The negative impact of Covid-19 on education has been stronger in the Arab region than in other parts of the world, highlighting the need for governments to take action, according to a Unesco education official.
In an email conversation, Hana Yoshimoto, chief of education at Unesco’s office in Beirut, responded to questions posed by Al-Fanar Media about how the sudden shift to remote learning and reliance on education technology affected Arab countries and the challenges that policy makers now face. Following is a summary of that conversation.
“Aside from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, only 51.6% of households in Arab countries have Internet access,” Yoshimoto wrote. “Connectivity remains a challenging issue in the region, making online learning difficult.”
“Furthermore,” she added, “the majority of teachers were unprepared to shift from the traditional way of teaching and learning. Teaching through the use of digital devices requires some level of preparedness along with digital pedagogy and digital skills.” (See a related article, “Floods, Locusts, and Covid-19: Somali Students and Universities Struggle.”)
The pandemic disrupted education most in countries affected by conflict and poverty; it also exacerbated disparities between poor and rich countries and among classes within the same country. (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)
“The negative impact of the pandemic will be felt disproportionately by vulnerable groups,” Yoshimoto said. “These include students from poor and rural areas, refugees, children with disabilities, especially girls who have higher dropout rates in the Arab region.”
Students at Risk of Falling Behind
The World Bank estimates that schoolchildren in the Middle East and North Africa region have on average already lost the equivalent of 0.6 years of education due to Covid-19 and that 10 percent of students have fallen below the minimum proficiency thresholds.
Prior to the crisis, Unesco estimated that 15 million children in the Arab region between the ages of 5 and 14 were out of school in 2018, from a total of 87 million. Another 10 million were at risk of dropping out due to poverty, social marginalization, migration, displacement, or disruption of infrastructure caused by conflict.
The worst-hit countries were Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.