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The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Jul 28, 2010

The Impact of Population on Education in the Arab World

Population growth and the failure of most Arab governments in allocating the needed financial resources lead to the decline of quality education. This has contributed to the high illiteracy rates in Arab society. It has been estimated that nearly 68 million people above the age of 10 years old cannot read or write. The percentage of literacy differs from state to state in the Arab world. It fluctuates from 94.5% in Kuwait, 93.1% in Qatar, 93.8% in the occupied area of Palestine, 93.1% in Jordan and 90.0% in the United Arab Emirates. Compare this to 55.6% in Morocco, 58.9% in Yemen, 60.9% in Sudan and 66.4% in Egypt. Six Arab states' literacy rates tend to fall between 70 and 80%. There are a number of reasons behind the high illiteracy rates especially in the most populated Arab states like Egypt, Morocco, Yemen and Sudan. First, not enough schools are built to accommodate the excessive population growth. The Egyptian Committee on Education, Scientific Research and Technology recommended in its report (2001) that the government should build 420,000 schools during the next 16 years (2001-2017) to meet the projected increase of students who will reach school-age. Unfortunately, since then only 18,000 schools have been constructed (alshrouk, 5/9/2010). This type of situation exists in a fairly large number of Arab states, which has lead to highly crowded classrooms as a result of such policy. In Egypt it has been estimated that the average classroom size exceeds 60 students. You can predict that in such a setting, the ability of students to learn and be motivated is very low. Furthermore, how can the average teacher perform or even pay attention to such a large number of students? Learning is a very difficult task in this situation, which contributes to the student dropout rate. Crowded classrooms are not only prevalent in public schools, but can also be seen at the upper educational levels. Hundreds and even thousands of students are packed into university lecture halls and the number of students who stand due to lack of seating runs into the hundreds. This situation will not lead to learning or critical thinking. Another factor that I have witnessed is the physical environment of schools, which tends to be depressing. The lack of maintenance and the physical deterioration of school structures that should have been demolished or renovated are not conducive to learning. He deterioration in the quality of education led parents with financial ability to hire teachers to give private lessons to their children to ensure their passage from one level to another. It has been estimated that private tutoring costs exceed 15 billion Egyptian pounds a year. Private tutoring is widespread in the Arab world. In Egypt, according to a 2002 World Bank study, “private tuition accounted for fully 1.6% of GDP and other studies suggest it devours a whopping 20% of household spending in families with school-age children. A big reason why families are willing to spend so much is that the educational system relies heavily on national exams, not only for rating students but also for placing them in the various faculties of the state universities that still account for 85% of college enrollment.” (The Economist, July 17th, 2010).

In a number of Arab states, governments encourage foreign countries or private investors to build and operate schools. As of 2009, there were more than 5,118 privately run schools in Egypt. The student fees are very high and unaffordable for more than 80% of families to enroll their children in (almasry-alyoum, May 5, 2010).

It is also of interest to see that a significant number of new, private universities began to operate in Egypt since the 1990s. The majority of students who attend such institutions are the ones who were unable to get admission to state universities. The tuition is very high but the quality of education needs to be investigated. The impression I have gotten from some academic friends is that these institutions don’t have the required standard academic credibility. They were established by investors for profit making. The quality of education, even in state universities, is being questioned due to the lack of adequate financial funding by the government.

A prominent Egyptian academician, Dr. Farouk il-Baz, recently stated at an academic conference at the American University in Cairo that there has been a lack of interest on the part of officials in Egypt in promoting learning and scientific research at both the lower and upper academic levels during the past 30-40 years. He advised the responsible people in government to make the extra effort in allocating more resources to education to compensate for the shortages of financial support during previous years, which lead to the deterioration of the quality of education. The Egyptian educational system requires renovation and new direction to improve the quality of education at all levels. Without such policy, Egypt will continue to fall behind the advanced world (www.almasry-alyoum.com, March 18, 2010).

As long as population growth continues and the majority of Arab governments lack financial support for education, general knowledge and scientific know-how will not be attained. This will lead to further deterioration of Arab Human developments.

Furthermore, higher academic institutions in the Arab world in general should not be under governmental control. Universities should be independent entities in order to promote the development of knowledge, freedom of expression and critical thinking.

A year ago, two ex-ministers of higher education stated publicly that, “the lack of independence of universities is a major contributing factor behind the deterioration of academic progress and innovation. The appointment of presidents of universities by government officials contributes to the absence of objectivity and evaluations of its faculties” (www.almasry-alyoum, 10/18/09).

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