Written by Uzair Ahmad Saleem
Bahrain has the oldest public education system in the Arabian Peninsula, dating back to 1919 when the first public school for boys was established. Since then, the country has made significant progress in expanding access and improving quality of education for both citizens and non-citizens.
According to data from the 2010 census, the literacy rate of Bahrain stands at 94.6% and as of 2016, education expenditure accounts for 2.7% of Bahrain’s GDP. However, despite these achievements, Bahrain still faces some challenges in its education sector.
The Ministry of Education has been implementing a comprehensive curriculum reform since 2015, aiming to align the learning outcomes with the 21st century skills and competencies.
The reform covers all levels of education from kindergarten to secondary, and introduces new subjects such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation.
However, some stakeholders have expressed concerns about the adequacy of teacher training, assessment methods and learning resources for the new curriculum.
Equity and inclusion
Bahrain has made efforts to promote equity and inclusion in its education system, such as providing free education for all students in public schools, offering scholarships and financial aid for higher education, and supporting students with special needs and disabilities. However, some groups still face barriers to access and participate in education, such as low-income families, migrant workers’ children, refugees, and asylum seekers.
According to a UNICEF report, only 65% of migrant children in Bahrain are enrolled in primary school, compared to 98% of Bahraini nationals. Migrant children may face language and cultural barriers, as well as legal and financial constraints.
“We need more recognition and protection for the rights of migrant children,” said Ali Al-Aradi, a human rights lawyer and a member of Migrant Workers Protection Society. “We need more scholarships and subsidies for migrant children who want to pursue higher education. We need more integration and dialogue between migrant communities and Bahraini society.”
Children in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school than children in urban areas, due to the lack of transportation, schools, and teachers in remote areas. According to a report by the World Bank, the dropout rate for rural students was 9.4% in 2015-16, compared to 6.8% for urban students. The report also found that rural schools have lower student-teacher ratios, lower teacher qualifications, and lower student achievement than urban schools. Moreover, some issues of gender disparity persist, especially at the higher levels of education where female students outnumber male students.
Bahrain has established a National Authority for Qualifications and Quality Assurance of Education and Training (QQA) in 2008, which is responsible for evaluating and accrediting educational institutions and programs in the country. The QQA also conducts national examinations for students at different stages of education.
However, some challenges remain in ensuring consistency and transparency of the quality assurance processes, as well as addressing the gaps between the QQA standards and the international benchmarks.
Innovation and research
Bahrain has a vision to become a knowledge-based economy that fosters innovation and research. To this end, the country has invested in developing its higher education sector, establishing new universities and colleges, both public and private, and encouraging partnerships with international institutions. However, some challenges remain in enhancing the quality and relevance of higher education programs, increasing the research output and impact, and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among students and faculty.
These challenges require concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the education sector, including the government, educators, parents, students, civil society and the private sector. Some of the possible solutions include:
Strengthening teacher development
Teachers are key agents of change in any education system. Therefore, it is essential to provide them with continuous professional development opportunities that enhance their pedagogical skills and knowledge of the new curriculum. Moreover, it is important to improve their working conditions and incentives, such as salaries, career progression and recognition.
Enhancing stakeholder engagement
Education is a shared responsibility that requires collaboration and dialogue among all stakeholders. Therefore, it is vital to create platforms and mechanisms that allow for effective communication and feedback among the Ministry of Education, QQA, educational institutions, teachers’ unions, parents’ associations, student councils and other relevant actors.
Promoting social cohesion
Education can play a role in fostering social cohesion and harmony among different groups in society. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the curriculum reflects the diversity and values of Bahraini culture and history, as well as promotes tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions. Moreover, it is important to provide equal opportunities for all students to access quality education regardless of their background or circumstances.
Supporting innovation ecosystems
Innovation ecosystems are networks of actors that collaborate to generate new ideas and solutions for societal challenges. Therefore, it is essential to support the development of such ecosystems in Bahrain by providing funding, infrastructure, mentoring, and policy support for research and innovation activities in education and other sectors. Moreover, it is important to encourage the linkages between academia, industry, government, and civil society, as well as the participation of students and faculty in innovation competitions, exhibitions, and events.
As one of the leading education activists in Bahrain said: “Education is not only about acquiring knowledge and skills; it is also about shaping our identity, values, and vision for the future. We need an education system that prepares our youth for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.”
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