COVID-19: Education in the Middle East and North Africa


SEATTLE, Washington – In the Middle East and North Africa, one in five children are out of school. Furthermore, an estimated 14.3 million children are unable to do so due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic also prevents the advancement of education in the Middle East and North Africa. However, organizations such as UNICEF and the World Bank have promoted actions for children to learn safely at home.

UNICEF and the World Bank

Reading has become an effective strategy for engaging children in learning. UNICEF has supported education in the Middle East and North Africa, advising ministries to produce national curricula, complementary materials and guides that develop fundamental life and skills. In addition, UNICEF supports the reopening of schools by distributing hygiene kits, providing remedial programs and preparing plans for the future.

The World Bank, through its EdTech team, has created learning guides that are distributed to children in low-resource regions. The organization also assists in systemic education reform to ensure children return to a safe educational environment. The World Bank has developed a five-pillar educational approach. This approach includes the preparation and motivation of students, the provision of effective and respected teachers, the proper equipment of classrooms, the guarantee of safe and inclusive school spaces and the creation of well-managed education systems.

Governments of the Middle East and North Africa

Governments in the region prioritized their responses to COVID-19 to the “complicated economic and socio-political situation and fragile health systems”. Before the pandemic, people in the Middle East and North Africa already had limited access to clean drinking water, food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education. But, as COVID-19 continues to spread across borders, the question of correcting these boundaries has become even more urgent.

Governments in the region are trying to help children learn during the pandemic. However, the countries’ already deficient digital infrastructure proved to be a significant challenge. Many countries have made significant changes to their education systems in response to COVID-19, such as the shift to online learning. However, digital gaps in the Middle East and North Africa make it nearly impossible for distance learning to be a viable option. According to the Center for Global Development and the World Bank, less than 25% of low-income nations currently provide distance learning. Conversely, that number rises to around 90% when high-income countries are analyzed.

Setbacks in education

The difficulties that are affecting education in the Middle East and North Africa have been building up for decades. COVID-19 only added to the complexity of the situation. However, organizations such as UNICEF and the World Bank have provided unique opportunities to implement technological advances and distance learning to reduce the educational gap in low-income and war-affected countries.

Much needs to be done to improve literacy rates, create more opportunities for girls and ensure safe learning conditions in the region. Solidarity and cooperation between nations and non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations will be needed to improve education systems and reduce the digital divide. By providing children with educational resources during COVID-19, the Middle East and North Africa regions can reduce infant mortality rates, increase life expectancy, and generate more opportunities for future generations. Ultimately, although the situation is still dire, the future is bright and steps are being taken to make improvements.

My Mendez
Photo: Flickr

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