The release of a report this week on conditions in the Middle East is unlikely to gain much attention from global media outlets – probably because the words “extremism” or “ISIS” aren’t in the title.
But the announcement by UNICEF and UNESCO that 21 million children in the Middle East and North Africa are at risk of not receiving an education is actually worse than it sounds – 15 million are already out of school, with 6 million at risk of following them.
A range of factors are given as reasons for this alarming development and it’s not surprising to see the report focus on how girls and young women face an even higher risk of not achieving an education.
If people want to do something truly dramatic and spectacular – in a positive sense – they could devote themselves to tackling this crisis.
We must change the tendency to treat education as a luxury in this region. Building schools is one thing but ensuring that they are filled, with competent teachers and well-motivated students, is quite another. The report’s findings are tantamount to a gift for religious and other extremists, who can exploit the appalling lack of opportunity to snap up young people for their violent objectives.
Education is just as important as nutrition; if young people’s minds and bodies are healthy, the savings for society will be immeasurable. And as the IT revolution continues to unfold, it’s harder and harder for governments to hide massive wastes of public resources. Putting this money into improving education, quantitatively and qualitatively, would be a thousand times more useful to us all.