This is preventing most of the region’s children from fully engaging in their education and is holding back countries’ progress in human capital formation.
When children start school, they learn to read and write in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is different to how they speak at home. In fact, children’s experience with MSA is limited before they reach school age. For example, parents in MENA are less likely to read to their young children or play word games with them compared to parents in other regions. Enrollment in formal early childhood education programs such as preschool ― where literacy skills can be developed ― is lower in MENA than in other regions. This poses several challenges.
These challenges can be addressed by purposeful actions such as having a language-rich environment, early exposure to MSA, and high-quality instruction that is based on the science of learning to read and that maximizes the overlap between MSA and colloquial varieties.
However, there are many practices related to early childhood experiences and the teaching and learning of Arabic in preschool and the early grades of school that are resulting in poor literacy outcomes. This puts children at a disadvantage at the start of their schooling and goes on to affect further learning throughout their school lives and into their adult lives.
The approach to best teach Arabic language to young native speakers needs strengthening. To assist MENA countries in their efforts to eliminate learning poverty―and to help children move from “learning to read” to "reading to learn" ― a path is proposed that identifies the most critical actions:
- Develop specific, quantifiable goals for children’s Arabic language learning outcomes in the short and long term with support from the highest levels of government and clear links to countries’ social and economic policy goals, for example through a national literacy strategy.
- Define and harness common features and vocabulary between MSA and colloquial forms of Arabic to build a bridge between children’s knowledge of colloquial Arabic and learning of MSA.
- Expand children’s early exposure to MSA, especially vocabulary and syntax, in engaging ways.
- Set detailed standards for reading progression based on the science of learning to read, with aligned high-quality and contextualized teaching and learning resources (including digital resources), teacher guides and professional development (to scaffold teaching), and diagnostic assessments.
- Revisit Arabic language teacher education programs (pre-service) and teacher professional development programs (in-service) to add Arabic language pedagogy studies, extensive practical experience with students, and effective planning for student learning.
- Ensure that every school has a robust early grade Arabic instructional program with sufficient time allocated, aligned school leader responsibilities, and support for teachers.
- Identify, support with early intervention, and monitor struggling readers, especially in the early grades.
For more information and details, please click here to read the report in full.