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Fickle politics, changing policies, delay education reforms
March 11, 2017, 4:38 pm

Despite allocating 10 to 15 percent of its recent annual budget expenditures for education; having over 840 government schools for roughly 360,000 students, or less than 500 students per school, one of the most highly paid teaching staff and a student to teacher ratio of less than 6:1, the quality of education, as revealed by international assessments, has consistently been low.

For a country that spent on average over US$14,000 per student — which is far higher than the $9,000 spent in OECD countries, or the $12,000 spent per student in the US or Australia — Kuwait has very little to proudly hold aloft in its education sector.

In the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016’, Kuwait ranked 103rd out of 140 in the quality of its primary education. The country also ranked 86th in school management; 88th in the overall quality of higher education and training, and 99th on mathematics and science education.

While there are several reasons that could be attributed to this dismal state of education, perhaps the most significant is a lack of political commitment at the highest level, as well as long-term policy consistency on much-needed reforms in the education sector.

Kuwait’s long-term development plan, the 2035 Vision, emphasizes quality education as a catalyst for economic diversification, sustainable growth and social progress. While this sound great on paper, constantly shifting policy priorities in the education sector and a lack of political support have hampered efforts to introduce and implement the required educational reforms.

It was in 2010, that then education minister Dr. Moudhi Al-Humood first initiated a series of sweeping reforms intended to revamp the education sector. The reforms were based on a conceptual framework built around key pillars that were identified as needing improvements in the country’s education system.

Implemented jointly by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the National Center for Education Development (NCED), in association with the World Bank, the long-term plan (2011-2019) titled ‘School Education Quality Improvement Technical Cooperation Program’ (SEQI TCP or TCP for short), was intended to bring about reforms needed to transform the quality of education in the country.

The overarching objective of the program was to improve the quality of schools and education in Kuwait, so as to develop internationally competitive students empowered with competencies needed to cope with 21st-century requirements.

The primary focus of the program was on curriculum enhancement and development, by introducing a competence-based curriculum in general education and developing an environment conducive to effective teaching and school leadership. It also aimed to develop national education standards and strengthen capacities and capabilities of NCED.

The first phase of the program, which concluded in March 2015, was concentrated on systemic reforms to the education system. This was achieved by providing assistance to the Ministry of Education and NCED in identifying and assessing variables associated with improving the quality of education in Kuwait. The first phase also included building technical capacity to carry out the necessary reforms, and provided guidance on the reform designs.

The second, five-year phase, which began in 2015, now focuses on implementation and capacity building. This phase is mainly geared towards implementing the reforms identified as being critical to improving teaching and learning, as well as monitoring the progress and impact of implementation on schools and students. It will also aim to strengthen the capacity of the MoE and the NCED in policy, decision-making and implementation of integrated reforms.

However, despite conclusion of the first phase in 2015, many of the outcomes hoped for, are yet to materialize. Kuwait's political environment and its revolving-door parliaments, has led to repeated changes at the highest circles in the education sector. With each new administration wanting to do things differently, the priority given to educational reforms has varied quite frequently. The end result is that many of the reforms recommend at the end of the first phase of the program still remain to be implemented effectively.

The Program Achievement Report (PAR) released by the World Bank at the end of the first-phase of the project, highlighted this fact by raising serious questions on the country's political commitment to the success and continuity of the education reform project.

The PAR report noted that during the four-year period of the first phase, the TCP witnessed six different administrations take office. This constant transition, says the report, made decision-making at the most senior level difficult, stalling decisions at key moments in the program's trajectory. This also had the negative consequence of delaying implementations and demoralizing the teams involved in the project.

Drawing lessons from the first phase of TCP, the World Bank recommended that in order for any real impact to occur, there should be sustained high-level political commitment to the education reform process. High-level support and clearly communicated national political commitment and continuity are critical from the outset for both policy reforms and project design, as well as for the sustainability of reform efforts, said the World Bank.

In October 2016, during a high-level meeting with several World Bank experts gathered to discuss progress of educational reforms in Kuwait, the then education minister Dr. Bader Al-Essa and architect of the second-phase of TCP, said, “Kuwait recognizes the need for greater emphasis on quality of education and institutional capacity, as well as the need for system-wide reforms.”

Saying that the new education program goals for 2015-2019 are set to transform Kuwait’s entire education system to one based on competence, the minister added “Kuwait needs to deeply analyze its current situation.” He called the reforms “the most important investment Kuwait can make for its future.”

But sadly, since then, following new political developments, the country has witnessed the removal of Dr. Al-Essa, and the appointment of yet another new education minister. Stakeholders in the education reform process, including schools, teachers, students and their parents, still hope and pray that the country finds the required political will to ensure reform implementations so that the national education system can achieve significant quality improvements that result in better outcomes for the country and its future generations.

- Staff Report

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