A challenge aimed at drastically improving illiteracy rates in the region was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, in co-operation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Unesco at the Knowledge Summit this week.
The Literacy Challenge in the Arab World plans to motivate anyone working in the educational sector in the Middle East to take part in order to educate more youth.
"We're trying to connect between universities, schools and ministries of higher education in all the region to use their capacity, teachers and all human resources to make a new programme for education," said Dr Hany Torky, chief technical adviser at the UNDP.
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"We invite all children to come learn at their nearest educational institute for free and the three or four institutes that teach the most students will win an award."
The best teachers and students will also be rewarded by 2030. "The reasons for low literacy rates in some countries in the region are various," said Hamed Al Hammami, Unesco regional education director.
"Some are related to population growth, for Egypt for instance, and the inability of the system to absorb all children in education as well as political instability like in Iraq. The best strategy is to support countries to have inclusive, comprehensive and good quality education for all and in all levels of education that way you will reduce the coming of new illiterates," Mr Al Hammami said.
He said achieving a paradigm shift in the conceptualisation of literacy in the region means widening the concept of literacy to include other competencies, including health and basic vocational training, and not only basic reading and writing. "In other words, multiply the benefit of literacy and make the impact sustainable to move from adult education to adult learning," he said. "[We must] create regional quality observatory mechanisms and create partnerships for literacy planning and programme delivery at local, national and regional levels."
Unesco is focusing on countries in crisis. “We’re monitoring their progress and supporting regional networks,” he said. “We’re also securing second educational opportunities for children who are out of schools. Our greatest challenges are that the needs are big and there is lack of resources as well as a lack of coordination among donors and agencies in such countries.”