get a good job
It is widely held that the revolutions taking place across the Middle East have been fuelled by a generation of youth who are over-educated or poorly-educated and unemployed. Education for Employment (e4e) is an initiative that seeks to ‘realize Arab youth potential’ by providing education opportunities that focus on employability. The World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Islamic Development Bank commissioned research for 22 countries across the Arab World with ‘deep dive’ research undertaken in 9 countries. The report found that demand for e4e solutions is substantial and yet supply is nascent. It also identified that critical enablers are missing, such as quality and standard setting, funding mechanisms, internship opportunities and information for young people on the value of different types of education.
2010 was a banner year for education as global attention brought by the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in New York City spotlighted the catalytic role education plays in fighting poverty and meeting a number of critical development goals. As countries and development partners alike strive to maximize development effectiveness, investing in education has emerged as a clear priority for this reason -- as well as as part of the solution to rising unemployment, a point echoed by US President Barack Obama in last week's State of the Union. The World Bank's forthcoming Education Strategy, which launched global consultations in 2010, takes special aim at the critical need for learning to translate into skills for work and life. While the global economic downturn has threatened to slow hard-won progress, the World Bank scaled up development assistance with over $5 billion in support to education during FY2010.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 survey results were released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA tests 15 year olds in reading, math and science.
Pisa 2009 results focus on reading, as they did in 2000 when the tests were first applied. In reading, as the OECD reports, Korea and Finland are the highest performing OECD countries, with mean scores of 539 and 536 points. However, as noted in today's New York Times, Shanghai-China outperforms them by a significant margin, with a mean score of 556. Top-performing economies in reading include Hong Kong-China (533), Singapore (526), Canada (524), New Zealand (521), Japan (520), Australia (515) and the Netherlands (508).
At the US release of the PISA results in Washington DC, which I was fortunate to attend today, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, discussed the importance of the results in terms of competitiveness and growth.
The new buzz words in the World Bank are Open Data. Here, in our blog, we have been championing the cause of Open Data (see New Open Data Initiative Emphasizes Importance of Education Stats) and what it does for knowledge sharing and looking at development solutions for Education systems.
You may know that the President Bob Zoellick (also known as RBZ) recently delivered a pretty inspiring speech at Georgetown University at the end of September. He was advocating for a new perspective for the Bank: “Beyond the Ivory Tower to a New Research Model: Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions.”