The paradoxes of education in the region
Nothing better reflects the paradoxes of the Arab world than the inadequacies of its educational system.
A recently published World Bank report highlights this reality. “Expectations and Aspirations, A New Framework for Education in the Middle East and North Africa” lays out the limited socioeconomic dividends yielded by the huge investments made by most Arab countries in education since independence.
There is no country in the Middle East and North Africa that does not pride itself on the allocation of substantial resources to universal enrolment of school-age children of both genders, on educational reform and on fostering knowledge. Still, youth unemployment persists at a level higher than in all other regions of the world.
“This is especially true for young women, who outnumber men at universities but have double the unemployment rate of their male peers,” points out the report.
The region has still to reckon with the contradiction between policies aimed at promoting gender equality, on the one hand, and social practices that tolerate biases towards women on the other.
Education can play an effective role in the shaping of a new value system that promotes not just gender equality but all the other prerequisites of modernity, including tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
The World Bank report notes that levels of intolerance in MENA are higher than in other regions of the world. Intolerance breeds violence and violence can only deprive the region of growth prospects as it discourages the outside world from doing business there.
Another major paradox is the enduring mismatch between educational training and employment. In many parts of the Arab world today, earning a university diploma does not guarantee employment. In many instances, the better educated the person, the less likely that he or she is hired. “MENA countries have become societies in which there is little or no link between education credentials and skills,” notes the World Bank report.
This is because diplomas do not mean university graduates possess the skills demanded by the marketplace. The already-bloated public sector is probably the only place where diplomas are still a primary criterion for remuneration and recruitment regardless of real skill.
Fixing the flaws in the educational system could be a good way to start addressing the untenable paradoxes of the Arab region.