In a world driven by the enduring forces of globalization and technological progress, education is crucial. It unleashes a child’s potential, builds healthier societies, boosts economic growth and fosters peace, according to a study by the Global Partnership for Education, a global organization that aims to dramatically increase the number of children who are in school and learning.
The United Nation’s 2030 sustainable development agenda, which 193 world leaders signed up to in September 2015, outlines 17 sustainable development goals. From ending extreme poverty through to ensuring gender equality, developing clean energy, and eradicating hunger, education is essential to the success of all 17 of those objectives.
Education is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, around the world an estimated 263 million children and young people were out of school for the school year 2013-14. Even more are unable to read, write or count.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: “Countries have promised to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2030… Our focus must be on inclusion from the earliest age and right through the learning cycle, (and) on policies that address the barriers at every stage, with special attention to girls – who still face the greatest disadvantage.”
The UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that 25 million – or 41 percent – of the world’s out-of-school children of primary school age have never attended school. If current trends continue, they will probably reach adulthood without completing a single day of education.
Progress in the Middle East
While there is still much to do to make education a universal experience for all children in the MENA region, there is little doubt that progress is being made.
According to the World Bank, the average level of schooling across the MENA region quadrupled in the 54 years between 1960 and 2014. The adult literacy rate has risen from 59 percent in 1990 to 78 percent in 2010, and MENA governments invest an average of more than 5.3 percent of GDP in funding public education.
Saudi Arabia itself appears to be performing well. Between 2008 and 2012, the youth (15-24 years old) literacy rate for males was 99 percent, while 97 percent of females reached the same threshold.
However, challenges remain across the region, and indeed, the globe. In Western Asia, which includes the Middle East and parts of North Africa, 11 percent of primary-age children are out of school, rising to 16 percent at lower secondary age and 33 percent at upper secondary age. At each of these age groups, significantly more females are missing out on education.
There are also opportunities to improve the quality of education available to those attending school, and as well as doing more to ensure new graduates are ready for the rapidly changing workplace.
Introducing the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Laboratory
As part of its determined drive to strengthen communities and increase living standards in Saudi Arabia, the MENA region, and the rest of the world, Abdul Latif Jameel has unveiled a ground-breaking initiative designed to address the challenges of education and “spark a global renaissance in education for all learners”.
Launched in May 2017, the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Laboratory (J-WEL) is a partnership between Community Jameel and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). By bringing together educators, technologists, policy-makers and societal leaders, J-WEL aims to reinvent primary and secondary education, renew higher education, and revitalize workplace learning.
Fady Mohammed Jameel, President of Community Jameel International, said: “Education and learning are fundamental to a strong society and economy. They promote employment and create increased opportunity for all – all central pillars of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.”
“While there has been progress made in improving education, there is always more that can be done. Enabling individuals to reach their full potential, whatever their background, is a key priority for Community Jameel, and one on which we look forward to collaborating with the educational community in Saudi Arabia.”
Change in Education at Scale
J-WEL aims to be an incubator for change in education at scale, developing a collaborative network of universities, nations, governments, foundations, and other organizations that will work together to revamp approaches to education. It will also provide models for extending that change to the realms of primary and secondary education, higher education, and workplace learning.
A guiding focus of J-WEL will be learners in the developing world, populations under-served by education such as women and girls, a growing displaced population that includes refugees, and a workforce in need of STEM knowledge and skills (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering). Through J-WEL, MIT can provide unprecedented access to high-quality curriculum, pedagogical resources, and learning tools that, alongside policy research, will help address the inequities in global education.
J-WEL will be an entity within MIT’s open education and learning initiatives.
It will be led by Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s Vice President for Open Learning, and aims to be operational by September 2017.
“Through J-WEL, we will forge new and long-lasting collaborations as we learn, share, and train together,” said Sarma. “To borrow an idea expressed by philosophers and educators across the centuries: J-WEL will help to spark fires in students’ minds, and enable educators to spark solutions to their communities’ most demanding challenges.”
J-WEL’s approach will be focused on eight different objectives, including sharing evidence-based research on learning, redesigning schools and programs, developing learning tools and technologies, and informing best practices and policy in education worldwide.
M.S. Vijay Kumar, MIT’s Associate Dean of Digital Learning, will serve as J-WEL’s executive director.
Together for Good – an Ongoing Partnership
J-WEL is not Abdul Latif Jameel’s first initiative with MIT. The two organizations have been working together for a number of years, determined to bring about measurable and considerable change for the betterment of the world at large.
In 2003, the two partners joined forces to launch the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). This focuses on research, policy outreach and training, in a bid to reduce poverty worldwide by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence. More than 300 million people have been reached by programs tested and found to be effective through J-PAL evaluations.
More recently, the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) was launched at MIT in 2014, with the aim of promoting, coordinating and leading research related to water and food security that has an international impact.
MIT President L. Rafael Reif, recently visited Saudi Arabia on a trip organized by Community Jameel. Reif said: “For years, Community Jameel’s commitment to finding practical solutions to complex global problems has inspired all of us at MIT. We are grateful to Community Jameel for their vision, their partnership, and their unwavering dedication to making a better world.”
A priority focus for Community Jameel
As well as the new J-WEL initiative, Community Jameel already has a proud history of empowering educators around the world. Its stated mission – “We give people the power to improve their lives and the lives of those around them” – is based around six key areas, one of which is Education and Training.
Formed in 2003, Community Jameel believes that “education and training are two of the most important pillars in achieving positive social impact, and to build sustainable communities for current and future generations”.
Three of its programs have both harnessed and highlighted the ongoing power of education. In 2009, Community Jameel was a founding member of INJAZ Saudi Arabia working in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the National Commercial Bank and Savola Group to train students and prepare them for the transition into working life. In just two years this grew into a self-sustaining organization, and Community Jameel remains a member of Junior Achievements worldwide (JA), the world’s largest non-profit organisation specifically designed to focus on young people in school and their first year at university.
The Abdul Latif Jameel Toyota Endowed Scholarship was launched in 1995, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to make it possible for ambitious and gifted young people from Middle Eastern and Asian countries to study at this esteemed institution when they would otherwise be unable to do so due to financial constraints. Students are hand-picked based on their ability, dedication, and potential and supported through their studies to achieve their professional goals. Since inception, the program has granted scholarships to more than 100 students of different nationalities and graduates have pursued careers in architecture, economics, electrical engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and aviation sciences.
“Thank you for the opportunity you have granted me by supporting my studies at MIT through the Abdul Latif Jameel/Toyota Endowed Scholarship Fund. Growing up in a middle class family in the Moroccan Sahara I have come to appreciate the value of education, not only in paving the way for my personal and intellectual growth, but also in allowing me to be in a better position to make a positive impact in my community. I hope in the future that I will be in a position to pay it forward by helping other students achieve their goals just as you have helped me.”
Abdul Latif Jameel/Toyota Scholar
MIT Class of 2019
Bab Rizq Jameel, the job opportunities creation arm of Community Jameel, also offers exciting education, training and employment opportunities to Saudi Arabia’s youth. Some have been given the chance to learn new media skills through writing and sports journalism programs, as part of Abdul Latif Jameel’s sponsorship of the Saudi Professional Football League, known universally as ‘Dawry Jameel” (Jameel League in Arabic). Bab Rizq Jameel also helps young Saudis access employment opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach. “Bab Rizq has created 3,500 stadium jobs since our sponsorship of Dawry Jameel began,” said Martin Copus, Head of Sponsorship at Abdul Latif Jameel. “We also have a program with Saudi orphans who are involved as player escorts, and we recently required our events agencies to include Bab Rizq employees in the field crew for any on-field activities we run.”
The role of education in the development of strong economies, thriving societies and peaceful international relations is now unquestionable. With the launch of J-WEL, Abdul Latif Jameel, Community Jameel and MIT are committed to working together towards improving access to education and raising educational standards around the world.
 263 million children and youth are out of school from primary to upper secondary, UNESCO, July 2016.
 263 million children and youth are out of school from primary to upper secondary, UNESCO, July 2016.