The need for children in the Arab world to attend school

In many countries in the region, schooling is very much a budget issue.
Sunday 25/02/2018
A Syrian girl walks down a destroyed street as she heads to school in Eastern Ghouta’s town of Douma, last September. (AFP)
Difficult challenge. A Syrian girl walks down a destroyed street as she heads to school in Eastern Ghouta’s town of Douma, last September. (AFP)

A report by the Out of School Children Initiative (OOSCI), a joint programme by the United Nations’ children and statistical agencies, has some good news. It shows that the number of school-age children not in class in the MENA region has decreased. It was 12.3 million in 2015, down from 15 million in 2008. This is progress, something OOSCI acknowledges, even while it notes the problems in educational systems across the region.

“There are many reasons why MENA children don’t go to school,” said the OOSCI report. “These include conflict, gender discrimination, educational quality, poor school environments (including violence in schools) and an epidemic of drop out, especially from the lower secondary level.”

On Page 20 of this issue of The Arab Weekly, Samar Kadi expands on the factors that affect school attendance.

In hotspots across the region, war interrupts the rhythms of childhood, not least the chance of a normal education. But conflict and unrest are not the only reasons that school enrolment, attendance and actual learning are patchy. It is also the priorities set by the region’s policies and the vision they embody. For instance, school attendance figures reflect a marked gender gap, something that extends unfairly into employment patterns later in life.

In many countries in the region, schooling is very much a budget issue, which the OOSCI report noted. “Ensuring that children attend school regularly requires additional financial and human resources,” it said.

That is a difficult issue. Revenue-raising measures such as higher taxes and lower subsidies have been the cause of recent social unrest in several countries in the region.

Education, however, must be a priority. To break the vicious circle of economic stagnation and poor employment opportunities, all children must be in school and learning.

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