Education in Arab States .. Alarm Bells Ring Again

  • 6 February 2008

A recent report published by the World Bank detailing the state of education in the Middle East and North Africa has called for reforms in the sector. "There is a pressing need within the region to redirect educational approaches across all stages and all forms to educate students on how to think and not what to think," Marwan Musher, a World Bank senior vice-president said at a press conference held at the release of the report last Monday.

The World Bank is just one of the many organizations to have pointed out the poor state of education in the Arab region. There has been a raft of reports issued by several specialized Arab and non-Arab organizations providing distressing figures related to the sphere of education and teaching in the Arab region. The Arab League Education, Culture, and Science Organization revealed in a report issued in 2005 that the number of illiterates in the Arab world that year had risen to 70 million, and feared the figure was fast approaching to twice the international average. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), stated in its report issued in 2004 that Arab countries on an average had apportioned 0.3% of their Gross Domestic Product to scientific research, which was far less than the amount allocated by South East Asian countries to scientific research that stood at 2.7% and Israel 4.7%. Figures produced by another noted Arab organization in 2002 shows that Arab countries produced only 136 researchers for every one million citizens against 1,395 researches for a million citizens in Israel, 3,415 per million in Russia, 2,439 in the European Union and 4, the US. In addition, the contribution of the Arab World is extremely poor to the field of scientific research, compared to the contribution of Israel and many other developing countries. It should be mentioned here that the Human Development Report of the “United Nations Development Report” in 2006 pointed to crisis in education in the Arab world, as one of the most important deficiencies leading to a lack of growth.

All of this means that the Arab world is facing real and dangerous crisis in the sphere of education. If education is the main ingredient for growth, without effective handling of the educational crisis in Arab countries and a revival of science and scientific research in our societies we will not be able to achieve real development and would remain isolated and removed from global development. At best, we will continue to be consumers of new technologies and we will not participate in determining the course of events at the international level. Educational reforms are one of the most important requirements of Arab national security. If Arabs have over 70 million illiterates in the 21st century, then it is a indeed serious situation and a major educational catastrophe, which threatens the present and the future of the Arab world.