Seeking Success with Responsible Education Change for Development in the Arab World

The Arab Knowledge Report 2010-11 was launched at the Dubai International Financial Centre where the call for major reforms in the Arab education systems was loud and clear. The idea being that for nations to “prepare future generations for the knowledge society,” an overhaul of the education system is required.

In Arab countries, children under 15 represent 45% of the population and people between the ages of 15-24 years represent 21% of the population. Human capital is the region’s most untapped resource and education is being purported as the key to unlock this potential. Of course, with these reforms is a call to address the high unemployment rates afflicting over 20% of the people in the region.

It is noteworthy that throughout the report, the GCC countries are highlighted for various degrees of progress. For example, the UAE and Qatar were both highlighted for their initiatives to promote an enabling environment for their people. The UAE also got a shout-out for the important work that is being done to measure and evaluate relevant educational outcomes that can offer direction for helpful policy and programming.

The GCC does have some unique contextual characteristics. These countries have been working towards educational reforms for a few years now. In Qatar, the Supreme Education Council transformed all public schools to Independent schools and joined the international assessment community in 2006. In KSA the King Abdullah Project for Education Development has been ongoing since the mid-2000s with a current focus on the revamping of science education this year. In the UAE, a series of initiatives and programs (e.g., Partnership Schools, Schools of Tomorrow, Model Schools, and the New School Model) have been tried alongside an increase in transparency and accountability for private schools. In Bahrain,  the 2004 “Schools of the Future” reform has been ongoing…. And the list continues.

There are so many educational reforms in the GCC currently happening that some have even stated that there is an educational reform competition.

Is that what we want???

Well… maybe there is a need for overhaul in some systems or parts of the system… but maybe there is also a need to look for the pockets of success throughout the countries and consider scalability of local solutions. At the 3rd Annual Gulf Comparative Education Society Symposium hosted in Bahrain earlier this week, there were some interesting presentations on local efforts to find the most effective solution.

I will repeat: Local efforts to find the most effective solution. Not the solution with the best marketing strategy from companies with formidable local presence. But solutions that are being implemented with an evaluation of the impact to determine if they are (1) effective in increasing student learning and achievement and (2) scalable given local realties and the political will for educational change. This kind of strategic approach will enable educational reforms to meet the call from the The Arab Knowledge Report 2010-11.   

Perhaps the most explicit example of this approach was highlighted by H.E. Dr. Majid Bin Ali Al Nuaimi, Minister of Education of Bahrain in his Welcoming Address. He explained that since the 1st institutional review to diagnose their  education system in 2005, they responded to findings through 5 national education reform initiatives. They are currently implementing a new School Improvement Project that will reach all public schools in Bahrain by next year!  So what is the outcome?

But … Did we reach our goal? This is the question. The answer is of course No, because Education has a dynamic nature, just like life itself,  and it requires continuous review and improvement to meet the needs of individuals and society.         H.E. Dr. Majid Bin Ali Al Nuaimi

Given this reality, is the call for reforms reforms reforms the best approach?

Is there a need to re-conceptualize how we consider educational reforms or change in the Arab world to focus on continuous review and improvement using Strategy-Based Monitoring and Evaluation to support effective changes?

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