Will the Technology Disruption Widen or Close the Skills Gap in the Middle East and North Africa?

"The technology skills gap is a worldwide problem and in this excellent article authors Jailbou and Farah urge for a holistic approach to solving the problem. It was shocking to realize that 50% of children in MENA schools do not meet basic international literacy and numeracy proficiency standards! The authors identify five key strategies and it is not surprising that they are similar to what other regions around the world are finding - the importance of lifelong learning, emphasizing skills such as communications and problem solving; the rise in demand for data analytics skills is driving a need for higher order analytics skills and advanced digital literacy; the rise of new forms of media is changing the nature of learning and understanding of how children learn and as the nature of work changes, organizations are becoming more diverse in their makeup and operations leading to more flexibility and opportunity. This is an excellent paper and a link to the full report is included below." Susan Dineen

The dominant narrative about Arab youth is deeply worrying. A generation of Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, Sudanese, and Yemenis are without an education and are losing their futures to intractable conflict. Arab youth form the largest demographic in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), but rather than being viewed as a gift to the region, they are seen as a liability. Yet few leaders have had the foresight to understand that remedying disfranchisement and uprooting extremism cannot be achieved without creating opportunity and seeding hope among these youth.

In the past 15 years, important progress has been made in the field of education in the Arab world. This includes increasing universal primary access by 10 percent, increasing youth and adult literacy by 22 percent, and achieving greater gender parity at the primary level in several countries.

However, as important as these gains have been, they have not delivered the desired learning outcomes and the skills required by the labor market. The Arab World Learning Barometer (Brookings 2014) estimates that 50 percent of children in school are not meeting basic international literacy and numeracy proficiency standards. At the same time, private sector employers in the region believe that the low quality of education is the cause of the skills mismatch and is also thus an impediment to economic growth (ILO 2015).

Countless reports have been written warning of the dangers of an Arab youth population growing disenfranchised and calling on governments in the region to respond with education and economic reform (Bardak, Huitfield, and Wahba 2006; ITU 2014). For the most part, however, these reports have been met by independent initiatives rather than by systemic change efforts.

In drawing up their 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the countries in the region must redesign their education systems to be smarter and work more effectively to support their youth, helping them gain the skills they need to be prepared not just for the present but also for the future of work.

In every country in the MENA region, Arab youth, entrepreneurs, civil society advocates, and others are attempting to bring about positive change for both youth and their communities through innovative education initiatives.

This working paper identifies reasons to be hopeful. In every country in the MENA region, Arab youth, entrepreneurs, civil society advocates, and others are attempting to bring about positive change for both youth and their communities through innovative education initiatives. Some governments have also helped to drive important progress for their youth. At present, more youth are graduating from secondary and tertiary schools and programs than ever before (World Bank 2015). In some countries, young women have raced past young men in their educational achievement and completion rates (UNESCO 2015). And several countries, especially the Gulf states, are committed to education reform and thus are making large investments to advance their education systems.

Moreover, a growing number of leaders in the Arab world recognize that incremental education reform is not enough. The rapid evolution of information technology has ushered in the Information Age, creating a fundamentally different world of work than what the region has been preparing its youth for (Castells 2011). This working paper highlights five major trends that point to a tremendous opportunity for the Arab world to use technology to leapfrog in making educational advances. These trends can be summarized as follows:

  1. Longer life expectancies are requiring young people to plan for more working years, thus requiring them to become lifelong learners. They also need to become generalists or trans-disciplinarians.

  2. More automation is bringing an end to traditional jobs. There is a need to develop opportunities for highly skilled workers and to enhance formal skills such as communication and problem solving.

  3. The explosion of the data analytics field has seen a rise in demand for higher-order analytical skills and advanced digital literacy, as well as strengths in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, in particular computer programming.

  4. The rise of new forms of media is changing the nature of learning and our understanding of how children learn. Gaming, animation, and other types of virtual networks are demanding a new form of literacy and are promoting new models for collaboration and communication.

  5. As the nature of work is changing, so also are the structures of organizations, which are shifting toward being interconnected. They are becoming more diverse, not only in their makeup but also in their operations, resulting in more flexibility and opportunity. This, in turn, means that workers are expected to become more adaptable to changing environments, have an awareness of various cultures and know how to function and communicate in virtual environments.

To read the whole paper click here.

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