EXPANDING THE HORIZONS

Kuwait 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

Despite declines in government expenditures across a number of areas, education remains a key priority for the Kuwaiti government.

Kuwait is in the midst of an educational transformation that seeks to improve standards, outcomes, and methods across a number of different areas. The country's Integrated Education Reform Program seeks to reimagine the way Kuwait approaches education, creating an environment that consistently produces students capable of entering the new global workforce.

In line with the country's vast ambitions, the government has dedicated a huge percentage of its resources to education. According to the Central Bank of Kuwait, the government's annual expenditure on education grew at 14.8% a year between 2010 and 2014, approaching USD9 billion in 2014, a figure that represents 16.2% of the government's total spending. Steady progress has been made in the country's literacy rate over the last 10 years, and the most recently available statistics put the national rate at 94.7% for women and 96.71% for men.
With basic education lasting 14 years and broken into four distinct levels—kindergarten (two years), primary (five years), intermediate (four years), and secondary (three years)—Kuwaiti schoolchildren are subject to an intensive schooling program. According to the Central Statistical Bureau of Kuwait, there were 606 primary and secondary schools educating nearly 376,000 students in the 2015/2016 school year. The sector boasts almost 65,000 teachers, of which almost 25,000 are foreign nationals. The net enrollment rate for Kuwaiti students in primary education has remained fairly stable over the last five years, and in the 2015/2016 school year it sat at 96.4%. Similarly, the net enrollment rate for Kuwaitis in intermediate education was 96.1% and secondary education was 86.6%.

According to the 2016/2017 Global Competitiveness Index, Kuwait has improved in a number of key areas. It ranked 103rd in quality of primary education, 88th in primary education enrollment rate, 68th in secondary education enrollment rate, 90th in tertiary education enrollment rate, 86th in quality of education system, 105th in quality of math and science education, 92nd in quality of management schools, 91st in internet access in schools, 113th in local availability of specialized training services, and 80th in staff training. Each of these areas has been the recipient of sizable levels of investment in recent years, and the Kuwait government is dedicated to ensuring that tangible progress continues to be made in every category. Despite these efforts, however, certain budgetary pressures have kept the sector from achieving all of its goals.

In order to improve its outcomes and ensure that is working as effectively as it can, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education has partnered with the World Bank to create a comprehensive plan of action. The plan establishes clear steps for improving the Kuwaiti education system in a number of core areas. According to the Arab Times, the World Bank and the Ministry of Education have identified a host of obstacles that had been impeding the proper implementation of the Kuwaiti reforms, and the government is working to ensure areas like teacher training and student assessment are improved.

As education has come more and more to the fore, there has been a renewed emphasis on alternative methods and private schools. There has been a surge in the number of international schools operating across the GCC, and Kuwait has also seen a sizable increase in the quantity of these institutions. In an exclusive interview with TBY, David Botbyl, Superintendent of the American International School, described some of the difficulties schools like his are facing in the newly competitive environment, noting that the abundance of schools and dearth of teachers has made hiring difficult. “It becomes quite competitive at times,” said Botbyl. “With tuition increases stagnant in Kuwait, the outlook in attracting highly effective teachers is challenging.” Despite this competition for the best staff, however, Botbyl stressed that the main focus is quality education. “There are competitors, but we also have the same goals and objectives, and we have to keep working closely together to achieve our common goals to do better for the kids and better for the country.” In an exclusive interview with TBY, Russel Byrne, Co-founder & CEO of Education Consortium, echoed the assessment that the Kuwaiti private education sector is more fiercely competitive than ever before. “A lot of new education businesses are coming up,” said Byrne. “I love the competition, as it will make the market stronger.”

At the tertiary level, Kuwait University is the only public university in the country, though plans are in the pipeline for establishing another university, the Jaber al-Ahmed University. In the 2015/2016 school year, there were nearly 38,000 students enrolled at Kuwait University, of which almost three-quarters were women. There are a total of nine private universities in Kuwait with a combined enrollment of 25,542 students, according to National Bureau of Statistics. While enrollment rates for tertiary education lag behind other countries in region, new curricula aimed at instilling real-world knowledge are expected to draw more students into universities.

Many universities across Kuwait have developed a dual-emphasis curriculum that focuses on both a practical education, thereby preparing students to enter the workforce, and a rigorous theoretical training, allowing them to reshape and contribute in significant ways to their chosen fields. Institutions of higher education are focused on producing real value for their students, and they have crafted an environment that can allow the newest generation of Kuwaitis to prosper in the 21st century global economy. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Prof. Nizar Hamzeh, President of the American University of Kuwait, described the four levels of collaboration between the university and the private sector: business incubators for students, internships and practical training programs, business sponsorship for student programs, and consultancy. This robust industry-oriented preparation allows students to effectively transfer their knowledge into the workplace, creating value that has far-reaching social and economic implications.

In fact, this focus on long-term value creation does not begin only in university. Kuwait students are encouraged from as early as secondary school to consider the ways they might change and contribute to the social and commercial landscape of their country and region. Russel Byrne, Co-founder & CEO of the Education Consortium, has made it a mission of his organization to offer free entrepreneurship courses to all students in grades 9,10, 11, and 12. “The truth is the most students today have an entrepreneurialism about them,” said Byrne. “Our role is to empower these chosen few to become successful, fully-fledged entrepreneurs.” As public and private schools and universities continue to make strides in developing the education landscape of Kuwait, hopes are high that the country will become a regional leader in the near future. With passionate contributions coming from many different stakeholders, the system is expected improve greatly in coming years.