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World Bank: One of world's highest rates of youth unemployment in MENA

Nov. 13, 2018 4:19 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 15, 2018 1:21 P.M.)
BETHEHEM (Ma'an) -- The World Bank issued a new report showing that education has the potential to shape the development trajectory of nations, boost growth and spread prosperity but in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) it is not achieving its potential.

Despite the region's large investments in education, young people are not learning the skills they need to compete in the labor market, contributing to one of the world’s highest rates of youth unemployment.

The World Bank report entitled "Expectations and Aspirations, A New Framework for Education in the Middle East and North Africa" identified the tensions holding back education in the region and calls for collective efforts to unleash the power of education to realize the potential of the region’s large youth population and contribute to future growth and stability.

Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa, said "Education is the key to turning the drive and aspirations of the region’s young people into an engine of growth."

He stressed "What is now a source of frustration for the millions of unemployed graduates could become a launch pad for innovations that transform the region’s economies. The goal is not to catch up with other education systems, but to leverage new technologies and the creativity of young people to triple-jump into the future."

"The report also identified four key tensions that are holding back the region's education: The tensions between credentials and skills; discipline and inquiry; control and autonomy; and tradition and modernity. It maps out a strategy to tackle these tensions and unleash the power of education through a concerted push for learning, a stronger pull for skills, and a new pact for education among all national stakeholders in support of education reforms."

The pull for skills also requires curricula to be modernized to move away from rote-learning, and instead promote critical thinking and creativity. It is also essential that students learn digital skills to be ready for the jobs of the future, and that teachers can draw on the benefits of technology to improve the learning environment. With the push and pull for learning and skills, governments and societies will need to rally around a renewed vision for education and establish a new pact where everyone is responsible, and everyone is accountable.

"Accumulating years of schooling is not enough; what matters is how much children are actually learning. Having a credential or a certificate will be increasingly less valuable if it's not accompanied by the skills young people need to be more productive," said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank Senior Director for Education.

Saavedra added, "The region needs to dramatically improve the quality of education. This will require a concerted effort to give teachers and schools the tools to equip students with fundamental skills while fostering inquisitive minds that are essential in an ever more challenging world."

The large pool of unemployed graduates in MENA is both a waste of valuable human capital and a clear sign of a disconnect between education systems and potential employers. A stronger pull for skills is needed from the private sector to shift the focus of students and schools away from the public sector, along with better systems for matching graduates with jobs and facilitating the transition from school work. In this way, education systems can be the source of the skills required for diversifying economies and building dynamic private sectors that generate growth and jobs.

Safaa El Tayeb El-Kogali, the World Bank MENA Education Practice Manager and author of this report, said "Despite decades of reforms, all MENA countries, regardless of geography, demography or economy have untapped education potential. Unleashing this potential requires a shift in mindset and tackling deeply held social norms, reforms that go beyond the education system, and alignment of interests among all stakeholders on a shared vision of the goals of education."

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