Recognizing the very low learning outcomes, and the need to change the way education is delivered as critical to the future development of the Middle East and Africa regions, ministers and development partners affirmed their commitment to tackling the global learning crisis at the High Level conference on Accelerating Learning: A call to action and opportunities for collaboration. Accelerating learning will require continued commitment to learning, measurement of learning, and better use of technology; more and better spent resources; and increased collaboration to improve knowledge sharing and leverage economies of scale.
Dr. Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, said, “We must accelerate improvements in learning and center reforms around what is best for the student, giving children the foundational skills to become permanent learners and productive citizens.” The World Bank introduced a new “Learning Poverty” indicator –defined as the share of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10 – and a new learning target to reduce that number by half by 2030, as a way to galvanize action towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education (SDG4). “Currently 59% of 10 year old children in the Middle East and North Africa and 87% in Sub-Saharan Africa are learning poor. That is completely unacceptable and must be eliminated.” To accelerate learning outcomes, the World Bank advocates a two-pronged approach of implementing systemic reforms that will achieve gains over the long term while making short-term interventions aimed at improving the experience of the child in the classroom today.
Egypt’s Minister for International Cooperation Dr. Rania Al-Mashat said, “No country can achieve development without the human element, and this conference signals our high-level commitment to education reform.”
In his plenary address, Egypt’s Minister of Education and Technical Education Dr. Tarek Shawki shared Egypt’s story of its ambitious reform program aimed at modernizing the education system, using scripted lessons, new curriculum guides, digital learning resources, improved teaching practices, and computer-based student assessments. “What we are doing in secondary education today is to prepare for an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment – we want to produce graduates with good skills, not grades,” noting that the “Education 2.0” reform program revolves around teaching children the skills needed to compete in the future. “We have to ask ourselves – what are the competencies needed of today’s teachers in today’s environment? – because the old model is not working.”
World Bank Country Director Dr. Marina Wes for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti commented: “Egypt’s reform program aims to bring learning back into the classroom, which can yield valuable insights for other countries in Africa and the region.” She noted, ‘There are no easy answers to the challenges of improving the education system, but there are many innovative approaches and this kind of cross-country and regional collaboration holds valuable advantages to development partners including the World Bank to inspire and support reform.”
United Kingdom Ambassador to Egypt, Sir Geoffrey Adams said, “The UK is proud to support Egypt in its efforts to provide quality education for all. Our partnership is providing technical assistance to help create a more interactive learning environment allowing students to reach their full potential. Investing in the knowledge and talent of young children is an investment in their prosperity, and ours.”
Ministers and senior officials from nearly 20 Middle East and African countries shared their views and experiences with education challenges and reforms, with some common areas emerging for discussion:
– Widespread recognition on the need for sustained and accelerated action on improving learning outcomes, and that each country is unique and while well positioned to learn from each other, must chart their own path to reform.
– The learning crisis is also a teaching crisis. Too many teachers are not well prepared, incentivized, and supported. Teachers and school leaders should be at the center of any reform program – a point emphasized by speakers throughout the day.
– Investing in early childhood education (ECE) and ensuring better coverage across countries is needed to reduce the development gaps that emerge at young ages which hinder further learning, noting the complexity of those investments and the need for ECE teachers to be well trained and prepared.
– The power of technology needs to be leveraged to suit the needs of students and teachers, and can be used to improve assessments, teacher professional development, and access to teaching and learning resources.
– Importance of student assessments and data – noting that policymakers are flying blind without the data – to ensure reforms can be measured and evaluated and data can be useful inputs into policy and programs.
Following the conference, ministers and delegates convened to discuss priorities to accelerate learning and promote further collaboration. This included exploring the potential for creating digital platforms to share knowledge; supporting teacher professional development; provision of Early Childhood learning resources; a platform to support student assessment; and development of a regional literacy strategy and platform to share experiences and access teaching and learning resources to foster literacy skills.
The conference was hosted by the World Bank and Egypt’s Ministry of Education and Technical Education and supported by the Government of the United Kingdom.