The Arab region has registered a remarkable trend of growing gains in education attainment and more equitable access to formal education since the beginning of the millennium. Primary school enrolment and literacy rates in the region have increased, with impressive progress towards gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education, due to relatively high investments in education, reaching 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).[1] As a result, adult literacy rate increased from 66.9% in 2000 to 78.81% in 2015 and youth literacy rate rose from 82.9% in 2000 to 90.7% in 2015[2]. With the improved access to education in the region, the number of primary aged school children declined from 7.5 million in 2000 to 4.9 million in 2013, but much remains to be done especially as some countries have entered into protracted conflict.[2]

The overall advances in education mask striking disparities among countries. The prolonged armed conflicts and political upheavals affecting several countries in the region have taken a heavy toll on education and the destroyed infrastructure in conflict-affected countries impeded the students’ access to education. In fact, the region – which, until just a few short years ago, had the goal of universal education well within reach – today faces a disastrous situation, as more than 13 million children are not attending school in countries being affected, either directly or indirectly, by armed conflict (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, and Lebanon).[3] It is estimated that there are more than 8,850 schools in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya that can no longer be used, because they have been damaged, destroyed, used as collective shelters for displaced families or occupied by parties to the conflicts.[3]

School enrollment as a whole has shown a steep incline between 2000 and2014. At the regional level, gross enrollment rates increased from 15.5% in 2000 to 27% in 2014 at the pre-primary level; from 90.78% in 2000 to 99.75% in 2014 at the primary level; 61.07% in 2000 to 73.01% in 2014 at the secondary level; and from 18.6% in 2000 to 28.9% in 2014 at the tertiary level. Particularly at the pre-primary level, the gross enrollment ratio still lags behind the world average of 44% reaching 27% in 2014. At the same time, the Gender Parity Index reached 1.0 at the pre-primary and tertiary levels and 0.9 at the primary and secondary stages in2014. At the country-level, the pre-primary gross enrollment rate in Comoros witnessed the most significant rise from 2.1% in 2000 to 23.1% in 2013. At the primary and secondary levels, the gross enrollment rate in Djibouti made the most remarkable improvement with a rise in its enrollment rates at the primary and secondary levels from 31.1% in 2000 to 66.3% in 2015 and from 14.1% in 2000 to 47.1% in 2015 respectively, while at the tertiary level, Saudi Arabia ranked first with a notable increase from 22.2% in 2000 to 61.1% in 2014. At the same time and according to the latest available data, the primary enrollment rate in conflict-affected Syria witnessed the steepest decline from 107.1% in 2000 to 80.1% in 2013, while the secondary enrollment rate in Lebanon dropped from 92.8% in 2000 to 68.2% in 2013.[2]

Most countries in the region have already adopted a model of publicly financed education. Traditionally, the GCC countries invest heavily in their public education systems and have achieved high enrollment, literacy and gender parity levels. Lebanon is the only country in the region where the private sector has historically played a more prominent role than the public sector in the provision of education services. 


This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 30 September 2016.


  1. United Nations and League of Arab States, 2013. “The Arab Millennium Development Goals Report: Facing challenges and looking beyond 2015
  2. UNESCO Institute for Statistics
  3. UNICEF, September 2015. Education under fire

Education Statistical Snapshot 2016
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Data Highlighted

  • The Gender Parity Index reached 1.0 at the pre-primary and tertiary levels and 0.9 at the primary and secondary stages in 2014.

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