Time for an upgrade: Reforms appear challenging, but necessary

Following a pilot study, in March 2010 the Kuwaiti government considered extending school hours across the country. This led to furious denunciations of Moudhi Al Humoud, the former minister of education and higher education, claiming she risked destroying Kuwait’s education standards. Six months later the Kuwait Teachers Association followed up on its criticism by urging members to sign petitions against the proposal.

STANDARDS IN FOCUS: The incident serves as a reminder that the path to educational reform in the country is likely to be bumpy. However, many of those involved in the private education sector say such reforms should certainly be considered. “I think there is generally a consensus that an increase in school hours can lead to better results,” said Nasser Al Khaled, the chairman of private education provider Al Rayan Holding Company. “School hours aside, there is no clear government programme on education reform. Despite its proud history, the public education system has been deteriorating over the years because of a lack in school capacity and insufficient investment in infrastructure.”

In July 2009 the World Bank warned the government to reform its education system or risk having its high school certificates become unaccredited and unrecognised by academic institutions worldwide. According to the World Bank, the state sector provided an average of just 528 teaching hours over the 2005/06 academic year, far below the 800-hour average of primary education per year expected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

REFORM EFFORTS: To answer its critics, the government has devised a new strategy to modernise state schools and develop new and relevant curricula. Funding for the changes comes from the KD30bn ($108.2bn) National Development Plan. Part of the plan has an increased focus on information technology (IT), with the New Technology Infrastructure Project aimed at further spreading IT use in schools via e-education tools like cloud computing centres and databases serving both students and teachers. Laptops for every student, active smartboards for teachers and a new educational TV station are also planned.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) currently relies on international consultants to improve the curricula they offer. Following the criticism about extending school hours, another sensitive subject has been the retraining of teachers and other staff in line with the new e-education system. Some say this action is coming just in time. “One of the main problems in the public sector is the lack of good teachers,” Al Khaled told OBG.

Speaking at a school in Ahmadi in March 2011, the assistant education undersecretary Mona Al Loghani told the audience that the ministry “will focus on evaluating various teachers so that weak ones can be subjected to extensive training to develop their skills”. The ministry has set up a comprehensive quality project, assessing the skills of individual teachers.

DEMOGRAPHIC DEMANDS: Kuwait knows it must act fast to meet the needs of its increasing population of secondary school students. In higher education, steps are being taken by public and private educational institutes to involve private firms in vocational training.

School-aged Kuwaitis number some 426,000, or 40% of the total population, according to the most recent census data in 2005. This is much higher than the average for OECD countries, including France at 21% and Germany at 18%. This demographic challenge, mirrored elsewhere in the region, is a key issue to consider in terms of ensuring that graduates are able to fully participate in the state’s long-term economic progress.

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The Report: Kuwait 2012

Health and Education chapter from The Report: Kuwait 2012

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