Education is key to the future of the MENA region. Knowing that, governments across the region have been sanctioning almost 19% of their countries’ government expenditure to education–well above other OECD countries.
Nevertheless, the returns on these investments have been mixed at best for Arab employers, governments, and society generally. Worryingly, it will become even more difficult to maintain the current “quality” of education as populations continue to grow. Between 2010 and 2015, the region is expected to absorb approximately 300,000 new pupils per year–bringing the region to a total of 53.6 million students. So far, the supply of formal education across the region has not been able to keep up with the demand (see Nafez Dakkak, “Mapping Edtech startups in the Middle East and North Africa”, in Edsurge, Oct. 14th 2014.
On top of that, as stated in many OECD and UNESCO reports, even educated people in the region are still sometimes not equipped to compete for jobs in and out of the region. That said, progress are made and many young people from the region embrace entrepreneurship and starts business, some in the technology industry.
The Wamda Research Lab’s newest report (PDF), “Lesson One: Mapping Education Technology Startups in MENA” tries to better understand the education technology entrepreneurship in the Arab world. A survey of over 50 entrepreneurs shows that edtech startups are concentrated in Jordan and Egypt, generally focus on the K-12 market. Many founders are responding to shortcomings in the public education sector, such as Arabic language education and preparing students for end-of-high school exams.
Despite the fact that Arabic was the 7th most-used language on the Internet in 2011, Arabic digital content, which will reach an estimated value of $112 billion in 2015, only represents a fraction of the media available online. Al Jazeera is for instance trying to bridge that gap with its Al Jazeera net Arabic channel initiative. This is also the case of the Queen Rania Foundation that launched edraak.org (a non-profit online education platform) a few months ago. The Arab edtech sector is therefore an important potential area of development in the region.