The Arab region has registered a remarkable trend of growing gains in educational attainment and more equitable access to formal education since the beginning of the millennium. School enrolment and literacy rates in the region have increased, with impressive progress towards gender parity in enrolment. Yet, with political instability and humanitarian crisis starting 2011, access to education has been a challenge and the quality of education has negatively affected youth.


Between 2000 and 2016, adult literacy rate in the region increased from 65.0 percent to 75.3 percent and youth literacy rate rose from 81.8 percent to 86.8 percent.[1][2] Despite this progress, adult and youth literacy rates lagged behind the world averages of 86.3 percent and 91.4 percent, respectively. Ambitions for achieving universal youth literacy are essentially captured in Sustainable Development Goal 4, particularly in Target 4.6, which aims to “ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men, and women, achieve literacy and numeracy” by 2030.

School enrolment in the Arab region exhibited a steep incline between 2000 and 2017. In pre-primary education, gross early childhood enrolment rates increased from 14.7 percent in 2000 to 21.9 percent in 2017, but remained below the world average of 37 percent.[1]


At the primary level, many more children were enrolled in school with a gross primary enrolment ratio of 100 percent in 2017, rising around 10 percentage points since 2000. Along the same lines, secondary gross enrolment increased to 74.2 percent in 2017, up from 61.0 percent in 2000, and slightly less than the world average of 76.6 percent. In 2017, gross tertiary enrolment reached 32.4 percent, up from 18.5 percent in 2000. However, tertiary enrolment in the region fell behind the world average of 37.9 percent, and far behind the averages in Central and Eastern Europe and North America and Western Europe at 80.3 and 78.4 percent, respectively. Highest ratios were registered in Saudi Arabia (68.9 percent) and Algeria (47.7 percent) in 2017.[1][2]


Many more girls were enrolled in schools in 2017, with the gender parity index (GPI) in gross enrolment reaching 0.99 for pre-primary, 0.93 for secondary education and 1.1 for tertiary education.[1][2] Important milestones towards gender parity in educational attainment have been notably achieved in the region. According to the Global Gender Gap report, 15 Arab countries scored above 0.83 in 2018 (except for Yemen scoring 0.72), with the highest possible score towards gender parity being 1.[3][4]


The overall advances in education have masked striking disparities among countries. In prolonged conflicts, several countries in the region have experienced a disruption in the students’ access to education. In fact, the region – which, until few years ago, had the goal of universal education well within reach – today faces increased risks and challenges, as more than 17 million children, adolescents, and youth of primary and secondary school age are out of school, according to latest available data.[1][2] Particularly in Yemen, the conflict has left over 2 million children, out of 7 million school-aged children, out-of-school and one out of five schools non-operational.[5] In Syria, over 2 million children remain out-of-school and 1.3 million children at risk of dropping out.[6]

This overview has been updated by the ADP team based on latest available data as of June 2019.


[1] United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO). 2019. UIS Institute for Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[2] The UNESCO Arab States’ averages do not include Comoros and Somalia.

[3] World Economic Forum. 2018. The Global Gender Gap Report. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[4] 16 Arab countries are covered including: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

[5] United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).10 March 2019. To keep children in education, UNICEF starts incentives for school-based staff in Yemen. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[6] UNICEF. March 2019. Syria Crisis Fast Facts. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

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Data Highlights

  • 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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