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publication November 13, 2018

Expectations and Aspirations: A New Framework for Education in the Middle East and North Africa


Education, which had been at the heart of the Middle East and North Africa region’s (MENA) history and civilizations for centuries, has a large untapped potential to contribute to human capital, well-being, and wealth. Decades of investments in education, impressive growth in enrollment rates, and gender parity at almost all levels of education, have not been able to translate into increased human capital and wealth, failing to meet the aspirations of 435 million people in the region. Despite a series of reforms, MENA has remained stuck in a low-learning, low-skills level. The current situation in MENA requires a renewed focus on education, not just as a national priority for economic growth and social development but as a national emergency for stability, peace, and prosperity.

What can MENA countries do to emerge from this impasse and retake their position as leaders in education and innovation? 

Expectations and Aspirations identifies four key sets of tensions that are holding back education in the region: 

  1. Credentials and skills
  2. Discipline and inquiry
  3. Control and autonomy
  4. Tradition and modernity

These tensions are deeply embedded in the region’s history, culture, and political economy and reflected in schools and classrooms. To realize the potential of education, MENA countries need to tackle these four tensions and establish an education system that prepares all students for a productive and successful future. If not addressed, MENA will continue to operate below its potential. 

Framework for Improvement

This report outlines a new framework with a three-pronged approach that can help address these tensions and unleash the potential of education in MENA:

  • A concerted push for learning that starts early for all children regardless of background, with qualified and motivated educators, that leverages technology and uses modern approaches and monitors learning.
  • A stronger pull for skills by all stakeholders in the labor market and society that involves coordinated multi-system reforms within and beyond the education system.
  • A new pact for education at the national level with a unified vision, shared responsibilities and accountabilities. Education is everyone’s business and not just the responsibility of the education system.

The push, pull, pact framework offers an opportunity for MENA to charge forward and reclaim its heritage of a learned region and meet the expectations and aspirations of its people.