New UNICEF MENA study: Equity, Educational Access and Learning Outcomes ​

Large inequalities in education access, progression and learning are widespread across the Middle East and North Africa – new study says

Amman, Jordan, 16 May 2016 – While countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have made significant progress and investments in education since 2000, a deeper dive into educational attainment reveals large inequalities at the primary and secondary levels related to household wealth, gender, location and parents’ education.

The new UNICEF MENA study, Equity, Educational Access and Learning Outcomes in MENA, finds that there is a difference of up to 10 years of schooling between the top 20 per cent most educated and the bottom 20 per cent least educated.

The study examines inequalities in access, attainment and learning outcomes in MENA, focusing on the primary and lower secondary levels and addressing three main research questions:
1. How do children flow through education systems in MENA from preschool to high school, and how many complete schooling at different levels?
2. What are the characteristics of the children in MENA countries who continue to different levels of the school system, and how do these children compare with those who drop out at different levels and become out of school?
3. Which children are learning less, and how do they differ from those with higher levels of achievement?
Countries are clustered into four groups based on their gross national income per capita and Human Development Index, and the challenges common to each group are detailed. Using the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data, household surveys and census data, the study provides updated insights into staggering educational inequalities.

For example:
· A large percentage of children are still unable to complete primary education in low-middle income countries.
· Even in some high-income countries, less than 40 per cent of poor students reach the low international benchmark in grade 8 math assessments.
· The bottom 20 per cent least educated are disproportionately female.
· In six out of 12 MENA countries, there are 'reverse' gender gaps where girls have better learning outcomes than boys, and also where girls reach higher grades than boys as they progress through the education system.
· In all MENA countries, the rich/poor access gap to primary and secondary education exceeds the rural/urban access gap.

Educational inequality disadvantages young people’s prospects in life, signifies an unfair and inefficient distribution of resources, reproduces social inequities, jeopardizes economic development, and is a potential source of political instability. Commitment to equity in education is not only an ethical issue, but is also linked to economic growth.

While countries in MENA have a long way to go in reducing educational inequalities, the study also offers recommendations related to the main findings for each country, policy implications as well as ways forward for responding to the issues. Commitments to equal opportunities in education, sustained political will, appropriate resource allocation and measures designed to reduce educational disadvantage are all necessary components of equitable educational development.

Download the study in English and the Executive Summary in Arabic.