Speeches & Transcripts

Keynote Address - Launch of the Regional Education Report

February 4, 2008

Dr. Marwan Muasher, Senior Vice President of External Affairs World Bank Group Amman, Jordan

As Prepared for Delivery

Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be among you today as a representative of the World Bank Group and it is my honor within the context of this high level regional meeting to extend my sincere appreciation and gratitude to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah for her generous patronage.  I also wish to extend my gratitude to H.E. Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and H.E. Minister of Education for their efforts and cooperation in guiding the preparation of this meeting.  Last but not least, I would like to welcome ministers and heads of delegations as well as representatives of the private sector, civil society, media and our international development partners.
Education is central for the future of the MENA region.  Countries in the region fully recognize the significance of the education agenda and this is why the sector continues to receive a significant level of attention and resources.  It plays crucial role in promoting poverty alleviation and economic growth, both at national and household levels. It reflects the aspirations of the people for a successful integration into the global economy in an ever changing world. 
Education is also a strategic priority for the World Bank in the region, as a key factor for an inclusive and sustainable development as well as for economic competitiveness.
The MENA region is also facing new challenges which affect directly the education sector.  First, the region now has one of the largest cohorts of young people in the world, in proportion to its population.  As this cohort works its way through the education system, it will generate unprecedented demands for new learning opportunities, and even stronger expectation of better results.  Second, globalization and increasing openness of MENA economies have led to a demand for a different mix of skills and competencies, and this will influence the content and nature of what education systems should provide.  
Today, I would like to take the opportunity of this meeting to present you with our ambitions as an international institution in strengthening the partnership with the Arab World which is the strategic theme that President Robert Zoellick announced among 6 strategic themes aiming at reinforcing the developmental role that we play and our institutional capacity to respond more effectively to the demands and priorities imposed by globalization at the regional and international levels.
The reinvigorated engagement of the World Bank with the Arab World follows from our recognition of the critical role that the Arab world plays on the international development scene, and at the same time from our recognition that the Arab World needs to close important remaining gaps with the rest of the world to fully realize this role.
We all agree that education is one of these important remaining gaps. Despite the marked improvements of the last 30 years, the gap between the Arab world and the rest of the world in terms of the quality of education has remained wide. And while other gaps exist – for example in job creation, trade integration, empowerment of women and youth, sustainable management of natural resources and especially water – we also all agree that these other gaps cannot be eliminated without addressing education.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The participation of this diverse group of stakeholders today is an expression of the high priority accorded to education in the Middle East and North Africa region as a foundation of the social and economic infrastructure in more ways than any previous time.  And indeed, I would like to emphasize again that all countries in the region have achieved significant progress on education attainment, enrolment, making progress in closing the gender gap in enrolments and embarking on the process of education reforms.
Yet the results that have been achieved are not enough.  The quality of education in the region has not kept up with the needs of the economy. Education systems do not support adequately the development by girls and boys of analytical skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking and innovation.  It is time to pay greater attention to these skills, to reach if not even exceed the level of attention given to illiteracy and school enrollment.
Not only education systems need radical change for quality: radical change for quality is possible and has started in the region.  The regional report that the World Bank presents to you today confirms that the chances for success through radical reform for quality are much higher than those offered through continuing on a path of partial reform.  This conclusion is supported not by general principles but by the reality of specific experiences at the international, regional and country levels.
It is important to note that specific experiences can be learned also from countries within the region. Improved access in Tunisia and Egypt, literacy progress  in Kuwait, very high completion rates in West Bank and Gaza, curricula modernization in Jordan, high public accountability of the education system in Lebanon -- there is plenty of "peer learning" possible within the MENA region.
In summary, there is a pressing need within the region to redirect educational approaches across all stages and all forms to educate the student on how to think not what to think.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The conclusions presented in the World Bank report will not be unexpected to many Arab intellectuals and experts in economic, social and human development  – and in fact to many of you. Policy makers in the Arab world have advocated the concept of radical reform in the education sector in particular to focus on the development of human capital and public accountability rather than physical infrastructure.
We are keen to support the efforts and initiatives of the region for education reform through a dialogue and exchange of experiences from countries that have succeeded in overcoming obstacles to greater quality of education.  This focus is within the context of responding to the growing demand on programs for technical assistance from our partners in the region.
We want to make this partnership for education reform a cornerstone of the re-invigorated engagement of the World Bank Group with the Arab World.  In addition to our dialogue with policy makers, we also hope within this context to open new channels with civil society, the private sector and opinion leaders that are committed to eliminating the quality gap in education.
At this point, we are preparing for intensive consultations in the region to define priority programs that take into account the perspectives and experiences of the Arab world as well as the global experience of the World Bank Group.  This is out of our eagerness to contribute what we can offer in this historical stage in the lives of Arab societies.  Let me go back once again to the Road not traveled – the title of our report – and conclude my statement by confirming our commitment to continue our journey with our partners in the Arab World.
Thank you