Education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Despite impressive progress in raising school enrolment over the past decade, one in every four children and young adolescents (more than 21 million) in the region are either out of school or at risk of dropping out, according to UNICEF.  The region is experiencing an unprecedented growth in the number of students, and education systems are struggling to keep up with demand and respond to rising poverty rates and the effects of conflict. Students are often not learning skills needed for advancing in school or life, including basic literacy and numeracy, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  Many of those who do graduate are unable to find jobs due to an education system not suited to today’s job market and anemic economic growth.  

Schools are the largest social institution in most communities and can instill the values, skills, and tools needed to orient students toward a productive future. Research has indicated that inequality is a driver of radicalization, and education can and ought to be an positive intervening variable. We partner with local education authorities to help them reach their vision of schools that serve educational needs but also encourage volunteerism and community engagement, to build a sense of connectedness among students, their families, and communities. Schools not only offer a space for cognitive development, but the most effective ones also play a role in physical, social, emotional, and moral/ethical development.

USAID’s Middle East Bureau is supporting partner country goals to improve reading comprehension so students are able to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”. We support analysis of regional trends in basic and higher education and workforce development, the results of which inform ministries of education across the region to improve the quality and relevance of their programs.

Examples of Our Work:

  • We support analytical work to fill gaps in knowledge. As an example, USAID has conducted  studies in Morocco that reviewed reading curriculum, learning materials, textbook production, and the state of education for blind and deaf students.  The analysis, conducted in conjunction with the Government of Morocco, will allow the Ministry of Education to better allocate resources to improve student learning and inclusive education.
  • We also support efforts that contribute to applying lessons learned for future programming. For example, a retrospective study in West Bank and Gaza’s past decade of education programming highlighted successes and challenges to take into consideration for the next generation of programs.  In Lebanon, profiles of scholarship recipients highlight where they are now and track the effects of higher education. Finally, we support assessments to build our understanding of context and find opportunities for future programs. In Tunisia, we used positive youth development methodologies to present an overview of youth perspectives, assets and challenges to inform more responsive youth development efforts.
  • We support applied research to test  the effectiveness of non-formal education with particular attention on working with children and youth affected by the Syrian crisis.  Given the large number of out-of-school children and youth, and gaps in learning due to the crisis, we have launched pilot activities to learn how to increase literacy and numeracy and reduce the effects of trauma on learning.  We are also testing modules  that aim to improve critical thinking and emotional literacy skills in on-going non-formal education programs.