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 enrollment and literacy rates in the region have increased, with impressive progress towards gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education.


Between 2000 and 2016, the adult literacy rate in the region has increased from 65.0% to 75.3% and youth literacy rate has risen from 81.8% to 86.8%.[1,2] Despite this progress, the adult and youth literacy rates still lag behind the world averages of 86.3% and 91.4%, respectively, and the developed countries rates of 99.2% and 99.7%, respectively. Ambitions for achieving universal youth literacy are essentially captured in Sustainable Development Goal 4, particularly in Target 4.6, that aims to “ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men, and women, achieve literacy and numeracy” by 2030.


School enrollment as a whole has exhibited a steep incline between 2000 and 2016. Many more children have been enrolled in school with a gross primary enrollment ratio of 98.9% in 2016, rising from 90.5% in 2000. At the secondary level, the gross enrollment ratio has also increased to 73.5% in 2016, up from 61.0% in 2000, and compared to the world average of 76.4%. The tertiary enrollment ratio in the region has reached 32% in 2016, up from 18.5% in 2000. However, the tertiary enrollment ratio still falls behind the world average of 36.8%. At the same time, many more girls have been enrolled in schools in 2016 with the gender parity index (GPI) reaching 0.95 for primary education, 0.93 for secondary education and 1.1 for tertiary education.[1,2]


The overall advances in education have masked 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 17 million children, adolescents, and youth of primary and secondary school age have not been attending school in 2016.[1,2] The violence in Yemen has left 350,000 children unable to continue their learning and 2 million children out of school.[3] In 2017, 1.75 million children were currently out of school in Syria.[4]


This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 28 February 2018.


  1. UIS Institute for Statistics, United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO)
  2. The UNESCO Arab States’ averages do not include Comoros and Somalia.
  3. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), March 2017. The Children of Yemen. Available at:
  4. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), October 25, 2017. Syria’s out-of-school children”. Available at:

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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