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Arab Education Should Focus on Early Childhood and Adoption of Technology

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Leading policy-makers and academics called for education reform in the Middle East and North Africa, as the region faces a triple challenge of 22 million children out of school or at risk of dropping out, high youth unemployment, and diverging access to and quality of public and private education. As solutions, they pointed to technology as an educational tool, life-long and vocational learning, and public-private cooperation.

“Today, governments are struggling between getting the basics done and dealing with emerging conflicts,” said Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. But necessity and urgency can also help leaders to “think out of the box,” he added. In those circumstances, “basic technology can be used to help advance education, particularly at the literacy level.”

Pre-school is the best place to focus investments and introduce these basic technologies, said Maysa Jalbout, Chief Executive Officer of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, United Arab Emirates. Only 31% of children in the region are currently enrolled at this stage, with most of them enrolled in private education. The result is that “inequity in education starts at this very early stage,” she said, because pre-school is the most crucial time for learning outcomes later. These technologies and their capabilities should come from within the Arab region, not from import or “copy-pasting”.

“If you don’t develop your indigenous capability, you cannot sustain the results,” said Tony F. Chan, President of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. He called for “multigenerational” investments, both at the research university level and at the kindergarten level. Inherently, it shouldn’t be a problem: “Algorithmic thinking is an Arab invention,” he said.

But it would be wrong to think the private-public educational gap is just a regional problem that can be solved only with technology, said John Sexton, President Emeritus, New York University, USA: “There is a worldwide disinvestment in thought and education, teachers and compensation … The big picture globally and in this region is that we have to worry about the privileged isolating themselves in the area of education that is successful, and the politicians settling for what seem to be good results.”

Youth unemployment in the region is endemic, with up to 38% of youth unemployment even in wealthy nations such as Saudi Arabia. To solve that, Marita Mitschein, Senior Vice-President of Digital Skills, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) South, SAP Middle East and North Africa, United Arab Emirates, suggested more public-private cooperation. In one project, her company “picked the ‘raw diamonds’ and ran them through a bootcamp.” The result was a 100% job placement in its ecosystem afterwards.

But even as the private sector can help improve post-education job placement, policy-makers and educators should not forget the primary objective of education, Jalbout said. “It should help people solve the problems they face.”

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Development

Financing to Support Reforms for Inclusive Growth and Development

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The World Bank approved the second in a series of three single-tranche Inclusive Growth Development Policy Operations (IGDPO) to support key reforms for enabling inclusive growth in Liberia.  The financing, amounting to $40 million, comes in the form of an International Development Association (IDA) concessional credit of $20 million and an IDA grant of $20 million to be disbursed as budget support. The underlying reforms being supported seek to remove distortions in selected sectors, strengthen public sector transparency, and promote economic and social inclusion.

“The continued implementation of critical policy reforms in sectors such as energy and agriculture helps create a conducive environment for transformative investments being made in these sectors by the Government, with support from development partners,” said Dr. Khwima Nthara, World Bank Liberia Country Manager.  

Building on reforms supported under the first reform program approved last year, the key reforms under this second program are expected to help increase agriculture productivity by promoting farmers’ access to certified seeds; reduce power theft and commercial losses at the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) by making electricity affordable for the small consumers with the reduction in electricity tariffs for poor households from $0.385/kWh to $0.22/kWh in May 2021; streamline and increase the transparency of tax waivers and in turn, improve revenues to enhance the provision of public services, especially for poor households; strengthen the oversight and transparency of State-owned Enterprises (SOEs); promote financial inclusion through the amendment of the Payments Act and introduction of digital credit; and finally, create an efficient, transparent and sustainable Social Safety Net System.  

“Strengthening Domestic Revenue Mobilization, through reduction of duty waivers and tax holidays, is critical to expanding fiscal space for increased public investment that is domestically financed,” said Mamadou Ndione, World Bank Senior Economist and Task Team Leader of the IGDPO program.

The reform programs being supported are aligned with the Liberia’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development and the World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework.

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Health & Wellness

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide

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New research published by the UN health agency on Thursday revealed that suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide – taking more lives each year than HIV, malaria, breast cancer, war and homicide.

Based on its estimates that more than 700,000 people, or one-in-100, died by suicide in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced new LIVE LIFE guidelines to help countries reduce that rate by a third, no later than 2030.

“We cannot – and must not – ignore suicide”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

COVID pressure

From job loss to financial stress and social isolation, the many risk factors triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic make suicide prevention “even more important now”, said the top WHO official.

The WHO guidance “provides a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts”, he added.

Suicide breakdown

Among young people aged 15-29, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence, according to the study: Suicide worldwide in 2019.

While rates varied between countries, regions and gender, the analysis shows that more than twice as many men kill themselves, than women.

Those rates are generally greater in high-income countries, while the highest suicide rates for women were found in lower middle-income countries.

Per 100,000 people, the 2019 global average of suicide rates stood at 9.0, while that number jumped to 11.2 in the WHO Africa region; 10.5 in Europe; and 10.2 in Southeast Asia. At 6.4, the Eastern Mediterranean region had the lowest rate.

“Each one is a tragedy”, said the WHO chief.

While the report showed a global suicide drop of 36 per cent between 2000 and 2019, the Americas Region witnessed a 17 per cent surge.

WHO said, “a significant acceleration” in suicide reduction is needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target by 2030.

Interventions

WHO’s guidance to suicide prevention, zeros in on four strategies: limiting access to the means of suicide; educating the media on responsible suicide reporting; fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents; and early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of those with suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

The guidance highlights that in the social media age, media reports can prompt copycat suicides, especially when surrounding a celebrity. It calls for suicide coverage to be counteracted with articles highlighting successful recovery from mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts. It also recommends working with social media companies to increase awareness and remove harmful content.

Since half of all mental health conditions appear before children reach 14, adolescence is a critical period, according to WHO, which encourages anti-bullying programmes, support services and clear protocols for people working in schools when suicide risk is identified.

Prevent heartbreak

A previous suicide attempt is one of the most important risk factors for a future suicide, said the UN health agency.

Healthcare workers should be trained in early identification, assessment, management and follow-up and crisis services should also be available to individuals in acute distress, according to the guidance.

“A comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy should be the ultimate goal for all Governments”, said Alexandra Fleischmann, WHO suicide prevention expert, adding that “LIVE LIFE interventions can save lives and prevent the heartbreak that follows for those left behind”. 

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Africa Today

World Bank Supports Recovery and Resilience of Rwanda’s COVID-19-Affected Businesses

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The World Bank Group today approved $150 million from the International Development Association (IDA)* to help the Government of Rwanda increase access to finance and to support recovery and resilience of businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Access to Finance for Recovery and Resilience (AFIRR) Project also benefits from $25 million in IDA grants, as well as an additional $7.5 million grant from the Global Risk Financing Facility (GRiF), to help enhance business’ access to finance.

This project is an important contribution to the government’s post-COVID Economic Recovery Plan, promoting investment in priority growth sectors, supporting jobs and reinforcing Rwanda’s financial system’s crisis preparedness.” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country M anager. “The AFIRR project provides significant resources to help further capitalize the Economic Recovery Fund coupled with enhanced support programs to improve firms’ capacity and remove barriers to access to finance. It provides a suite of instruments that strengthen the existing recovery ecosystem ranging from financial instruments to adjustment mechanisms that include innovative risk mitigation solutions.”

The project will provide financing targeting affected businesses to facilitate refinancing of existing debt obligations, provide working capital, and support investments for business adaptation and growth through the provision of longer-term sources of finance. This will be complemented by risk sharing instruments, including a partial credit guarantee scheme and a bridge loan and insurance facility, to increase access to finance for underserved segments, such as micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). In addition, the project will provide targeted technical assistance to firms, participating financial institutions, and government implementing agencies, to address existing constraints for increasing uptake of the Economic Recovery Fund.

Interventions under the project will help businesses to continue to operate and adapt to the post-COVID-19 environment. They will also provide a lifeline to firms in growth-potential sectors that find it difficult to access financing from financial institutions; this will contribute to preserving jobs and mitigating loss of otherwise productive firms that can help drive economic recovery” said Brice Gakombe, World Bank Financial Sector Specialist, and Task Team Leader of the project.

In addition to providing financing, the AFIRR project will bolster the capacity of key government and private sector stakeholders on the technical aspects of the financing and risk-sharing instruments, as well as disaster risk financing principles. As women were hardest hit by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the project focuses on increasing the share of women-inclusive enterprises able to access financing under the liquidity and financing facility and through targeted training to address gender specific constraints for MSMEs as well as improve outreach in underserved segments.

The AFIRR project will be co-financed in the amount of $100 million by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), of which Rwanda is a non-regional member. It is AIIB’s first investment in Rwanda.

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