EDUCATION IN THE ARAB WORLD:
PROBLEMS AND WAYS OF IMPROVEMENT
by Ahmed Elsayed
Education is no doubt a key factor in building economies and welfare of nations. Despite the significant increase in the expenditure and investments some Arab countries have put in the education sector over the past two decades, it's very obvious that Arab educational systems are still not as good and rewarding as they should be with all the financial, human, cultural and other resources that this region has.
Firstly, the following points should be made clear: (1) with 22 Arab countries, things vary in so many ways. (2) problems are spread across all levels of education. And (3) those problems are accumulative; they piled up over nearly a century of educational history. Requesting a fast and effective cure is not realistic.
Population growth in the Arab countries is among the highest in the world,
which makes providing basic education a major challenge this also imposes
intensive use of school facilities. Double and sometimes triple shifts are used.
Limited access to schools for a significant number of people like those who live
in the mountain regions in Yemen and Morocco. Rural schoolchildren must
sometimes walk for hours to reach schools.A lack of qualified teachers and
poverty and high illiteracy rates among parents, in most cases, which means
a low income and consequently children drop out of school and go to work.
Other problems: bureaucratic structures, small participation from the
private sector, and a rigid curriculum.
• Participation in international assessment studies for evaluation purposes.
Only Jordan has done that so far.
• Willingness to convert national wealth into extended opportunities for basic
• Building more schools especially in rural areas. International organizations like the World Bank can help with this. And also inviting the private sector to share responsibility and benefits.
• Providing an attractive environment in schools through reforming curriculum
and training teachers.
• Mark Twain once said "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." Individuals should be taught that learning and acquiring knowledge is something they have to do willingly on their own. Parents must be aware that they share a great deal in teaching their children. Schools can do a lot but they will never be enough. Public media campaigns can be made to convey such values to Arab citizens.
Again, crowded facilities; “The number of higher education students in the Arab
world doubled between 1980 and 1990.”2Centralization of most Arab universities in national capitals and primary cities. Low living standards of university faculty. This negatively affects how they perform.Isolation: “Many universities in the Arab world operate in seclusion from their surroundings, unable to open up and interact with society.”2
Other problems include: Little or no academic freedom, Low-quality research with
unclear goals. Less than 0.5 % of public income is spent over research,lack of a good
and effective management, poor integration across the university programs:
and finally, the absence of a link between pre-university and university
• A clear education policy that fulfills goals, while also measuring up to international
• Political and social support.
• ”Lay out a legislative framework to run the universities on an institutionalized – not
personalized – basis.”2
• More freedom to educational institutions allowing them to receive funds from non
• Universities should move towards having a bigger role in society. I personally suggest removing the walls that surround most, if not all, of the universities in my home country, Egypt. Facilities are mostly used during day time and this is such a waste. Adults and children can benefit from cultural programs and activities that could be provided through campuses.
• Giving more attention to faculty members: through Increasing their standard of
living and also training.
• Speaking to the world: Arab universities should look for strengthening ties between
themselves and also ties with foreign universities.
Current performance of Arab educational systems probably indicates that Arab youth and children currently enrolled in schools will have great difficulty facing future challenges in a world that is moving so fast. Luckily though, technologies and media that recently became available to a big population of the Arab youth has partially made up for this. For example, looking at the increasing number of Arab youth who use the internet and get to interact with people from all over the globe, gives a brighter picture. Arab children now use and realize the potential of modern technologies. I personally saw children from Egypt as young as 14 participate in fruitful talks over web forums and sites.
However, Arabs have to realize that they are way behind other countries in so many important aspects like skilled and educated labor force for example. If a strong and comprehensive reform starts now to change the situation Arab educational systems are in, real outcomes could be witnessed in a decade or two. Additionally, Investments in education and infrastructure like transportation and communication sectors are crucially needed. Accordingly, any delay in starting the change will endanger the future of the current and next generations of Arab children.
1. Akkari Abdeljalil, 'Education in the Middle East and North Africa: The Current Situation and Future
Challenges', International Educational Journal, Vol.5, N°2, 2004.
2. Abdul-Fattah Al-Rashdan, 'Higher Education in The Arab World: Hopes and Challenges',Arab
Insight Journal, Vol.2, N°6, 2009.
3. UNDP, 'Arab Human Development Report 2009: Annex1: Human Development Indicators in The
Arab Countries, 2009.