Washington, June 29, 2021 – More than half of children in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries experience ‘learning poverty’: they cannot read and understand age-appropriate text before the age of 10 years. This prevents most children in the region from fully engaging in their education and slows countries’ progress in human capital formation, according to a new report from the World Bank.
When children enter school, they learn to read and write in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is different from the way they speak at home. This poses several challenges. The report, Advancing Arabic Language Teaching and Learning — A Path to Reducing Learning Poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, examines the evidence on factors influencing learning Arabic and proposes a pathway to guide countries in their efforts. to strengthen learning outcomes.
“We had a learning crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic and now we have an even greater challenge to overcome” noted Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “Education systems in the MENA region need to provide stronger basic skills so that children can effectively ‘learn to read’ in order to ‘read to learn’. Investments in high-quality education for every child today will equip young boys and girls in our region with the foundational skills needed to become the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Children’s experience with MSA is limited before they reach school age. For example, parents in the MENA region are less likely to read to their young children or play word games with them than parents in other regions. Enrollment in formal early childhood education programs such as preschool, where reading and writing skills can be developed, is lower in the MENA region than in other regions.
These challenges can be addressed through targeted actions such as a language-rich environment, early exposure to the MSA, and high-quality education based on the science of learning to read and which maximizes the overlap between the MSA and the familiar varieties. However, there are many practices related to early childhood experiences and teaching and learning Arabic in preschool and early school years that lead to poor literacy outcomes. This puts children at a disadvantage at the start of their schooling and then affects their learning throughout their school life and into adulthood.
“The Science of Learning to Read Shows that Extended Vocabulary Helps Children Switch from Arabic Spoken at Home to MSA” noted Andreas Blom, World Bank MENA Education Practice Director. “A language-rich environment is important at home and at school. “
However, this does not always happen. Children in the MENA region are less likely than their peers in other countries to have children’s books at home, to be in a school with a large library (or any library), or to be invited by their teacher to read a chapter.
The approach to better teach the Arabic language to young native speakers needs to be strengthened. Children learn to read and write rigidly with an emphasis on rules, grammar and precision. Children also experience a lack of playfulness and inquiry which is necessary to engage them fully in learning literacy. Teachers, including many Arabic language teachers, are themselves the product of ineffective Arabic language teaching and are often uncomfortable using it as a medium of instruction. Very few college preparation courses include focused studies of teaching and learning Arabic based on the science of learning to read.
The report proposes a path for advancing the teaching and learning of the Arabic language. It begins with the development of specific and quantifiable goals for children’s Arabic language learning outcomes with clear links to countries’ social and economic policy goals, such as through a national development strategy. literacy. Further steps include early exposure to the MSA, teaching methods, teaching materials, teacher training programs and professional development, support for schools, assessment and early intervention for readers in difficulty.