Over the past few decades, development experts have placed great emphasis on the crucial role of education in improving social, economic, and political conditions in the Middle East. Significant regional and international resources have been invested in education. But the gains have been uneven, and it is time to pause and assess the results. Most troubling is the missing correlation between educational advances and economic opportunity. The anticipated links-from schooling to employment, and from education to social stability-are absent in many locations. In some places, progress in these areas has even been reversed. Much more emphasis needs to be placed on the socialization and life-competency aspects of education. Reforms should seek to structure the education system not only according to abstract international standards of pedagogy, but in closer alignment to feasible economic links and to civic values. Rather than overarching goals related to abstract measures such as literacy and testing scores, success should be measured by whether graduates are able to find work and develop an identity as productive citizens. Further, resources should support positive trends. In reviewing what has worked best, it becomes apparent that educational investment has been particularly helpful for young Arab women, who show significant and in some instances dramatic improvement in educational levels and economic participation. Along with these gains have come changing attitudes and increased support for women’s education by parents, educators, and communities, showing that positive outcomes can help change attitudes.
Reprinted from The SAIS Review of International Affairs, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Summer-Fall 2006, pp. 29-45. Copyright © 2006 The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reproduced with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press.