NEW YORK // Queen Rania of Jordan has urged Arab governments to improve education for young people in a region where six million children are kept out of the classroom and more than a quarter of adults - as many as 60 million people - are illiterate.
In her contribution to a new UN report, the Jordanian royal said violence and instability keep more than 500,000 Iraqi primary-school-age children out of school, while the number of Palestinian youngsters being denied an education has grown to 110,000.
Unesco's 2011 global monitoring report, The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, made public yesterday, reveals that 28 million children worldwide are denied an education by attacks on schools, violence and intimidation.
Queen Rania's views are expressed in an essay in the 417-page study.
"Conflict is as insidious as it is deadly," she writes. "Not only does it destroy livelihoods today, it destroys livelihoods tomorrow by denying children an education," Queen Rania wrote in the annual report of the UN's education agency, Unesco.
"Once back in school, devastating childhood traumas impact their ability to learn and cope with the world. The effects can ripple on for generations … we must address the poverty, social exclusion, and lack of opportunity brought about by conflict."
Unesco's report highlights some gains in the Arab world, where officials have improved girls' access to schools and reduced the number of children out of primary schools from more than 9 million in 1999 to more than 6 million in 2008.
Yet despite some of the world's highest levels of education spending, the number of children out of school is falling too slowly to meet UN targets and another 1.9 million teachers are needed by 2015 to create primary school places for all children.
"Bringing education to conflict zones brings hope to millions of children who have never known peace. It brings opportunity to countries that are desperate for growth and prosperity," said Queen Rania.
"In short, education is our saving grace, our best chance, and our one shot to bring security and development to all humanity."
Weak education systems and soaring youth unemployment rates, which are as high as 34 per cent in parts of North Africa, have been linked to protests across the Arab world that have toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
Unesco researchers count some 60 million adult illiterates across the region, 28 per cent of the population. Egypt, with almost 18 million illiterate adults in 2006, had the region's highest number and accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the regional total.
Queen Rania said conflict is one of the biggest threats to education, citing the 298 schools damaged or destroyed by Israel's 2008-2009 onslaught in Gaza, and the closure of all 725 schools in Yemen's Saada region during the 2009-2010 al Houthi uprising.
Researchers also assessed education quality in peaceful Arab countries. After four years in primary school, the majority of Moroccan pupils had not acquired basic reading skills, the report says. Even in Gulf states such as Qatar and Kuwait pupils perform far worse than in comparably wealthy countries.
Kevin Watkins, the report's author, blames education failures on an "atrophied political system governed by complacent, self-interested elites" that is being called into question as protesters from Morocco to Yemen take to the streets.
"Autocracy and bureaucracy have combined to create a generation of youth lacking hope for a better future," Mr Watkins said. "Youth and children are an asset. The political challenge is to harness that asset through democratic reform and an agenda for education and employment.
"Rulers who fail to respond to that challenge face the prospect of being swept from power - and rightly so."