Arab Knowledge Report calls for political, institutional reforms


The report maintains that political, institutional, cultural and intellectual reforms, as well as reform of the media and information technologies are vital if Arab societies are to bridge the knowledge gap.

It is the first product of the strategic partnership between the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aimed at issuing a series of analytical reports addressing the state of knowledge, in all its dimensions, in the Arab region.

The report proposes an action plan towards integrating the Arab region into the global knowledge society. The plan rests on three interlinked pillars — broadening freedom of thought and expression in the region, responding better to the development needs of the society, and participating in the global knowledge revolution.

“With solid commitment and long-term vision, the route to the knowledge society will not be impossible,” said Adel El Shared, vice-chairman and managing director of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.

“This is what we have sought to achieve over the past two years, emphasising our commitment to the purpose and objectives for which the foundation was established – strengthening the knowledge economy in the Arab world, which can only be achieved through close cooperation with serious partners who share our vision and objectives. Today we are happy to launch the fruit of such a collaborative effort with UNDP: the Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards productive intercommunication for knowledge,” he said.

“Knowledge is a tool and a goal that influences all levels of society equally and involves all fields. It is a primary avenue for renaissance and human development in the region,” said Adel Abdellatif, chief of the Regional Programme Division at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. “But for this to happen, the right policy, institutional and funding environment must be in place for a knowledge society to materialise.”

Arab countries have recorded an improvement in technological performance surpassing any other region of the world in 2008, according to the report. Four Arab countries — the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait — are listed among the 50 countries in the world most ready for investment in this area. In addition, the increase in the number of Arabic users of the Internet is the highest among the top 10 languages used on the Internet, with almost 60 million Arabic-speakers today.

However, the report expresses grave concerns over the state of education in the Arab world. Efforts undertaken in many Arab countries since the 1990s have fallen short of realising the goal of universal education and of meeting global standards with regard to occupational, technical and higher education.

“The lights of knowledge” have not reached all adults in equal measures. Major discrepancies — such as between males and females and between younger and older adults — persist, not only between Arab countries, but also within individual countries.

Despite having spent five per cent of its GDP and 20 per cent of its general budgets on education over the past 40 years, over one-third of the adult population in the Arab region is unable to read and write. Some 60 million Arabs remain illiterate, two-thirds of them women. Further, only a few Arab countries will be able to meet the universal primary education goal of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Close to nine million primary school-aged children in the Arab countries do not attend school, and among those who do, over a large number do not pursue education beyond the basic level, hampering economic growth and sustainable development in the region as a whole. Moreover, the quality of university education is problematic, says the report. Often, it lacks emphasis in specialised science and modern techniques, including the most up-to-date communication technology. As a result, the region lacks a critical mass of highly skilled professionals equipped with the ability to innovate and capable of answering the needs of the marketplace.


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