Even before COVID-19, children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were at a disadvantage. Learning outcomes were dismal in most countries, at best. Results from the 2018 PISA international student assessment showed that the reading performance of 15-year-old students in MENA was the equivalent of 2 to 4 years of schooling behind the OECD average. Education outcomes were highly unequal, with girls consistently outperforming boys and socioeconomic background playing an important role in student learning.
The pandemic only worsened education for the region’s 103 million school students, leaving children without computers or high-speed internet, in particular, at more risk of falling behind than those with access to them. Fortunately, large-scale efforts — using technology to support remote learning, distance education, and online learning nationwide — stepped in to fill the gap. Such approaches are still evolving.
Although Jordan was among the first MENA country to enforce strict lockdowns and school closures, the government moved quickly to minimize learning losses. The Ministry of Education collaborated with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship and private companies (including Edraak, Mawdoo3, Abwaab, and JoAcademy) to develop e-learning platforms.
Among these were Darsak, an e-learning portal which offers short courses embedded in video clips for Grades 1 through 12, and Teachers, a 90-hour teacher training program. For students without high-speed internet, Jordan repurposed its national television sports channel into a student learning channel.
In Egypt, the Ministry of Education and Technical Education moved at speed at the beginning of the pandemic to accelerate ICT services and open up access to its online knowledge bank. It leveraged existing infrastructure and expedited education technology to reach all students at home. Digital content, sorted out by grade and subject from Kindergarten to Grade 12, was offered through a national online knowledge bank; a new digital platform for virtual classrooms was created; and educational content was shown on national television. School-based assessments and external examinations were also adapted.
This meant reskilling the teaching workforce, dealing with literacy (reading/writing) in early learners so they could learn more online, and plugging major technology gaps. To ensure access to digital devices, many governments purchased laptops or tablets for teachers and disadvantaged students. In Jordan, partnerships with telecom companies guaranteed free browsing of the Darsak e-learning portal so students would not have to worry about incurring internet charges.
Around the world, other governments provided training resources to support teachers in navigating the digital environment and adjusting their pedagogical practices.
Pooling digital momentum
Seizing the opportunity EdTech offers MENA means getting everyone involved. In this, development institutions like the World Bank can play a convening role to help transform private sector-led examples of digital learning from isolated interventions to interventions made by governments at scale.
The World Bank has been working with education ministries in MENA to maximize effective design and execution in remote learning strategies. The Bank has nurtured collaboration over the past year with international, regional, and local EdTech players to support governments to develop, monitor, and sustain their remote learning systems.
The World Bank MENA Education team is now entering into a new collaboration with Education 4.0, itself a private sector-led initiative, to streamline existing initiatives by bringing together education technology companies, ministries of education, and international donors.
Our ultimate objective is to accelerate the EdTech ecosystem in MENA by facilitating partnerships between the public and private sector and fostering collaboration between international and regional companies to enter into joint ventures aimed at enhancing the capacity of local private sector EdTech players.
An EdTech conference (June 1–3) will be a platform for engagement and dialogue between stakeholders, such as the regional and local digital players, governments, and donors. Together, these stakeholders will help build the MENA ecosystem; and participants will seek to understand EdTech’s potential impact on addressing learning poverty and preparing MENA students for the work of the future. Specific plans, interventions, and partnerships will be made. The focus will be on identifying educational challenges in the region and designing and customizing EdTech solutions to suit.
A vibrant EdTech ecosystem that brings together forward-thinking Ministries of Education, companies and donor agencies is essential to identify concrete EdTech solutions that can help governments build back better and shape the education systems of tomorrow.