The results (namely in reading, math and science) bode poorly, educators believe, for prospects of creating a well-educated citizenry, accustomed to thinking critically, that in turn might improve economies and strengthen civil society and democratic governance in the region.
The Arab region has again come out near the bottom in an international comparison of the abilities of 15-year-olds in reading, math and science.
The just released results of the latest round of the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as PISA, found five Arab countries — Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — in the bottom one-third among the 79 participating countries.
The other Arab country that participated, the United Arab Emirates, scored slightly above those five. And Qatar, while ranking poorly in global terms, has made strong improvement in its students’ scores.
Among the regions of the world, the Arab region “probably has the longest way to go to improve,” said Andreas Schleicher, who created and directs the PISA program. The region’s young people “are quite good at repeating what they’ve learned but not at participating in tasks that require students to think creatively.”
He added, as an example, that the least affluent 10 percent of students in China and Vietnam did better in the assessments than the most privileged 10 percent of students in Saudi Arabia.
There was a bright spot: Contrary to the tendency of most participating countries to see their results largely unchanged over the past decade, one Arab nation, Qatar, has shown strong improvement, though from a low starting point. In all three subjects, reading, mathematics and science, the share of low-achieving Qatari students shrank, and the share of top-performing students increased.
Many experts say improving student learning outcomes in the Arab region must start with a focus on teaching. “Teachers receive little of the support and continuing training that they need,” according to a report, “Engaging Society to Reform Arab Education: From Schooling to Learning” by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Unlike in high-performing countries, in “many Arab countries, the teaching profession is not a highly valued profession: pay-wise, socially, or professionally.”
Moreover, the Carnegie report says, “Arab educational systems do not foster democratic and engaged citizenship.” Instead, “teachers are encouraged to impart lower-level cognitive skills (recall and comprehension) at the expense of higher-level ones (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and critical thinking).”
Written by Burton Bollag
Publication date: December 12, 2019