The modern history of education reform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a tale of ambition, accomplishment, falling short, and unfinished business. Along this path, the region has accomplished much: most children benefit from compulsory schooling, quite a few have opportunities to continue their formal education, and learning outcomes have improved. These achievements are impressive, particularly if one considers the starting point during the 1960s.
However, gaps exist between what education systems have attained and what the region needs to achieve its current and future development objectives. MENA countries continue to lag behind many comparator countries, as measured by years of educational attainment in the adult population. The educational achievements to date are in part compromised by high dropout rates and relatively low scores on international tests. Despite remarkable improvements in expanding access and closing gender disparity at the primary education level, adult literacy is still low and education systems do not produce the skills needed in an increasingly competitive world. Unemployment is particularly high among graduates, and a large segment of the educated labor force is employed by governments. As a consequence, the link between education and economic growth, income distribution, and poverty reduction is weak.
The MENA Education Flagship Report, the sixth MENA Regional Development Report, tells the story of education development in the region, focusing specifically on its contribution to social and economic development. It addresses the following questions: 1) Did the investments in education produce the expected results and prepare countries for upcoming new demands for an educated workforce with different skills? 2) What types of strategies and policies should be considered to redress any gaps in achievement and to better prepare for the future? 3) Looking from the demand side, are domestic and international labor markets providing effective outlets for reaping the benefits of a more educated labor force?