SEATTLE, Washington — In the Middle East and North Africa, one in five children is not in school. Additionally, an estimated 14.3 million children cannot attend school due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is impeding the progress of education in the Middle East and North Africa region. However, organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank have promoted programs for children to learn safely at home.
UNICEF’s Role in Improving Access to Education
Reading has become an effective strategy for children to be engaged in learning. UNICEF has supported education in the Middle East and North Africa region by advising ministries to produce national curriculum, complementary materials and guides that develop life and foundational skills.
Additionally, UNICEF supports schools’ reopening by distributing hygiene kits, providing catch-up programs and preparing plans for the future.
World Bank’s Five Pillar Educational Approach
The World Bank, through their EdTech team, have created learning guides for children in low-resource regions. The organization also assists in systemic education reforms to ensure that children can return to a safe, educational environment. Furthermore, the World Bank has developed a five-pillar educational approach that includes: preparing and motivating students, providing skilled teachers, equipping classrooms, ensuring safe and inclusive school spaces and establishing well-managed educational systems.
Additionally, the World Bank’s EdTech team provides updates on the educational policy changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic among different regions, which can be found on their website.
The Middle East and North African Governments
The Middle East and North African governments have prioritized their responses to COVID-19 toward the “complicated economic and sociopolitical situation and fragile health-care systems,” according to The Lancet. Before the pandemic, people in the Middle East and North Africa region already had limited access to clean drinking water, nutrition, sanitation, shelter, health care and education.
However, as COVID-19 continues to spread across borders, nations need to come together, reevaluate their approach to regional security and stability, and commit to further investments in public health infrastructure and procedures for future disease outbreaks. Additionally, governments need to look at devising a safe strategy for students returning to schools. Alternatively, governments can also provide students with additional resources while they are unable to attend school.
Income and Technology Discrepancies
Although actions are being made to help children learn during the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant challenge posed in this region is the digital divide that COVID-19 and domestic conflicts continue to widen. Many countries have made considerable changes to the educational system, like switching to online learning. However, regions like the Middle East and North Africa are having a more challenging time adapting to the academic challenges faced by COVID-19.
According to the Center for Global Development and World Bank, less than 25% of low-income countries currently provide remote learning. In contrast, about 90% of high-income countries provide remote learning opportunities. As a result of income and technology discrepancies in the regions, COVID-19 will likely negatively impact education in the Middle East and North Africa.
The difficulties that the Middle East and North African region are facing have accumulated for decades. COVID-19 is just one of the issues impacting education in the Middle East and North Africa. 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 territories.
Although there is much to be done regarding improving the literacy rate, creating more opportunities for girls and ensuring safe learning conditions in the region, international humanitarian organizations and governments are actively working to diminish COVID-19’s impact on education. Thus, organizations and nations must continue to work in solidarity to improve the educational system and decrease the digital divide. By providing children with educational resources amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Middle East and North African region reduce infant mortality rate, increase life expectancy and generate more opportunities for future generations.