A growing population and crowded public school system have led Kuwait to move forward on a host of investments in education. The government recently launched tenders for a series of primary and secondary school construction projects while private sector contractors are poised to benefit as a university city is built.
While the nation’s population growth averaged 3.1% annually between 2000 and 2012, according to the IMF, the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) reported that 57% of Kuwaitis are currently under the age of 25. Furthermore, the IMF predicts that between 74,000 and 112,000 Kuwaitis will enter the local labour market between 2012 and 2016. Kuwait’s current population is around 3.97m, according to the PACI.
This has put significant pressure on the public education system, with the government stating this year: “The quality of existing schools is a concern to the Ministry of Education [MoE], as a number of public schools are not equipped with the latest technologies and are in poor condition. This translates into poor motivation and participation from both students and teachers.”
Policy reforms are also needed, including a legal framework that will allow both public and private schools to address ongoing staff shortages. A pilot project launched in conjunction with the World Bank will see public school curricula revamped, but long-term policy reforms regarding foreign teachers are still needed if the state is to keep pace with regional peers.
Private support for public schools
In March, Kuwait’s Partnerships Technical Bureau (PTB) and the MoE issued a request for expressions of interest to build nine schools under the Kuwait Schools Development Programme. The project, which will be offered to private firms under a design, build, finance, operate and maintenance contract, will see the construction of five kindergartens, three elementary schools and one middle school, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool and staff accommodation. The PTB expects to announce pre-qualified bidders before the end of the year.
This follows the government unveiling its executive development strategy for public education last year, as well as plans to build new schools and educational facilities in 2014 in a bid to increase private sector participation.
Tertiary education upgrades are also in the pipeline. On August 2, trade publication Construction Weekly Online reported that work on the 6-sq-km Sabah Al Salem University City – set to become Kuwait University’s primary campus – was well under way at a site 10 km south of Kuwait City.
The $3bn project will include a 18,000-sq-metre campus for men and 26,000-sq-metre female campus, with buildings to be equipped with advanced low-voltage systems and an array of audio-visual equipment, enabling the city to become one of the most technologically progressive in the region. At the same time, the Kuwait Development Plan, which runs from 2010 to 2035, includes KD108.9m ($382.51m) for MoE projects, including the construction of 100 new public schools.
Beyond bricks and mortar
Although these schools will be a welcome addition to the state’s public education sector, stakeholders including the IMF have stressed that the Kuwait should also move forward on policy reforms aimed at improving the quality of education.
In April 2013 the MoE partnered with the World Bank to launch a pilot project in 48 schools across the state called the National Curriculum Framework. This includes the development of a national curriculum, targeting a reduction in absenteeism as well as improving standards more generally in the school environment. The curriculum is to be implemented in the next two or three years and will require intensive teacher training.
While policies aimed at enhancing teacher performance will go a long way towards improving public education, other stakeholders have argued that the problem lies in attracting and retaining foreign teachers to meet growing demand. Expatriate staff are estimated to account for 84% of the labour market, but Kuwait is set to reduce the number of foreign workers by 1m from 2013 to 2023 at a rate of 100,000 per year.
The MoE recently announced it was easing restrictions on hiring foreign teachers in an effort to combat the staffing shortage, allowing foreign instructors to teach at public schools for the first time in the 2013/14 school year. But should staffing policies remain unchanged and plans to reduce expatriate labourers come to fruition, Kuwait’s school staffing shortages will likely persist into the long-term.