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.
In the past, Arab world countries have typically adopted ‘managed’ interventions whereby the State defines a common set of standards and expectations for student learning, defines a single statutory instruction model, and even defines how to distribute students across schools. What is needed now is a system in which school governance practices reflect the increasing demands for representation apparent in the region after the Arab Spring. New governance structures and more flexible instruction models are critical as they will in fact drive change.
The emerging consensus is that the way forward entails a commitment to robust monitoring and evaluation: countries of the region must commit to establishing effective national assessment systems and to building capacity to use this data for evidence-based policy development and for the improvement of classroom and management practices. Hence the need for a program for research and evaluation working in conjunction with other regional programs that address (i) teacher policies and teacher professional development; (ii) systematic curriculum innovation, incorporating ICT and 21st century skills into the teaching and learning process; (iii) and school readiness through national policies that promote Early Childhood Development. An emphasis on entrepreneurship is also believed to be important for the role it plays in preparing students for the job market. Finally, the decentralization of school management by increasing parental and community involvement in decision making in schools -- and employers in universities -- seems to be a direct outcome of the demands for public transparency and accountability that led to the Arab Spring.
In addition to its support to individual countries, the World Bank Group has recently launched several regional initiatives, including the Arab Regional Agenda for Improving Education Quality, and Education for Employment (e4e,) a joint initiative with IFC and the Islamic Development Bank. While the regional agenda ties together a number of regional programs that aim to improve the quality of teaching and learning in general education, e4e leverages the capacity of the private sector to reduce the mismatch between the demand and supply of skills.
The underlying idea is that since Arab countries share comparable problems, they stand to gain by sharing solutions. Indeed, regional collaboration leverages not just greater information and knowledge but also greater human and financial resources that individual countries would otherwise take too long to create on their own. In turn this regional knowledge will both feed into and benefit from the System Assessment and Benchmarking Education for Results (SABER) of the new Bank-wide education strategy for the next decade.
Photo credit: World Bank