Bahrain: Reforming education

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Curriculum development and a new qualifications framework are essential components of Bahrain’s improvements to its education system and take into account the changing needs of the Kingdom’s economy and society. On January 8, the local press reported that the education ministry was calling for the formation of a commission to review all school curricula, bringing in international experts to advise on reform.

The minister of education, Majed Al Nuaimi, said that the aim was to examine all school courses and if necessary reshape them to promote students’ development of critical thinking, dialogue skills, problem solving and tolerance. The move is part of Bahrain’s ongoing programme of enhancing and modernising its education system, and the ministry will be working with international partners, including UNESCO and leading foreign educational institutions.

Enhancing the education system’s nurturing of students’ so-called soft skills has been a government priority for some time, as has the related aim of developing critical thinking skills. In common with several other Gulf states, and indeed countries across the world, Bahrain is shifting from a system based on rote-learning to a more nuanced and pupil-focused model which seeks to do more than just impart knowledge.

Soft skills include discussion and communication, the ability to present ideas in public, team building, and problem solving, and thus are inherently linked to a critical approach to learning. These behavioural competences bring a number of benefits, not least in the workplace. With Bahrain looking to diversify its output, build up knowledge-intensive sectors and increase the proportion of jobs held by its citizens, all in a globalised and competitive economy, the importance of soft skills among the young is difficult to overstate.

Another key plank of educational reform is the development and implementation of the Bahrain Qualifications Framework (BQF), which is expected to improve the reliability, consistency and standardisation of educational and professional qualifications.

In November, Tamkeen, a semi-autonomous government-backed organisation with a mandate to develop the local workforce, announced that it had completed the design phase of the BQF in cooperation with the Scottish Qualification Authority, its international partner.

While Tamkeen has been responsible for the development of the BQF, the implementation of the framework will be handled by the Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET), an independent national organisation that was set up in 2008 to review all education and training institutions in Bahrain and to prepare and carry out national examinations. In October, the board of directors of the QAAET announced that they had endorsed a proposal to transfer the BQF from Tamkeen to the QAAET.

According to Tamkeen, the BQF “aims to establish a single, coherent easy-to-understand award system for all levels of education and training in the Kingdom”. Whereas Bahrain at present has no national standard for evaluating academic, vocational and professional qualifications, the BQF will bring clarity and coherence by establishing a universal 10-tier framework.

Each tier is defined by specified standards of knowledge, skill and competence, including, but not limited to, the attainment of certain levels of formal education. For example, according to the draft BQF, holding a bachelor’s degree corresponds to tier 8.

The new system is expected to bring manifold benefits. To employers, the transparent and straightforward BQF will make it easier to determine the level of skills and education held by employees and job applicants. In addition, it will provide a clear path of educational and vocational progression for students and those looking to enter or re-enter the workforce.

The authorities also hope that the BQF will encourage more Bahrainis to enter vocational education by creating a more obvious course of career progression for vocational students and guaranteeing the standards of courses. The new system could also generally boost the level of quality of education. For a course to be included in the qualifications framework, it must first undergo a validation process that will be carried out by QAAET using pre-established criteria.

Officials at QAAET told OBG that the next two years will be a transitional phase for the BQF, as local educational institutions review the framework and determine the appropriate classification for their courses and programmes. The authority will then assess these recommendations and determine final placement in the BQF.

Bahrain’s efforts to improve its already good education system involve a number of factors, including investment, greater international and private participation, and teacher training. Curriculum development, going hand-in-hand with an enhanced, more transparent assessment of educational and professional qualifications, is being seen as no less important.

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