Kuwaiti authorities are looking to reform education, particularly the schools system, so as to furnish pupils with the skills needed in a 21st-century labour market. Education has assumed increasing importance in Kuwait, as the need to diversify the economy becomes clearer in order to maintain high standards of living. Given the country’s young population profile – 37% of Kuwaitis are below the age of 15, according to the Public Authority for Civil Information – authorities are looking to reform the standard curriculum and system to produce a highly educated, innovative workforce, with a view to assisting Kuwait’s transition to becoming a knowledge-based economy.
In November 2013, Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, stressed the need to reform education. Along with a raft of physical investments, including the construction of 100 schools for a total of $383m, the government envisages restructuring the curriculum to promote skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. In September 2013, the IMF’s latest Article IV consultation recommended enhancing the quality of Kuwait’s education and vocational training by working with private firms to provide training in the skills demanded by the private sector.
New National Framework
In November 2013, Nayef Al Hajraf, then minister of education, announced that his ministry was working on a new national framework to inform future refinement of the public school curriculum. The blueprint will define national standards for education, identify expected learning outcomes for given subjects and prescribe the teaching time each outcome is expected to take.
A separate body within the Ministry of Education, the National Centre for Educational Development, was set up in 2010 and charged with helping develop an education system that will enable Kuwait to realise its ambition of becoming a knowledge-based economy and a commercial centre. As part of its plans it aims to develop a series of education indicators that will help track the progress of educational reform, and to integrate Kuwait into the testing system of the Programme for International Student Assessment. This programme is a triennial international survey of 44 education systems undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, to measure how different education systems fare in reading, maths, science and problem solving skills.
Private School Regulations
In October 2013, the government signalled its intention to bring regulations on private schools more in line with those governing the state system. About 40% of pupils in Kuwait currently attend private institutions, though many of them are not Kuwaiti nationals. As a cost-cutting measure, the government is also considering allowing certain administrative functions in schools to be outsourced to the private sector.
For all the government’s plans to upgrade the system, the increasing popularity of private schools suggests that they may have something to teach the state system. “The government invests heavily in the public school system, with new buildings and large land plots, but fails when it comes to the training of its teachers,” said Vera Al Mutawa, director of the British School of Kuwait. “That is where the private sector differs; private schools invest heavily in their staff.”
While quality across the private sector can be patchy, many private schools in Kuwait are considered much stronger in the English-language skills that are increasingly important in today’s world. “I am confident that the Kuwaiti government will not give up on reform,” Nizar Hamzeh, president of AUK, told OBG. “The private system cannot reform the public system, though we are happy to lend our expertise if asked.”
The Kuwaiti authorities are looking to take their time in order to ensure that they have a well-designed and future-oriented education system that can be implemented without continuous subsequent adjustments. As such, while substantive measures have thus far been slow in coming, the end result is likely to alter the education system drastically, and for the better.
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