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Equity, Educational Access and Learning Outcomes in the Middle East and North Africa

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This study examines inequalities in access, attainment and learning outcomes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, focusing on the primary and lower secondary levels and addressing three main research questions:

  1. How do children flow through education systems in MENA from preschool to high school, and how many complete schooling at different levels?

  2. What are the characteristics of the children in MENA countries who continue to different levels of the school system, and how do these children compare with those who drop out at different levels and become out of school?

  3. Which children are learning less, and how do they differ from those with higher levels of achievement?

Using the the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data, household data from the UNICEF Multi-Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) Rounds 3 and 4, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Rounds 5 and 6, and the standardized census data by the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) project, the analyses and findings presented supersede that of other regional MENA analyses from previous years. Notably, the 2011 TIMSS data has not yet been utilized for a region-wide analysis. Thus, this equity study not only updates previous insights into MENA educational inequalities, but it also serves as an extension of such knowledge. When combined with administrative, household and learning achievement data, readers will hopefully find that the analysis is both integrated and unique.

To maintain comparability across countries, the learning achievement data analysis has been limited to TIMSS, as it has the widest coverage across the region. This coverage allows for consistent comparisons to be made, which is not possible with other learning achievement assessments, which are noticeably less comprehensive.

The indicators related to enrolment, attainment and learning are examined for each country and disaggregated by age, gender, wealth, location and, in some cases, mother’s education. The narrative draws on secondary literature to point towards possible explanations of the patterns of inequalities that recur across countries in the region. Overall, the findings represent a first step towards a detailed analysis of barriers in education.

Results indicate that MENA countries have very varied profiles of initial enrolment, progression of children through the education system, and drop out from the education system, with implications for the types and levels of inequality found in each country. The study divides the countries of the region into an illustrative typology with four groups based on each country’s gross national income (GNI) per capita and Human Development Index (HDI). Countries within each group tend to face similar types of challenges.