Education is the greatest tool of all, it gives people the power to take control of their lives and build a future for themselves that is prosperous and happy. It is something that is an automatic right in western culture, and one that many of us take for granted.
The first-rate education that we receive in the UK is among the best in the world, with leading schools, colleges, and universities at our disposal. Unfortunately, not every child in the world has such easy access to education, including those in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The Muslim Aid team has boots on the ground in several MENA countries, including Palestine and Sudan, providing essential aid and support to those who need it. We offer life-saving provisions in the form of food and water, but we also work to enable children who don’t have access to an education a safe pathway to do so, specifically girls.
Our aim is to give children equal opportunities so that they may go on to build a future free from poverty and hardship, but the issues surrounding education across MENA territories are incredibly widespread.
The Middle East has pockets where education is rich and plentiful, with several notable universities to its name. These include the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia which is free to attend, and Qatar University which sees many international students attend due to courses also being taught in English.
In addition to these two, there is the mixed campus King Abdullah University of Science and Technology which offers courses such as bioengineering, and the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University which teaches all manner of subjects, including law, engineering, and soon, medicine.
These are among the most respected universities in the Middle East, but they’re not open to all. In order to study at university, a person must first have completed primary and secondary education. This is where the disparity comes in. One in five children in MENA countries are not in school. UNICEF reports that ongoing crises in the region are responsible for at least three million children not receiving any form of education. Only half of those who are able to stay at school hit the minimum maths, science and literacy benchmark.
You are more likely to see males at school than females due to gender-based inequality. It is common in some Middle Eastern countries for girls to be forced out of school and married before they turn 18, whilst it is also common for some boys to be forced into work as children and denied an education. This is a result of both cultural traditions and poverty forcing families to make difficult decisions.
Another issue facing the education system in the Middle East is that it doesn’t align itself with the workforce. In 2017, two thirds of Arab Youth survey participants said they felt the education they had received didn’t prepare them for working life, nor did it give them the skills they needed to gain meaningful employment afterwards. Many view the education system as outdated and too focused on traditional teachings. This often leaves children without the necessary critical thinking, problem solving, creative skills employers are looking for.
What this means is that even if MENA children do complete education, they many not have the skills beyond academics to get a job. As of 2019, just over 25% of young people (aged 15 to 24) were unemployed. This is one of the highest rates in the world.
Although the Middle East is home to one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar, there is a huge disparity between the wealthy population and those less fortunate. It was only in the last 50 years that most Middle East countries escaped colonial rule, began to ramp up sales of oil and petroleum, and invest the money back into infrastructure. Whilst countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now a world away from what they were 50 years ago, there is still a big gap in basic public infrastructure like education.
This can be attributed to several factors, but one of the biggest is ongoing political instability and conflict in the area. Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have seen some of the worst warfare in modern history, with swathes of services such as education having to take a backseat due to internal displacement and deadly crossfire between sides.
A lot of Middle Eastern countries are still playing catch up with regards to education curriculums. Paired with a lack of access, specifically in rural and high-conflict areas, young people in the MENA region need or help to reach their full potential.
You can support a child in the Middle East to gain access to a meaningful education and build a positive future for themselves by donating to our education appeal.
Such a donation will not only change a young person’s life, but you will also be rewarded by Allah (SWT) for your act of Sadaqah Jariyah for the rest of your years, and long after you have passed. This is because education is the gift that keeps on giving.
Please give what you can and help us reach children who aren’t in school and who are being denied the opportunity to escape a life of poverty.