Brookings Institute Releases Arab World Learning Barometer

The Brookings Institute launched a new study titled, “Arab Youth: Missing Educational Foundations for a Productive Life?” on Sunday, Feb. 9 in Dubai. ...

Feb 22, 2014

The Brookings Institute launched a new study titled, “Arab Youth: Missing Educational Foundations for a Productive Life?” on Sunday, Feb. 9 in Dubai. The study introduces the interactive Arab World Learning Barometer, an interactive tool that gathers data from 13 Arab countries and presents statistics on the frequency and quality of education in primary and secondary schools in the region. Moreover, the study suggests a framework to improve education in the area and as a consequence, help youth enter the labor force.
One of the co-authors, locally based Maysa Jalbout, a non-resident fellow of the Brookings Institute, has been assisted since September by NYU Abu Dhabi students Laith Aqel and Nicole López del Carril.
"The Arab Learning Barometer doesn't necessarily engage in any original work or research … [it] is a compilation of statistics that are readily available. The intention behind [it] is to present the reality of education in the Arab world and then to inform and create and develop a dialogue surrounding those issues,” said Aqel.
The data covers the years from 2001 to 2012 and as a result does not take into account recent political upheaval in countries like Syria.
The diversity amongst the countries of the Arab world leads to varying results. While the study provides statistics by country, it also provides data on the whole of the Arab world. Some of the countries with the most concerning conditions are Yemen, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia.
The study identifies five channels of support for education and youth unemployment. First, it explains that investment in early childhood education leads to long-term benefits. It suggests that there should be discussion on the kinds of financial motivators that can encourage countries to improve their education systems.
“Progressive and smart investments in education made today, including those focused on children affected by conflict, will reap large benefits in the future,” wrote the authors in the study.
Moreover, it adds that more attention must be placed on teachers. If the Arab world wants to attain universal primary education by 2030, it must find candidates to replace the 1.4 million teachers who are to retire and hire an additional 500,000.
Thirdly, the study places emphasis on the gravity of countries in conflict, such as Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen. It asks about the sources that can be tapped to direct funding toward education in these countries and prompts the question of their long-term achievement goals.
Aqel noted that there are ways of addressing education in conflict-ridden countries that cannot or do not want to place an emphasis on something that is classed as inessential. These methods  include online learning forums and the integration of independent learning with remote student-teacher interactions. However, Aqel believes in a simpler solution:
"I think that overall, an end to the conflict needs to be a goal in order to have a stable, productive education system,” he said.
The study also looks to the private sector, which stands to benefit from an improvement in the youth’s skill level. As such, the private sector has an incentive to participate in the education system and the authors encourage more discussion and collaboration between stakeholders.
Last but not least, the study also underscores the need for better data collection in schools through measurements like goals and tests. This would help better quantify the performance and development of students’ learning over time.
Ultimately, the research provided by the Arab World Learning Barometer hopes to stimulate conversation on the topic of education by approaching it from different angles.
“While education needs to be made more relevant to employment, education policies also need to be accompanied by initiatives that lead to economic growth and employment generation,” Jalbout commented in the event’s press release. “We hope the Learning Barometer will help inform regional governments’ policy choices as they seek to address these challenges.”
Correction: The original graphic in this article misstated information from the report, and has since been revised to reflect the report accurately. The Gazelle staff regret this error.
Costanza Maio is news editor. Email her at
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