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The current literature on education reform is mainly reflective of a Western experience of education. Most, if not all, of the current education literature emphasizes the importance of teacher quality, and changing what takes place in the classroom in order to achieve better results (Fenton Whelan 2009). However, given the current structure of education systems in the Middle East, improving teacher quality and changing what happens in the classroom will not be sufficient, as these efforts will face a variety of bottlenecks embedded within the current system structure. This policy brief explores the obstacles to education reform in the MENA region, using curricular reform efforts in the UAE and Jordan as case studies. It argues that education reform efforts in the region need to be treated differently, and that certain contextual and defining factors must be taken into consideration in order to affect any real change. These contextual factors include the incentive structures embodied in high-stakes entrance exams; the effect of foreign actors on the direction and momentum of reform efforts; the lack of continuity that forces agents of reform—whether foreign or local—to continuously stop and restart their reform efforts; and, the misallocation of limited resources. The brief concludes by providing a number of policy recommendations.

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