In the Middle East, there are 3 kinds of countries: the ones caught up in war, the ones which aren’t, and the countries close enough to the war countries to feel the effects.
In all 3 categories of Middle East states, there are large and fast-growing populations of school-aged children. How and how well these kids will be educated is a defining question, because educated or not, they are the future of the region.
If recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it, there is good news — almost all of the states in the Middle East are testing reading levels and appetites of students, and their STEM capabilities. By one estimate, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states alone have more than 500 educational projects collectively worth above $50 billion under way.
But according to a recent report, even that will leave a lot of work undone. And none of the GCC states are caught up in war, although Saudi Arabia and UAE are waging a war in Yemen that is starving and killing thousands of Yemeni children, few of whom are getting any schooling.
This is, of course, also true for children in many parts of Syria, Iraq and Libya. They are under the gun and out of school.
In adjacent countries, like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan millions – yes, millions of refugee children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – have had their education interrupted, a minority are in refugee camp, or public schools.
These kids are going to grow up, and have the potential to cast a generations-long economic and social blight on a region where, already most people struggle to make life work.
Education may be the only preventive measure that would work.
RAND Corporation scholar and analyst Shelly Culbertson has spent years living and working in the Middle East, in recent years on a very good book published earlier this year THE FIRES OF SPRING. Her specialty is education and she’s seen it up close in classrooms in refugee camps and cities in Turkey and Jordan and the Kurdish region of Iraq.