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Dr Brixi (left), making a point while Dewidar looks on during the media roundtable
World Bank discusses challenges of education sector in Arab states ‘Region marked by high quest for jobs & services’

 KUWAIT CITY, March 12: The World Bank held a media roundtable to discuss the challenges of the education sector and the strategic choices for education reform in Arab countries while sharing a report on governance in delivery of social services. Dr Hana Brixi, Lead Economist and Acting sector manager for education presented the World Bank’s regional research, stressing that accountability relationships were the driving force behind performance in service delivery.

The findings comes from the world development report that looked at the type of policy changes that were necessary to make public services perform well for all income groups with emphasis on incentives and accountability. She shared that the region is marked by a strong quest for jobs and services, with high youth unemployment. Another element that is also very specific in the region is the prevalence of ‘wasta’ and the perception that “knowing people in high position is critical to getting a job”. The young generation also doesn’t seem to have the skills needed and the youth unemployment rate of 26% in the MENA region is very high compared to others. “When you look enterprise survey and ask CEOs of companies what is the biggest constraint to business, they state, skills”, she remarked.

Asserted However she asserted that across the region, governments have put a lot of emphasis on policy reforms with their commitment reflecting true in the budgets. But the policies fail to translate into practice. “When you go to a school, you see that reforms don’t change the practice”, she said. Dr Brixi shared that provider effort was lagging, “There is a problem in many countries that teachers are not very motivated. For instance in Egypt, many students prefer a tutor rather than going to a school. Also, teacher absenteeism is recognized as a problem but tolerated in schools.” Also, provider ability is not up to the standards and curricula & teaching requirements are not enforced. Teachers’ working time is defined as time spent at school and moreover hours of instruction are not defined in Egypt and not recorded in Yemen. “In Yemen, only 42% of teachers were in the classroom, teaching, 19% were absent, 8% were reported as “idle”, and the rest were doing authorized non-teaching tasks.” She also stated that the shortage of qualified teachers was glaring now because of population growth and higher enrollment figures in the region.

Although curricula reforms seek to reduce rote learning, 70% of students in MENA reported memorizing formulas or procedures in at least half the math classes they attended. It has been found that school principals have little autonomy to make decisions like hiring and firing teachers, budget formation and allocation. Furthermore, key inputs are found to be lacking as a large numbers of students attend schools with severe shortages of instructional material and qualified teachers. Reforms fail to work on account of various factors. One of which is that performance information is often not available or not followed upon, historically citizens have had a limited voice in the region with centralized systems that discourage feedback. Citizens also appear detached from the decision making process; widespread corruption and uneven government effectiveness also contribute to unsuccessful reforms. However in recent years, political contestability and citizen voice is emerging in the region, supported by new technological tools.

In order to enhance service delivery it is important to learn from the subnational variation and local successes in service delivery with voice- and choicebased accountability and make relevant data available to empower citizens to act. Promoting more research and experiments on the impact of public sector reforms on service delivery performance, and institutionalizing voice in the service delivery chain and across government levels will also be effectual. She pointed out that higher performing schools in Palestine have better accountability practices than their lower performing peers. Generally, high performing schools have better teacher practices that result in improved student learning outcomes, these practices include more interactive learning and less teacher-focused lecturing, greater levels of lesson planning and observable motivation, and higher level of utilization of classroom resources such as visual aids, learning materials.

Better accountability practices at higher performing schools include more family participation and community engagement, better qualified teachers to improve provider ability and higher levels of teacher interaction to improve provider effort. Ahmed Dewidar, Senior Education Specialist in Kuwait, informed that the relationship of the World Bank and Ministry of Education and the government of Kuwait started in 2005 with a project that focused on education indicators. “From 2010 until the present time, the scope of the relationship has widened and we are working on enhancing the quality of the education programmes.”

 Competency Curriculum development and enhancement is one of the main area.”In this area we moved from a content based curriculum to a competency and standard based curriculum. One of the most important issues of curriculum development in Kuwait is that it is not done by the international experts. We have the international experts as facilitators working with Kuwaiti counterparts, teachers, supervisors, school management and curriculum specialists who in the last two years have designed the national curriculum framework”, Dewidar remarked.

Curriculum documents were also made available on school subjects from grades 1-5 with learning standards. “This year we have been working on the intermediate state. We have completed grade 6 and by the end of June, we would have completed 6-8 with learning standards.” Along with this, 130 master teachers will train others. School leadership programme is another important component that has been implemented in 48 schools. This entails new job descriptions for the workforce with renewed focus as instructional leaders is key. “Kuwaiti principals at first were wondering how they would undertake this addition to their day to day administration. But they were positive and embraced with new route”, he informed. Each school had a school improvement plan and worked with international experts with follow up visits for feedback from the experts and independent reports.

The relationships between schools, parents and community have also been worked on. Dewidar expressed that the evaluation of this undertaking, out in May, will be considered before scaling out the project to other school. He hopes to introduce the changes in a hundred schools next year and cover all the schools in the timeframe of 3-4 years. Standards for the teachers and the quality environment for learning are also facets that will be looked upon. He added that MESA national assessments that gauge what the students proficiently know had also been implemented. Dewidar stated that the new phase starting in June would add more focus on the quality of teaching by providing training as well as working on policy issues related to regulation early childhood education along with students attitude towards learning and family engagement.

Commenting on the idea of primary education being made free to all children in Kuwait, both local and expatriate, Dr Brixi relayed the World Bank’s approach of ‘learning for all’, regardless of citizenship. She also pointed out that the World Bank’s recent research on migration suggested that migration has benefits for both the host country and labour sending country and is an important contributor to economic development. She remarked that labour receiving countries should take care of basic service delivery to migrants, which includes education. She stated that the World Bank however was not collaborating with the State of Kuwait on the migration front. She highlighted that the World Bank had recently published a gender report with good news in terms of girls’ access to education and learning. She pointed out that girls perform better in school and at tertiary levels. However, education to work transition had to be scrutinised as unemployment rates among young females remained extremely high in the region. Speaking on productivity, she also stated that World Bank has supported the Kuwaiti government in developing a good labour market information system, to compile wages according to skill level and position.

She asserted that the skills premium was high and rising fast in developing economies. In terms of cuing for public sector jobs and how effectively the skills are then used in the labour market, she stated that this depended on distortions in the labour market. She also quoted a research that suggested a lack of competition in the private sector where large privileged firms enjoyed advantages compared to start ups and others. “If this situation is present in the private sector, it would mean less productivity and less actual benefit from the educated labour force. The public sector faces similar challenge in terms of meritocracy and the public sector employment being used as more of a social contract rather than a mechanism for providing services to citizens”, she said.

By: Cinatra Fernandes Arab Times Staff

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