Policy expertise

Investigating education inequalities in the Middle East and North Africa

Policy Area
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Aug 2013 - Dec 2013
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This study, commissioned by UNICEF and carried out in partnership with the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex, examines inequalities in education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Some countries of the region are still far from achieving full enrolment in primary and lower secondary education, with marked inequalities in access by gender, wealth and location. Others are close to full enrolment, but findings from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) suggest that there are large disparities in mathematics and science scores, by family background, parental education and location. In many countries these inequalities appear to be growing over time. The study examines these inequalities in both participation and learning outcomes, and analyses potential policy responses.

A number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have not yet achieved universal primary education, although all committed to reach this goal by 2015. There has been significant progress in the region since 2000, especially in the region’s middle income countries. However, universal access and completion of a full cycle of nine years of basic education will remain out of reach across MENA until inequalities in access and participation are substantially reduced. Moreover, there are concerns about the quality of learning and about children from poorer backgrounds, rural areas, or disadvantaged social groups, receiving lower quality education than other groups. 

Working together with the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex, we carried out a study of inequalities in access to education across MENA countries. 

We developed a typology of MENA countries in terms of income and human development, and profiled the school systems of each group in terms of enrolment at each age and grade. We then examined characteristics of children who are in and out of school and the correlates of higher grade attainment. We used household survey and census data to investigate inequalities by wealth, gender, location and parents’ education. For countries that participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), we were able to examine inequalities across additional categories. In addition, we looked at change in inequalities over time between 2004 and 2011.

By considering the implications of educational inequalities for the school-to-work transition and providing detailed analysis of possible policy responses, tour study can help inform the policy debate around education inequalities in each country and at the regional level.

Senior Consultant