Working to ensure that all children in the region have equitable opportunities to quality and relevant education.

Three girls sitting on a table in a classroom
© UNICEF/UN036092/Mackenzie


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.


Upstream engagement: Long-term sustainable results for children in education require strong and responsive education systems, guided by evidence-based national education sector plans and functioning institutions at all levels.

UNICEF is working with governments to tackle constraints to the effective delivery of quality education services for all children.  Central to UNICEF's approach to strengthening education systems is improving the availability and use of data. UNICEF does this by advocating for the empowerment of schools to collect, analyze, monitor, and act on data to address equity, learning and system efficiency challenges.

UNICEF supports the ministries of education in development/reform of national education agendas, policies and frameworks. Working closely with governments and partners, UNICEF strengthens planning and financial management at the local level, and leads on efforts to  increase the accountability of schools for ensuring access to and delivery of quality education for all children.

Equity in access: UNICEF works with governments and partners to decrease the number of out-of-school children through improved profiling and targeting (who), the identification of barriers (why), and the analysis of effective policies and strategies (how).

Through the Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI), UNICEF supports governments in the region to improve the statistical information and analysis on out-of-school children and understand not just how many children are out of school, but who they are and where; to identify the barriers that contribute to exclusion from education; and to analyze the existing and needed policies and strategies related to enhanced targeting and school participation.

In order to engage in a more systematic targeting and programming, as well as a better alignment to the Sustainable Development Goal 4, the OOSCI has been further developed to  include, for example, the analysis of early childhood and post-basic education age, support to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes and costing and financing, and the exploration of real-time monitoring in humanitarian situations.

For more information, see Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI) website.

Quality learning: Quality learning through life skills and citizenship education is at the heart of UNICEF work towards the achievement of three interconnected outcomes: the achievement of a knowledge society; the realization of economic development; and the attainment of enhanced social cohesion.

The MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Initiative brings together regional and national partners within a holistic and transformative vision of education that maximizes the human potential of all children and better equips them to face the transition from childhood to adulthood, from education to work, and from unreflective development to responsible and active citizenship.

Within the context of the LSCE Initiative, twelve core life skills have been identified against four dimensions of learning as follows: (i) skills for learning (i.e. creativity, critical thinking, problem solving); (ii) skills for employability (i.e. cooperation, negotiation, decision-making); (iii) skills for personal empowerment (i.e. self-management, resilience, communication); and (iv) skills for active citizenship (i.e. respect for diversity, empathy, participation).

UNICEF and partners are working to operationalize these twelve core life skills within MENA countries through a multiple pathways and systems approach, including the development of measurement tools.

Education in emergencies and crisis transitions: Education is an undeniable right of children, in times of stability and crisis. UNICEF provides instrumental support to and coordination of education in emergencies and protracted crises.

UNICEF works to ensure education opportunities for all children, including those out of school or at risk of dropping out due to conflict and protracted crises (example: Syria, Yemen, Libya). Working with the government and partners, UNICEF supports national education systems to provide access to quality education, in formal and non-formal settings, for all children, wherever they are.

UNICEF co-leads with Save the Children the Syria crisis education response through the Whole of Syria (WoS) coordination mechanism, and provides technical support to the five Syria crisis-affected countries in emergency response and transition planning (within the framework of the 3RP). UNICEF also manages the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Investment for Syria which entails coordination and partnerships, policy dialogue, technical support, and monitoring.


These resources on education represent a selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information. For more information see:


MENA Region:

  1. Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Analytical Mapping in the Middle East and North Africa (UNICEF, 2017) [Forthcoming]
  2. Reimagining Life Skills and Citizenship Education in the Middle East and North Africa: A Four-Dimensional and Systems Approach to 21st Century Skills Life Skills - Conceptual and Programmatic Framework (UNICEF, 2017) [Forthcoming]
  3. INSAF: Equity in Access and Learning: A school-based monitoring and action framework in the Middle East and North Africa Region (UNICEF, 2017) [Forthcoming]
  4. Consultation on Technical and Vocational Education and Training: Workshop Report (UNICEF, 2016), also available in Arabic.
  5. Middle East and North Africa Region Out-of-School Children Report (UNICEF, 2015), Summary available in  English Arabic |  French
  6. Equity, Educational Access and Learning Outcomes in the Middle East and North Africa Region  (UNICEF, 2015)


Syria Crisis:

  1. Preparing for the Future of Children and Youth in Syria and the Region through Education, London one year on: Full Report (No Lost Generation, 2017), also available in Arabic.
  2. Syria Crisis Education Strategic Paper, London Progress Report (No Lost Generation, 2016)
  3. Syria Crisis Education Strategic Paper (No Lost Generation, 2016)
  4. Curriculum, Accreditation and Certification for Syrian Children (UNICEF, 2015), also available in Arabic.
  5. Economic Loss from School Dropout due to the Syria Crisis (UNICEF, 2015), also available in Arabic.