02/05/2008, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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World Bank gives Arab world failing marks in education

A high rate of illiteracy in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa show the shortcomings of their education systems. A World Bank report notes that they threaten Arab countries’ economic growth and social stability. Educational reforms are needed.

Amman (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “Education is a powerful force that can speed up economic growth, improve income distribution, facilitate social mobility, and reduce poverty,” says in its overview The Road not Travelled, a report by the World Bank on education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The report looks at the economic effects of education, highlighting the shortcomings of the region’s education systems. It points out how the latter have limited economic development to levels lower that those witnessed in Asia and Latin America

The report does acknowledge that efforts by Arab countries in the 60s and 70s to improve education improved the quality of life of the population, overcoming some sex-based discrimination, but more recent investment in education have not been translated in economic growth with the result that the economy has failed to generate enough jobs for new workers.

Unemployment in the Arab world averaged 14 per cent and is higher than other areas in the world, except Sub-Saharan Africa, with the Palestinian territories coming highest with nearly 26 per cent.

The Tunis-based Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALESCO) said last month that about 100 million people or 30 per cent of the approximately 300 million people in the Arab World were illiterate.

The World Bank report concluded that Djibouti, Yemen, Iraq and Morocco ranked lowest in terms of access, efficiency and quality of education compared to Jordan and Kuwait which are  the leading educational reformers in the region.

“There is a pressing need within the region to redirect educational approaches across all stages and all forms to educate students on how to think and not what to think,” Marwan Musher, a World Bank senior vice president, said at the launch of the report.

“Education systems do not support adequately the development by girls and boys of analytical skills, problem-solving skills, critical thinking and innovation,” he said.

Daniela Gressani, another senior vice president at the World Bank, said that “education reform is urgent to address the challenges of unemployment and integration in the global economy.”

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