Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have made significant progress toward increasing children’s school enrolment, attendance and completion. However, access remains unequal and the quality of education is a major issue in the region.
More children are in school in MENA than ever before, yet the work on education remains an unfinished business.
The number of out-of-school children in MENA has declined from 15 million in 2008 to 12.3m in 2015: 4.3 million primary school aged children (9 per cent), 2.9 million lower secondary school aged children (12 per cent) and 5.1 million pre-primary school age children (58 per cent). Primary school attendance rates vary considerably across the region. Despite the progress in enrolment at the primary level, there are significant gaps at the pre-primary and lower secondary levels, and large income-based inequalities within each country at all levels remain prevalent. Furthermore, these figures do not well capture children who have been forced out of school by the crises in Syria and Iraq. If they did, the total number of out-of-school children would be over 15 million.
In addition, 6.2 million children are in basic education but at risk of dropping out. These are the out-of-school children of tomorrow.
In total, MENA has nearly 22 million children who are either out of school or at risk of dropping out.
Political instabilities and protracted humanitarian crises across the region constitute the largest barriers to school access (in addition to other factors such as gender discrimination, education quality and poor school environments). Inside Syria alone, the number of out-of-school children remains high, although it decreased from 2.12 million (40 per cent) to 1.75 million (32 per cent) between the 2014/15 and the 2015/16 school years. An additional 1.35 million children are at risk of dropping out.
It is also alarming that education has been increasingly used as an element of radicalization due to fragile learning environments and the instrumentalization of education.
In terms of learning and learning outcomes, MENA countries rank among the lowest performers in TIMSS 2015. In grade-8 mathematic, of the eleven MENA countries, five achieve a mean score even lower than the international low benchmark of 400 (global centrepoint is at 500), with a large performance gap between the rich and the poor.