New schools are springing up across Bahrain, funded by private investors, the government and neighbouring Gulf countries. The developments represent a response to an expanding population, demand for modern facilities suited to 21st-Century teaching methods and the growth of new master-planned communities. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is hoping the new facilities will nurture higher standards and provide options for parents in both government and fee-paying schools.
DEMOGRAPHIC FACTORS: Official figures from Bahrain’s Online Data Portal and estimates from the UN Population Division (UNPD) point to population growth of 4% and 4.8% in 2016 and in 2017, respectively, with 33% of Bahrain’s population under 25. In 2016 government data estimated 47% of the kingdom’s population were Bahraini citizens whose numbers had grown by 2.6% compared to the previous year. The kingdom’s demographic growth indicators point to a growing demand for school places for citizens in government schools, but also for additional private school capacity. The expatriate population grew by about 5% between 2016 and 2017, and increasing numbers of Bahrainis are opting for a fee-paying education for their children. According to a 2016 report by Gulf Finance House (GFH), private schools educated 28% of the country’s children in 2008 and 30% in 2015, and this proportion is projected to rise to 33% by 2020.
GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS: In April 2017 the minister of education, Majid bin Ali Al Nuaimi, announced six new schools were being built and were due to open in the 2017/18 academic year. The new projects include a secondary school for girls located in Al Hunainiya, primary and intermediate schools for boys in Isa Town, an intermediate school for boys in Hamad Town, as well as primary and intermediate schools for girls in Malkiya. In Busaiteen, girls at the intermediate school are being transferred to new premises and their old building is being transformed into an intermediate school for boys.
The new facilities are being constructed using a newly developed architectural model that aims to see 10 new schools built between 2015 and 2018.
Each campus will consist of a single building with 30 to 47 classrooms, and a capacity ranging from 1000 to 1600 pupils. The new buildings will have air conditioning, lifts, Wi-Fi, science laboratories, multi-purpose halls and administrative offices. The new schools are equipped with non-slip flooring, energy-saving lighting systems, sound-proofed classrooms and electronic teaching equipment.
STATE SCHOOL FUNDING: Construction is being funded in part by the MoE itself. In 2016 BD10.4m ($27.6m) was budgeted for capital projects, and approximately BD11.7m ($31m) has been allocated for construction in 2018. Bahrain’s drive to build new schools is also being financed in part by the GCC Development Fund. In 2011, following the Arab Spring, wealthier member states of the GCC agreed to invest $10bn each in Oman and Bahrain to improve infrastructure, prospects and living conditions for citizens in the two countries. The distribution of expenditure has been overseen by national development funds in the wealthier nations. In August 2017 officials from the Saudi Development Fund met officials from Bahrain’s Ministry of Works, Municipalities and Urban Affairs to discuss progress on a number of projects, including six schools. These included Busaiteen Intermediate School for Girls, Hunainiya Secondary School for Boys and phase one Private schools educated 28% of the country’s children in 2008 and 30% in 2015, and this proportion is projected to rise to 33% by 2020 of Isa Town Elementary School for Boys. The Malkiya Elementary and Intermediate School for Girls had been completed by that point and was due to be handed over to the MoE. Also set for handover was the BD3.8m ($10m) Hamad Intermediate School for Boys, which was built by Sahara Contracting and Projects Construction on a 1.4-ha site. The new school has 30 classrooms and will be able to accommodate up to 1000 pupils. An even larger scheme funded by the Saudi Development Fund is the Jaw Comprehensive School for Girls, a BD10.8m ($28.6m) construction project being undertaken over two years by a Bahraini-Saudi consortium of Almoayyed and Al Nasma Contracting. Construction was 64% complete as of December 2017. The new school is being built on a 50,000-sq-metre site with a built-up area of 26,500 sq metres. The school will have a capacity to educate some 1440 pupils and will come equipped with laboratories, a library and 48 classrooms for the primary, intermediate and secondary levels.
DIYAR AL MUHARRAQ: A new private school has opened in the master-planned 12,000-sq-metre Diyar Al Muharraq development. In August 2017 Noor Al Diyar School was advertising for primary school and kindergarten staff for an immediate start. The school began with K-3 pupils but plans to accept students into higher years as the school expands. According to the MoE, which approved the opening of the new school in August 2017, it has capacity for 3032 students. Diyar Al Muharraq also signed agreements to develop two other facilities. The company has operated another school, located in Sitra, for two decades, offering a choice of Bahraini, British and Indian curricula. The existing school is rated as good by the BQA.
NEW SCHOOL: In June 2017 plans were unveiled for a new American school that is due to open in September 2019. It will be the first venture in Bahrain for Esol Education, a Dubai-based company with schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Egypt and Cyprus. The school will be equipped with laboratories, ICT classrooms, sports facilities and performance art spaces, and will deliver an American curriculum with the option to take the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in grades 11 and 12. The school, which will be located between Isa Town and Riffa, is poised to initially occupy a 40,000-sq-metre site, and there are plans to first open for pre-kindergarten through grade nine students. The capacity of the facility will start at 1200 pupils.
STAFFING: With new schools in both the public and private sector opening in Bahrain, the country faces an ongoing challenge in attracting and retaining teaching staff as it competes for talent with neighbouring gulf countries. GFH noted that in 2014, there were 2160 pre-primary teachers in Bahrain, but that the pupil-to-teacher ratio had crept up to 15.2, compared to a low of 15 in 2012. The report also found only 49.7% of teachers at the pre-primary level had received appropriate training in 2014, while 53% were qualified to teach in kindergartens. The pupil-to-teacher ratio improved in primary and secondary schools by about 5% each year between 2011 and 2014, according to GFH.
SCHOOL FEES: The quality, standard and cost of education in Bahrain compares favourably to its GCC neighbours. The 2015 TIMSS results showed standards in maths and science were on a par with the UAE, but significantly higher than in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Many families relocating to the region to work in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have settled in Bahrain for this reason.
Parents looking for a UK-curriculum school judged outstanding by inspectors find better value for money in Bahrain relative to either Saudi Arabia or Dubai. For example, parents enrolling children in GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai, the British International School in Riyadh, or St Christopher’s in Bahrain, would be charged fees of $11,720, $10,166 or $7930, respectively, for the pre-kindergarten year, or $25,498, $22,845 of $19,106 for the final years of secondary school. For expatriate children whose mother tongue is Arabic, Bahrain’s schools offer a free public education.
According to the latest inspection reports issued by BQA, 20% of these government schools were judged to be outstanding, however, with girls’ schools comprising the majority of those receiving top ratings at primary, intermediate and secondary level, state education may be more appealing for families with daughters than sons.
Bahrain has long recognised that the quality and value of the education it can offer to skilled expatriates with families can play a role in attracting both investment and talent to the country, and the efforts the kingdom is making to monitor school performance improves this proposition. At the same time, raising standards is helping young Bahrainis prepare to make a contribution when they graduate.
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