Not one Arab university features in any list of the Top 200 universities worldwide, a fact that is hugely illustrative of the state of education and learning in the region. This is especially appalling given that the region is home to the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco.
Given Arab contributions to mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture and philosophy, educational decline is a serious issue for policymakers across the region, and is the most critical factor in explaining stunted social and economic development. For more books to have been published last year in destitute Greece than in the entire Arab world is cause for concern.
In such a vast region, there are of course variations in the quality of education; islands of excellence in Jordan and the UAE provide education of an international caliber. But broadly, education systems in the Arab world suffer from serious shortcomings, particularly regarding governance and teaching. Government departments with oversight of education are at the heart of the problem.
With a mandate to “get by,” they lack the strategic vision, human resources and skills to effect world-class education. This central discord is magnified by the quality of teaching across the region, as methods remain tied to didactic learning with a diminished insistence on analytical and critical thinking.
Compounded by record levels of teachers reaching retirement age alongside unprecedented numbers of children entering the education system, UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics indicated that 1.6 million new teaching posts will need to be created in the Arab world if universal education is to be achieved. This figure is likely to increase to 3.3 million by 2030 if “drastic measures” are not taken. This is key, as all major studies have shown that the most influential factor in providing good education systems are good teachers, for which there is no substitute.
The Arab world hosts 11 ongoing armed conflicts, hugely disrupting educational efforts and perpetuating the crisis of learning. Schoolchildren are prevented from attending classes in the wake of bombings in Iraq, Palestinian students are often prohibited from traveling to school due to military checkpoints, and Syrian children can only receive rudimentary education in the makeshift schools that are provided to them.