April 8, 2008

How to Succeed at Education Reform: The Case for ‎Saudi Arabia and the Greater GCC Region

Booz & Company’s Middle East Think Tank--research into education in the GCC has found that education reform

Expenditure on education is comparable to the most ‎advanced economies, although return on education ‎investment is still relatively limited.‎

Dubai, UAE, 8 April – Recent Ideation Center—Booz & Company’s Middle East Think Tank--research into education in the GCC has found that education reform is a necessary step for ensuring the future economic growth and development of the region. Strategizing for education, the research found, has been a central policy in the GCC over the past four decades with a series of development plans in which education plays an integral part.

Expenditure on education is comparable to the most advanced economies, although return on education investment is still relatively limited. At the pre-tertiary level, low scores in international tests such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), show that GCC countries need to focus their curriculum more on mathematics and sciences and ensure that teaching quality is up to international best standards.

“In a recent test, some GCC countries ranked well below the world average score,” said Hatem Samman, the Lead Economist at Booz & Company’s Ideation Center. “Other indicators such as illiteracy rates are also cause for concern in several GCC countries. These illiteracy levels can mean negative ramifications for the GCC region’s economies,” he added.

At the higher education level in the GCC, the majority of university students graduate in the fields of humanities and social sciences, while science and technology graduates—which are in high demand--are a minority.

At the macro economic level, unemployment among GCC nationals continues to be in the double digits – caused in good measure by inadequate education. Recent unemployment figures show unemployment levels in Oman and Bahrain at 17.5%, while those for Saudi Arabia and the UAE hover at 12% and 11.4% respectively.

“Our research on business professionals’ perceptions shows that often, graduates are not sufficiently skilled to hold jobs, nor motivated enough to commit to them. In addition, business leaders complain about the inability of the current education system throughout the GCC—with its different organizations and infrastructure—to respond in a timely manner to changing business needs, indicating the need for a comprehensive reform of the educational system,” states Nabih Maroun, partner with Booz & Company.

The Booz & Company's research has identified a three-dimensional framework for success in education reform, based on best international practices of countries like Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Ireland among others. A holistic approach within this framework is central for success.

A summary of the research findings for successful education reform follows below:

1. An Education Reform Strategy linked to social and economic priorities. Booz & Company’s research shows that countries that succeeded in reforming their education systems made changes over time, according to their social and economic conditions. Successful educational reform was achieved through four key factors: relevant stakeholders were involved in the strategy formulation process, including the business community, labor departments, families, and local groups. Secondly, realistic targets were set aimed at achieving major milestones.

“In addition, providing a transparent assessment of the strategy process for all stakeholders to see, participate in, and discuss and then garnering support among stakeholders, ensured the success of the strategy,” commented Maroun.

2. An Education-Sector Operating Model, which works to sustain the strategic reform plan through the creation of three main functionalities.

i. A group of operating entities – consisting of a curriculum agency, teacher association and career agency, responsible for implementing the strategy action plans - must be comprised of talented individuals able to coordinate between various agencies and government institutions. Central to these entities’ success is a relatively autonomous governance structure and clear accountability of strategy results.

ii. Education sector governance, characterized by decentralization and empowerment at various levels of the education system, is central to having a flexible education operating model, and in prompting innovation for addressing specific challenges.

iii. Finally, the implementation of strategic goals requires appropriate funding to ensure proper delivery and sustainability of strategic action plans. Funding requires efficiency and equity without compromising quality. In all levels of education, accountability is paramount in ensuring that funding is channeled efficiently.

3. A sound education infrastructure will ensure the delivery and realization of strategic goals. Booz Allen’s research identified the four main pillars on which a strong educational system is built.

a. Quality of human capital - teachers hold a unique stakeholder position as the link between the education system, students, and parents – thus requiring them to be of high caliber. Developing teacher quality requires the screening, attracting, training and retaining of educated and talented individuals.

b. Curriculum - this must always be linked to socio-economic priorities. More emphasis is needed on mathematics, sciences, and technology if GCC countries are to be part of a global economy. English courses must additionally be taught in schools at an earlier age, to meet the demands of the private sector and allow for the transfer of knowledge from the expatriate community. In addition, the GCC region needs a wider curriculum choice for students, to equip them for both vocational and academic skills.

c. Frequent assessment and monitoring must be implemented on teaching quality and curriculum adaptation, through international tests and other local measures for educational effectiveness.

d. The Learning environment must expand outside of the classroom. Taking students to museums, theaters and scientific competitions allows for a wider learning experience. Equally important is making use of information technology, to expand the borders of knowledge among students and teachers alike.

“Going forward, each GCC country’s strategic plans - some of which were formulated over the past few years - must ensure that a comprehensive approach is adopted in proceeding with education reform,” said Samman. “In addition, the experiences of other countries like Jordan should be taken into account to avoid potential implementation pitfalls,” he concluded.

Booz & Company’s study on education reform indicates that while the impact of an aggressive education policy may not become apparent until years after implementation, the experience of Singapore, South Korea and other countries indicate that noticeable results can occur in a decade, while full economic impact may require between three to four decades. This by no means indicates that the policy maker’s and business leaders’ job is complete; instead, it outlines the nature of any good education policy - namely, a continuous process of adjustments and evolvement based on a holistic strategy approach.


About the Ideation Center

The Ideation Center is Booz & Company’s leading think tank in the Middle East with the mission to spearhead innovative research and idea generation on prominent socio-economic topics in the region. The Ideation Center is fully supported by the firm’s management and underscores Booz & Company’s unsurpassed commitment to the advancement of the Middle East.

The goal of the Ideation Center is to support policy makers and business leaders in exploring the topics that have the highest impact on their sectors. The Ideation Center combines primary research with hands-on expertise from the professional community in the private and public sectors to deliver ideas that endure – true to the Booz & Company mission.

The Ideation Center thought leadership is based on insightful research that is revealing and innovative, determined analysis that is focused on the salient topics in the region, engaged dialogue that is true to the Middle East dynamics and ascertained ideas that can make a difference. The end result is one that inspires, enriches, and rewards.



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Hatem Samman

Smriti Singh
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