Excellencies and distinguished guests
1. This Ministerial Colloquium on the Quality of Education is on the verge of adopting a historic declaration of commitment to your future. Before you do this, let me offer a short message of support. The work you have done here comes right on the heels of substantial soul searching by the international community in New York this week. Global leaders, thinkers and practitioners are hearing a sharp assessment of progress on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and hopefully this will help fast-track efforts to meet the remaining issues and gaps.
2. In line with international debates, your discussions here on the critical issue of education quality, organized and hosted by the Qatar Foundation, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO) and the World Bank with all regional partners, could not be timelier. The MENA region is on track to improve access to education, a key MDG. And commitment to the bold Doha Declaration: Quality Education for All, will allow MENA to take the next necessary step if boldly implemented: it can take your countries from kids in classrooms to effectively educate young people and impart the required skills to enter your economies as productive citizens; it can help the Arab World achieve a higher and sustainable economic growth path. I am excited and honored to be here for this.
3. The Arab world has made great strides in education. Concerted efforts over the years have helped:
- more than quadruple the average level of schooling for those over 15 years since 1960;
- halve illiteracy between 1980 and 2003; and
- achieve almost complete gender parity for primary education.
Notwithstanding this progress, the issue of quality of education persists, as evidenced by your collective presence here. This Colloquium has benefited from intellectually rewarding debates and presentations, and an open and frank exchange of views and experiences.
4. During this Colloquium, there was recognition of the urgency to improve the quality of education. But transforming education systems is complex and fraught with a range of challenges – political, fiscal, technical and otherwise. A nationwide awareness can help generate and build political commitment and consensus for education reform. Experience from around the world suggests that building a constituency for reform with the private sector through partnerships that can generate better dynamics for the political economy of reform can be helpful.
5. Although difficult, even controversial, the way forward involves taking concrete actions and measures that:
- First, recognize school and classroom-level factors that have the greatest potential to improve the quality of learning outcomes: attracting the best teachers, empowering them to actively participate in education reform and innovation, increasing school autonomy hand-in-hand with the overall school capacity, setting clear education standards, emphasizing high-order skills and competencies, and increasing classroom instruction hours.
- Second, improving student learning assessment backed by hard core data, commitment to national and international testing and analysis to ascertain the right policy direction. Dissemination of assessment results can generate controversy sometimes and are prone to be exploited – but as the saying goes “a known mistake is surely better than an unknown truth!” Intelligent policy-makers and practitioners will always know how to use the results of assessments to identify countries which have successfully implemented quality-oriented policies and to learn from them.
- Third, a commitment to robust monitoring and evaluation backed by effective national assessment systems with capacities to use the data generated for continuous policy development and for the improvement of management practices.
- Fourth, building a culture of transparent evaluation, in which all stakeholders are responsible because they are held accountable, and where incentives are aligned with results.
- Fifth, collaboration on these issues is essential, too – for these are shared challenges and we must share solutions for the benefit of all.
6. There are no ‘quick fixes’ or silver bullets for solving the range and scope of these challenges. Successful education reforms are usually wide-ranging, extended, and multifaceted efforts. But they are achievable, as the reforms in Poland and in other countries, undertaken in less than a decade, attest. To succeed, education reform efforts require strong and consistent leadership, the engagement of all stakeholders, a focus on governance, sustained and predictable financing over the long-term, and robust monitoring and evaluation. In designing the system, emphasis has to be placed on:
- accountability and creativity of the public education system,
- autonomy to deliver and innovate,
- adoption of high-quality performance standards and national student performance assessment,
- reforming university entrance,
- expanding coverage of early childhood development, and
- a program for reforming higher education as well as TVET by improving its accountability and incentives.
7. Furthermore, it has to be recognized that there are several alternative options for providing education services besides public finance and public delivery. A range of alternatives have been tested successfully to ensure proper leveraging of the private sector to enhance and improve the delivery of education.
8. All this is, moreover, a question far greater than just education, one that goes well beyond the reach of Ministries of Education alone. Linkages are essential. For a start, education reform needs to go hand-in-hand with labor-market reform. The concerns of those who demand an educated work-force as well the actors that shape that demand must also contribute to this discussion.
9. In such a complex scenario, the payoffs from regional collaboration can be great. By acting in concert, by exchanging ideas and working to achieve regional best practices, Arab World countries stand to gain much. By “matching” what their peers do, governments encourage one another. Policy change that is locally initiated and regionally supported is surely the ideal response.
10. The Qatar Foundation, ALECSO, and the World Bank believe that by acting together now and in the future, we can accelerate and catalyze education reform. This requires going beyond raising awareness of this issue to make the strongest possible case for effective implementation. We believe we can achieve this by facilitating partnerships, and by improving regional exchange. What the World Bank has to offer is first the experience it has gained from many successful projects in the region, and around the world.
11. In conclusion, I am optimistic that the top policy-makers in the education sector will have taken advantage of these meetings to find ways in which they can improve their reform agenda in practical, financially realistic, and achievable ways. The importance of this conference is that it is not a first-and-last meeting, but rather the beginning of many working meetings that will allow the countries of this region to continue their efforts to find and share solutions for improving education quality together with emphasis on effective implementation.
12. The Doha Declaration that is about to be endorsed recognizes the challenge at hand and proposes a framework for action. As a commitment to working together to reform, it will demonstrate a clear consensus reached on this difficult issue. I commend you on your initiative in taking this important step. The challenge ahead is to build on the momentum generated in this Colloquium to produce lasting results for the region. I am sure that all partners involved will successfully rise to this historical challenge and opportunity.
13. My sincere thanks to the Ministry of Education of Qatar and to the visionary work of the Qatar Foundation in realizing this opportunity for us all today. In addition let me commend all Ministers for being here and sharing their perspectives. You are the hope of nations and people who count on your vision, leadership and commitment to transform the Arab World through your efforts to reform the education system to yield high individual, economic and societal benefits and payoffs. I would like to wish all of you success in your endeavors and let me assure you that quality of education is the key pillar of the World Bank’s work on Arab World Initiative (AWI).