SEATTLE, Washington — In the Middle East and North Africa, one in five children do not attend school. Additionally, an estimated 14.3 million children are unable to do so due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic also impedes the progress of education in the Middle East and North Africa. However, organizations such as UNICEF and the World Bank have promoted actions for children to learn safely at home.
UNICEF and The World Bank
Reading has become an effective strategy for children to be engaged in learning. UNICEF has supported education in the Middle East and North Africa by advising ministries to produce national curriculums, complementary materials and guides that develop life and foundational skills. Additionally, UNICEF supports the reopening of schools by distributing hygiene kits, providing catch-up programs and preparing plans for the future.
The World Bank, through its EdTech team, has created learning guides that are distributed to children in low-resource regions. The organization assists in systemic education reform as well to ensure that children return to a safe educational environment. The World Bank has developed a five-pillar educational approach. This approach includes preparing and motivating learners, providing effective and valued teachers, properly equipping classrooms, ensuring safe and inclusive school spaces and establishing well-managed educational systems.
Middle Eastern and North African Governments
The governments in the region have prioritized their responses to COVID-19 towards the “complicated economic and sociopolitical situation and fragile health-care systems.” Prior to the pandemic, people in the Middle East and North Africa already had limited access to clean drinking water, nutrition, sanitation, shelter, healthcare and education. But, as COVID-19 continues to spread across borders, the matter of fixing those limitations has become all the more pressing.
The governments in the region are trying to help children learn during the pandemic. However, the countries’ already-lacking digital infrastructures have proven to be a significant challenge. Many countries have made considerable changes to their educational systems as a response to COVID-19, like switching to online learning. However, the digital gaps present in the Middle East and North Africa make it nearly impossible for distance-learning to be a viable option. According to the Center for Global Development and World Bank, less than 25% of low-income nations currently provide remote learning. In contrast, that number jumps to about 90% when analyzing high-income countries.
Setbacks in Education
The difficulties that are impacting education in the Middle East and North Africa have accumulated for decades. COVID-19 only added to the complexity of the situation. However, organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank have provided unique opportunities to implement technological advancements and remote learning to reduce the educational gap in low-income and war-stricken countries.
There is much to be done with regard to improving literacy rates, creating more opportunities for girls and ensuring safe learning conditions in the region. It will take solidarity and cooperation between nations as well as non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations to improve educational systems and decrease the digital divide. By providing children with educational resources during COVID-19, the Middle East and North African regions can reduce infant mortality rate, increase life expectancy and generate more opportunities for future generations. Ultimately, although the situation is still dire, the future is bright and beginning steps are being taken to make improvements.
– Mia Mendez