Education in the Arab Countries ? Part One

Hasan A. Yahya, a professor of Educational Administration

The Arab countries were approached for research on various topics in the last half century, for increasing global importance and national independence. In other words, the Arab world was ignored for a long time while it was a part of the Ottoman Empire. After the WWI and WWII, the position of the Arab countries became more important in the world stage, especially with the promotion and contracts of Oil agreements. Such a product divided the Arab countries into two sharp division, one division is labor rich countries, and the other is oil-rich countries.

All people, regardless of age or gender deserve a good public education. There are no exceptions to this rule (assuming normality) and any attempt to make excuses is unacceptable. Arab countries, however, are accused of tradition against education especially the female, which is untrue. Unfortunately, reporters and rush researchers were interested in certain strange quotes with no elaboration. They focus on certain problems, which may lead readers toa gloomy picture. However, there were always bright success stories in many of these countries. I will cover some successful stories in the coming articles.

Some articles may be correct in many aspects, others may be misleading to generalize issues and to say there is a problem with female education in the entire Arab world. Therefore, Arabs are misunderstood when it comes to reporting from outside, for example, on education, we may read this statement about Arab (Muslim) parents quoted : “When we asked parents why they did not allow their girls to school, they would say “because it’s wrong, it’s irreligious – they should stay home.”

This implies uneducated studies, where an interviewer took this out of context. Another topic  is female circumcision which is partly found in some Arab countries. In fact, Islam encourages education for females as well as males. And more than 90%  of Arab countries do not practice female circumcision. Many of these countries issued laws forbidding that cultural habit in some districts.  Those who release such phrases are unfamiliar with Islam themselves. On the contrary, it is unreligious to keep females from being educated. As long as it is within a decent environment, education is highly encouraged. Unfortunately, the Western media emphasizes undermining the Muslim world, forgetting the great Muslim and Arab history.

The other issue is the quote in some reports “Literacy rates of women in the Arab world, according to the latest report of UNDP, are around 55 percent.” Forgetting what are the literacy rates of men in the Arab world? To compare education enrollment would be better to compare the literacy rates between genders to present a more accurate picture of the problems involving education in the Arab world. In many studies on education in the  Middle East, we are aware of issues involving equality for women in the Arab world and Middle East and believe there are obstacles to overcome, other issues may be needed to be included in such studies, to be explored more that are relevant to the lack of education in the Arab world – such as sociological issues concerning independence, development, and  poverty in some countries. (537 words)



– Khaled al-Maeena, “A Report which Should Open Arab Eyes,” Arab News, July 5, 2002.

– Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, quoted in a U.N. press release, “U.N. Human Development Report Finds Arab Countries Lagging Behind,” July 3, 2002.


– Sal-ama A. Salama, “Facing Up to Unpleasant Facts,” Al-Ahram Weekly, July 11-17, 2002.

– Thomas L. Friedman, “Arabs at the Crossroads,” The New York Times, July 3, 2002.

– Robert Fisk, “UN Highlights Uncomfortable Truths for Arab World,” The Independent, July 3, 2002.

– Victor Davis Hanson, “A Ray of Arab Candor,” City Journal (Online), July 3, 2002, at

– Al-Jazeerah English

– BBC Arabic Reports