Arab education shortcomings overshadow ‘back to school’ season
BEIRUT - As millions of Arab students stream back to schools and universities after summer vacation, it is a time of financial stress for many parents who often prefer private schools to get their children a better education and improve their future employment chances.
Although the Middle East and North Africa region has made great strides in education, for too many students “schooling” has not been synonymous with “learning”. The generally poor quality of education and the disparity between what students learn in school and the skills required in the job market have impeded economic growth and employers’ ability to hire local workers, according to a World Bank report.
The report, Education in the Middle East and North Africa, said that school systems in the region are generally of low quality, notably so in the state sector, and that basic skills are not being learnt. This is particularly true in Lebanon, where less than 25% of students are enrolled in state schools.
“The situation in public schools is not improving at all. Enrolment has been dropping since 2007 as the majority opt for the private sector because of poor quality of public education,” noted Maha Shoeib, an education expert and professor at the Lebanese American University. “Even if some private schools are of poor quality, the only thing is that you have accountability there, which is not the case in public schools.”
Unmotivated teachers lacking proper training and outdated curricula are a core part of the problem. “We need reforms badly,” Shoeib said, noting that between 1994 and 2010 there were at least four attempts to reform education systems. However, corruption and sectarian considerations and lack of political will hindered efforts to introduce changes.
Attempts to reform educational systems have also been resisted elsewhere in the region. In Jordan, the Ministry of Education’s removal of some Quranic quotes and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad from elementary school textbooks angered parents and teachers.
Reformers in Algeria are being harshly assailed by Islamists and conservatives.
Acquiring education is generally synonymous with hopes for a better future. In the Arab world, the shortcomings of education are compounded with dealing with refugees from war-torn countries. Many schools must accommodate refugee children in addition to their regular students. The number of Syrian children in Lebanon in need of education is 25% more than the 300,000 Lebanese students in state schools.