Mena education behind, but reformable

Deena Douara
4 Min Read

CAIRO: The pre-launch workshop for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) World Bank Flagship Report centered on three key recommendations presented by Ahmad Galal, Managing Director for the Economic Research Forum yesterday at the Four Season’s Giza.

First, and where usual emphasis is placed, the “engineering component would need development, including infrastructure, resources, and teacher capacities. At the same time, Galal suggests the need for providing incentives for instructors, students, and private sector participation. Finally, Galal says governments and schools need to be accountable to the students and parents who are supposed to be benefiting from the education received.

The primary motivation for the call to reform the Mena educational systems has come in the wake of global Math and Science tests (TIMSS) which reveal lower averages across the Mena region than other developing countries, with the exception of Jordan, despite the fact that countries in the region spend relatively high amounts of their GDP on education. “We are not yet ready to cope with the educational demands of the future, said Galal. If the region does not soon start transforming into a knowledge-based economy, “it won’t be able to cope with globalization.

The region’s top performers are Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon. Galal credits this at least in part to engagement with the private sector and greater public accountability. A later presentation showed that test scores and economic growth are closely correlated.

While more generally advances have appeared in terms of enrollment and gender parity, similar returns as measured by test scores, employment levels, poverty reduction, and overall growth are yet to be realized.

The World Bank’s Soren Nellemann showed that the Mena region also has the lowest success with patents and internationally recognized awards, which follows from the low enrollment in the sciences and engineering relative to the humanities.

In World Bank education specialist Michel Welmond’s presentation emphasizing the quality of education as the key to economic growth, Welmond presented some counter-intuitive findings specific to the region. First, students’ feelings of safety and self-confidence are positively correlated with test results while in the Mena region in particular, tutoring and quantity of homework are actually negatively correlated to test scores.

Regarding teachers, job satisfaction correlations with test scores while teacher experience and qualifications do not.

Finally, school safety shows greater importance than computers, which actually does not seem to be related to math and science scores.

Many attendees, including Education Ministry representatives from across the region, were most concerned with the interaction between education and the labor market. Some concerns included the over-qualification of university graduates for a labor market which does not absorb them, the predominance of public sector work, and vocational training inefficiency.

Education does not appear to have sufficiently contributed to either higher economic growth, job creation, or income distribution, according to Galal.

The need for a new approach, says Welmond, is forced on the region by financial constraints, the ‘youth bulge,’ and the needs of globalization and the increasing need for knowledge-based economies in order to compete with the rest of the world.

“The most important thing to keep in mind is that we can do things to improve education in this region, said Welmond, adding that the Mena countries were not doing “all that badly as most experts imply. The key though, he says is in “more efficiency, or diversifying the funding available.

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