Reforming Education

I attended the official launch of the “Implementation of the national Education Reform Initiatives” this morning at Al-Hedaya school in Muharraq, the home of formal education in Bahrain which started in 1919, where I listened to various officials explaining the steps to be taken almost immediately to reform education in Bahrain in the clear belief that:

The Bahraini people are our nation’s most valuable resource. Investing in education helps to develop our people and is one of the most important commitments we can make as a country. A well educated population is the best guarantee of Bahrain’s future success.

In implementing these initiatives which touch on all aspects of education; the government has sought expertise and council from various educational specialists and institutions from around the world, specifically from The National Institute of Education from Singapore and Nord Anglia from the UK on the schools program; The Department of Education from the State of Victoria in Australia and Polytechnics International New Zealand (PINZ) for vocational programs and the Australian University Quality Agency to benchmark and act as a quality assurance agent for the Higher Education program.

What this actually means (and I’m continuing to largely quote from the booklet I received at the conference) for teachers and principals is the expectation of better training and will be given the credit and prestige they deserve. Students and parents can expect a marked improvement in the teaching methods which should stimulate them to better learning experiences which in turn will prepare them for higher education in a to-be-built polytechnic or university with the clear vision that they are being prepared for the job markets.

Continuous educational monitors of both schools and students by a Quality Assurance Authority – which is said to be an independent body – will give the community better confidence in the education system and its graduates.

Employers can expect that their new recruits are better suited – educationally – from what we currently are used to; while for the country these initiatives are an investment that will greatly aid in the further development and expansion of the economy.

These are very high standards and are well thought out; therefore, I do hope that now that the theory is in place, execution will not be the whole plan’s downfall. And as you know, the devil is in the details, details that I am not privy to of course, but do hope that they have been taken into consideration.

There is no doubt that the man overseeing these initiatives, Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak, is more than capable of managing this huge project. With his vast experience in helping run the country since independence, he has handled quite a number of as big if not bigger projects which have flourished under his guardianship.

I have no doubt either, in the man behind all of these reforms who is as able and has amply demonstrated his capability of thinking outside the box; aided by excellent people at the EDB.

What I do worry about; however, is that it will largely be the very same people who are entrenched in the Ministry of Education who will largely be tasked to run such a project! The main objection there is that this is a “new company” with a “new mentality” and “goals”, all three are very foreign to the way the Ministry’s demonstratable thinking!

Let’s review what we know (as a community) of the Ministry:

  • Its minister has a doctorate in military planning and strategy, rather than education, that doesn’t mean that he is incapable of understanding what needs to be done at this stage, nor does that reflect badly on his position within the ministry, but I would have thought that with a project like this, the ownership would have been given to a more appropriate person who has the necessary experience at this critical juncture. A name that pops to mind is Dr. Al-Hashimi who originally ran the polytechnic and then the university.
  • For the large part – let me repeat that, for the large part – those who become teachers are the drop-outs, the bottom of the barrel 50 – 70-percenters average local university graduates whose only tenuous connection with education is the requirement of a job to keep the growing family fed. They – again, for the large part – probably constitute 75% or more of the educational cadre! Pray what are you going to do with those people? Unless the government is prepared to fire them then there is no hope in these initiatives. Retraining them – while commendable – will probably be a waste of time. They should get more motivated educators and pay them handsomely to replace the dead-wood.
  • The Ministry has had decades running the educational establishments, one would be forgiven to think that if they had anything in them, anything good at all, it would have come to the surface already. And now they are a key partner in “this investment in education which will be well directed to produce quality outcomes and will underpin the economic expansion that is vital to the future of the Bahraini people”? Gimme a break, what they most probably will do is what they have done over the past generation; and that is produce indifferent outcomes who will continue to be jobless and clueless as to what the country’s economy requires.

I suggest that if this program is to really succeed, it would be folly to depend on a decrepit ministry whose methods and methodology is distilled in keeping kids off the streets until the age of 18 then releasing them to uncertain futures.

Of course they cannot be ignored! I am not suggesting that these initiatives should run completely independently of the Ministry of Education; nor am I suggesting for an instant that it is completely void of good and caring people! It is practically impossible to run these initiatives without the direct cooperation with the Ministry, what I am suggesting is that the leadership of these projects should never be given to them, they should be given to independent educational institutions rather, or even the private sector, with the QAA overseeing the whole process. Starting almost afresh is better than trying to retool an already decaying machine.

I would say that the EDB should probably take direct ownership of these schemes, they have demonstrated their acumen and professionalism countless times that I think them running this project will bode well to its eventual success.

Let me end this on another optimistic note; the following picture was taken a couple of hours ago on the way back to the office:

Bahraini government school wall

No, this is not a prison wall; it belongs to a local intermediate boys’ school. The wrought-ironwork atop the wall is a new addition – I watched them install it a few months ago. I’ll leave it to you to decide what its function is. But my contribution to these extremely important initiatives is my suggestion to demolish all school perimeter walls! Students should want to go to school and should want to stay at school of their own volition. If they choose not to be there then that situation must be treated between the school and the home and laws should be put in place to deal with truants.

Basically, the whole concept of education should be re-evaluated and be based on critical thinking, on non-regurgitating concepts taught and most certainly should not depend on the three-Rs to impart knowledge.

Good luck to the scheme. I fully support it, with the provisos and concerns I have listed above.


  1. H.

    Umm… The ironwork railings are bent towards the outside in the picture. So, am I mistaken or are they trying to keep students out rather than in?

    I think that’s too dumb for a ministry of education..

  2. 5 O's and no A's

    You have some hope Mahmood. The old cadres in the Ministry will spend all their time fighting over the budget, awarding all sorts of contracts to vested interests – like the Future Schools Project and E books and generally defending their particular patches. If you ask me they should really grasp the bull by the horns and privatise the lot ( at least the Secondary school sector) and give 100% grants to studious pupils.

    What hope is there if the current Ministry cannot even teach Bahrainis to respect their society and to stop throwing litter out of their car windows!!!!

  3. Post

    What hope is there if the current Ministry cannot even teach Bahrainis to respect their society and to stop throwing litter out of their car windows!!!!

    that surely is the job of the parents! Whilst I hold the Ministry of Education for a lot of ills, I cannot, in good conscience, throw this at them too!

    am I mistaken or are they trying to keep students out rather than in?

    Nope, you got it. the idea, I discovered, was that a lot of students prefer not to be present at morning assembly, so they delay coming to school a bit and then come and jump the wall. This is the school’s administration’s idea of fixing the problem!

  4. Samrah

    For the past few years the ministry of education did manage to surprise us between now and then with many of its initiatives to reform education in Bahrain, but unfortunately we have not seen positive results. I think it is all propaganda for the minister and his people over there. Since the establishment of this ministry not ONE of the ministers who have been appointed there is an educationist, who knows what education is all about, that is why we are spending millions without getting anything in return. Ministry of education needs some one with a vision and a passion for education.
    To tell you the truth I am not optimistic at all and I have lost my trust in our education system long time ago.

  5. Post

    Samrah that’s why 27% of students in Bahrain go to private schools. The ones we send ours to just uplifted their fees by another 12% and they promise to uplift again next year by 13%!

    Is there any alternative do you think other than to shut up and take it, especially as our own Ministry of Education actually happily sanctions these increases without referring back to parents?

  6. Salman

    When i was in private school, my school aimed at educating us. We learned more in 8th grade than students do in the science major in government high schools. But now they have become more business orientated than what they started out as.

    If anyone knew Dr. Clement Felix, who was the principal of the New Indian School until 1997 i believe, would know the difference between him, and Gopalin, the current idiot who runs the school.

    It used to be 20BD a month when i was there, i don’t know how much it is now. But for the education you got for that mere 20BD, you would think you were in university by the time you reached your last 3 years doing your CBSE.

    Mahmood, any reason why they increased the prices so much? You should work for the UN you know, they will refund you 75% of the course fees for every child at the end of the academic year :mrgreen:

  7. Ibn

    All in all good news – I wish Arab school syllabuses would also concentrate more on art, music, sports and history than the plain old natural sciences as seems to be the case.


  8. doncox

    One important thing is the practical side of education. That is, there must be well equipped science labs, electronics labs, art and design studios, etc.

    Not rows of computers running simulations. Not endless lectures on theory with written exams.

    Theory is essential, but unless it is accompanied by practical skills it does nothing to produce a student who really understands the subjects and is employable (or better, ready to start up his or her own business).

    And these practical facilities are needed for both sexes. (The best way to do this is to have only mixed-sex schools, but I guess traditions will prevent this.)

  9. Hiddi

    I live in an area of muharraq near the airport which has most of the schools in the area. In fact our beloved home was a few meters away from the boys school. Every morning we would hear the stupid principal yell and shout at the loudspeaker in some Egyptian mumbo jumbo. He sounded more like a warden than a school principal.
    Kids would scale the wall and hang around the neighbourhood.. Mighty fine street smart education. Of course, I put most of the blame on the parents who think of school as a free opportunity at daycare. Until the attitudes of parents can’t be fixed, the solutions proposed are going to be superficial.

  10. Salman

    The only bad thing about school was the assembly in the heat every morning, the bad air conditioning, lack of cold CLEAN water to drink, good food, etc. and the teachers who came to school with a pissed off mood, or just tried to intimidate us from day one. And as students, we wouldn’t have any of his crap, and in the end, the lesson is wasted by him trying to be Mr. Tough Guy and us being the teen rebels who are set on a mission to break his word and make a fool out of him.

    Some teachers approached us in a way, they won our hearts from the minute they walked into our class. There were teachers i loved so much, and still do, that i used to look forward to their lesson, just to spend time with them. That way, i loved going to school, i loved learning, because it was fun, and they gave us freedom, and treated us with respect at first, and we respected them as much as the word respect could ever mean.

    In high school, we, as students, had to chip in together with the rest of the classes to pay for a water filter to drink clean water. WTF? You should have seen the filter after a week, it went brown! We were drinking dust and algae lol.

  11. can we talk

    your link to those initiatives doesn’t work so i’m not sure what they are

    Its minister has a doctorate in military planning and strategy

    are you sure about this. I don’t think that’s true, but cant find it now, anyway…

    I am curious about something. obviously before you attempt to solve a problem, you have to identify the problem itself very carefully, and I wonder who is going to do that?
    since the output of the schools ends up being the input of the universities, especially the main university, i wonder if they have been approached for their input about what are the handicaps of the students who enroll, what skills they lack, etc.
    it’s all well and good to say you want to reform education, but without useful input at this stage the result can be a big waste of money and a lot of patchwok later on.

    also, i think it is about time that this country realizes that it does have some capable consultants who can contribute, instead of continuing with the usual practice of paying ridiculous amounts of money to foreign consultants who are not necessarily any more qualified than those available locally and have no first-hand knowledge of the problems we face.

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