Consumerised Education

30 Jun, '09

All the papers this morning are carrying this sort of news:

SEVERAL Bahrain schools and universities are failing their students, according to a government-approved report. Out of 20 public and private institutions reviewed, three were deemed “inadequate”, 13 “satisfactory” and four “good”, while none achieved the highest level possible. Two out of four higher education courses analysed also received “no confidence” judgements, with the other two courses receiving “limited confidence” rulings. Vocational institutions were also slammed in the nationwide evaluation scheme, with 50 per cent deemed “inadequate”. The revelations follow a Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) report released yesterday during a Press conference at the Gulf Hotel.

GDN • 30 June, 2009

Astounding!

Is this the start of something very new in our culture? Where even an official entity calls a spade by its name? No, more than that, actually recognise that the education in this country is overwhelmingly shite? Where the only thing that so called “universities” care about is making money from hapless, helpless captured market?

Astounding!

Maybe there is hope for this here island..

but wait, there’s more:

However, despite the results QAAET’s chairman and Prime Minister’s Court Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa remained optimistic and called for all organisations to intensify their efforts to improve services.

In the immortal words of Shakespeare: Huh?

“Improve services?” What improve services? Is this donkey even alive? NUKE THE BUGGERS AND BE DONE WITH IT!

Improve services! There isn’t a “service” to start with! Well, I guess there is if the sound of their tills katchinging is classified as service.

Education in this country is a joke, generally. The only way that a parent can at least ensure that their children have a future in the world is to put them through one of the expensive private schools and then continue to monitor their progress throughout their educational career. This is a very dear exercise in both time and money. 16 years of monitoring the brutes to make sure that they at least have a better than par chance of getting accepted in a university or even polytechnic abroad to pave the way for hopefully a good enough employment when (if) they return.

I can tell you from personal experience that me wanting my children to tread that path was the main motivator for dumping my successful career with Gulf Air all those years ago and establishing my own company. I knew that to achieve the vision I have for my children, even the good salary I was receiving while being in Gulf Air as an Avionix engineer could not suffice. Not by a long shot. I’m happy that I have made that decision now.

So the QAAET has audited those braindead give-me-your-money-and-we’ll-keep-your-children-off-the-streets-hopefully-and-pretend-to-educate-them shops and found that the great majority of them don’t make the cut. Good. This is a first step.

The second is to impose major fines and bankrupt those who rape the dreams of our youth and make a good example of them. Let that be a lesson to the cowboy “entrepreneurs” and get the whole scene corrected. We have more “universities” than barber shops in this tiny island and there is absolutely no need for that. Especially not at this low quality.

We should also address their feed system, so let’s not forget those prisons we call our primary and secondary schools. Their curricula and method of teaching are the main cause of where we are as a country and society. Things will not change unless that decrepit education system is gutted. Until the Ministry itself is gutted from the brainfarts it contains and start anew. It is incumbent upon the powers that be to do this – if they do want progress for the next generation that is – because for over 100 years of formal education this country’s record of patents – if there is such a thing – is negligible and it’s scientific achievement is nil.

What they are thrilled about is the establishment of religious schools! Yes my friends, we have a mini-Imam Universities in both Sunni and Shii flavours here apart from the various “hawza”s (no that is not a cry one might emit after a shot of fiery liquid, but an Arabic word describing a “madrasah” or religious school) in every single village, sometimes more than one and often available for women separate from those for men. As if we need more numskulls travelling amongst us.

So the cat’s out of the bag. The chicken is out of the coop. The horse has bolted. The QAA has ascertained that the education system is brain dead. What are they going to do about it?

I don’t know, but I hope to god that they take the bull by the horns and get things properly changed, even if that means shutting down the schools for a whole year to sort them out – believe me, that shut-down will not be missed. In fact, it’d do the country a favour.

There’s another rub that must be addressed: why is it that most kids go to pains to get a degree? The pressure is immense for kids to get an undergraduate degree in things that we don’t even need as a country! 85% of all graduates I’m told will come out with a BSc and most of those in business. Do we actually need that? How many of the thousands that graduate actually get a job in their field? Not many I think; hence the continuous demonstrations we get with people lifting pieces of bread signifying their out of job status, there was even someone driving around in his clapper of a car with his certificates stuck on all the windows trying to be noticed and given a job. I’m not sure what happened to him but I suspect at least his certificate afforded him some protection from the sun! And don’t get me started on those people who choose – actually choose – to go to university here and select the most unneeded subject ever because that “specialisation” is the easiest one to gain a degree out of! Social studies is it? Oh yes, go get one and come run this here bank… mind you, judging by what happened to TIBC and Awal, they might do a better job!

We come to vocational training… we used to have the Isa Town Polytechnic, which was converted to Bahrain University ultimately and through that unstudied move contributed to the dire straits the educational and labour systems are in. That then got “corrected” by creating the Bahrain Training Institute and Hotel Training and the other zillion little grab shops who claim to provide vocational education, some even being subsidised outsourcing-wise by 6 million, yes dear friends, SIX million Bahraini Dinaeros ($16m approx) to train tellers and hotel staff. If you happen to pass by that place, by the rubbish you find thrown about and the way they choose to park and meander and sashe across in front of oncoming traffic in front of that “school”, you know where those 6 million are being spent. Most probably in Geneva or other exotic locales rather than in a proper monitored program that would teach their charges how to respect themselves and strive to achieve by respecting others and taking pride in what they do.

I’m glad that that has been recognised by the report:

The report’s bleakest findings were those of the Labour Ministry’s licensed vocational courses, with half of the eight providers judged inadequate overall.

Seventy-five per cent of the providers’ and management was also deemed below satisfactory.

So ladies and gentlemen we have a real and stark danger that has already befallen our country due to haphazard policies which desperately need to be fixed. Courageous steps MUST be taken IF a solution is to be adopted. I humbly suggest that should that be the case, the following must be considered:

    1. Fire the Minister of Education and all of his deputies. They have had their chances and blew them. Do this first and do it NOW. Let the middle meddling managers run the day-to-day affairs of education, they can’t fuck it up more than it is at the moment.
    2. Fire the guy in charge of giving permits to private schools and universities. Give that job to the QAA at the moment and get them to suggest someone in that position whom they vet and accept, this might correct – somewhat – Bahrain’s higher education reputation so that countries like Kuwait and others won’t black-list a host of those money-grabbing-shops.
    3. Tear down the school’s perimeter walls. Something that is 10-foot high surmounted by barbed wire or metal spikes is not conducive to creating the required trust-based educational establishment.
    4. For the next 3 generations emphasise vocational training and gear the courses to programs that could provide good jobs that the country can benefit from and ultimately can get make the country self-sufficient in various trades
    5. Put professionals sourced from all over the world who are passionate about education and society building and pay them well and allow them to create environments where kids would fight to get into rather than scale 10-foot walls to get out of.
    6. To all officials, please temper your inflated egos. The country’s survival is at stake, we don’t care who you are or where you come from. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and let professionals run the show.
    7. Above all, introduce courses and activities which promote critical thinking. Throw away courses which emphasise rote learning and allow people to question taboos. We can’t move forward as a culture if we continue to be stuck to untouchable subjects
    8. Throw away religious education. It has created more problems than solutions. But if this is not doable (it is doable, but requires big balls) then at least teach middle of the road Religious Education, not just the Sunni strain of Islam. Teach them about Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and other religions in the world, get them to open up to other – even competing – ideas.

There is work to be done. The QAA’s report is a first step and while I am confident – knowing how things work in this country – it most probably has been diluted to ameliorate unjustifiably inflated egos, it’s a step in the right direction.

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  1. Global Voices Online » Bahrain: The Failure Of Education | 30 Jun, '09
  1. coolred38 says:

    Since embarking on my quest to find a decent solid job…all those I have enlisted to aid me have unanimously said the same exact thing…apply for a school…its easy to become a teacher.

    Eh? I thought being a teacher was one of the hardest jobs on earth. Apparently not…as long as your willing to babysit a bunch of unruly kids for several hours…then all is good. I have visited numerous schools recently trying to get in as office staff…yet they hands down offer me a job teaching english…without so much as a college degree in anything. WTF!!!

    Private schools have sprung up like mushrooms over night in Bahrain…they are full of housewives not qualified to teach anything…and people are paying a friggin fortune to send their children to that school. I should know…Ive visited many of them and was given so much info as a potential employee…its all such a huge educational cheat…and the children are the ones that suffer.

    Govt school is no better of course. The level of education, the standards maintained…and just plain old diversity of information given is abysmal. Memorize then flush from your brain…thats all it boils down to.

    About time something like this report came out. Not that we didnt know it was this bad…but nice to finally see it officially acknowledged.

    • mahmood says:

      I hope that it will change things coolred, the indications are it will not. Since the report came out, there has not been any real announcements to support it and its direction, on the contrary, the heads of the very “universities” which have been condemned came out in the press in strength to condemn the report and accuse its publishers of not being cognizant of basic maths!

      Their temerity is astounding. They feel no shame.

      They have proven quote clearly of how much of a con they are.

      But did the Ministry of Education (or the government) come out and even conditionally support it?

      No.

  2. King says:

    I must say Mahmood, this is one of the best articles I’ve read in a loonnnnng time.

    I agree with everything you’ve said apart from the fact you’re suggesting entering other religions in religious education. I think children aren’t old enough to be taught other religions such as Christianity and so on.

    But anyhow, you are 100% right in saying they should be taught the ‘middle of the road’ Islam. It’s ridiculous the way a shia child goes back home with contradicting thoughts to his/her proposed upbringing thinking he/she is still following that path.

    This is why they are too young to be taught such things. Views will get muddled up … doctrines are diluted … a confused adult emerges (in terms of religion), and so on (this is in the long-run).

    But other than that your article is absolutely amazing, and I’m really looking forward to reading more from you!

    • mahmood says:

      Thank you King, I appreciate your comment. But, allow me to disagree with you. I do not believe that religious education as it is taught in our schools (public and private) could hardly be regarded as anything but bad. Sectarian, superfluous, threatening, terrorism condoning and stifling to say the least. Teaching it this way to the young is dangerous and we can see its results right now in various spots on Earth.

      Specific religious education to the young is extremely dangerous. It is taught in brain-washing terms, not understanding and appreciation ones. There is no way that you would expect a 6 year old, a 10 year old or even a 16 year old to appreciate religion as it is taught now. The only thing they get out of it is black and white where “we” are right and the rest is wrong.

      I suggest it is this very thing that produces confused adults. Had religious education been undertaken as a broad understanding of cultures and traditions which promote pluralism and identity, we would have been in a much better shape.

      • Samira says:

        Can I also add relating to ‘Religious Education’ that it should be taught the whole episode of bin laden and the the whole history behind how people and groups twisted the words of religion (any religion) to their own agenda and goals. People need to be aware the reasoning and understanding before a kid grows up and thinks its absolutely essential to go to Afghanistan for ‘training’.. this is the fact today. let’s try to stop it please.

  3. Janessa says:

    I thouroughly enjoyed this article and I agree with most of your points, Mahmood. I work in a private school and have seen that the number one priority is making money and saving money. It’s ridiculous. Am I working in a school, or just a business?!? You are correct in saying that it is the children who suffer. There are not many hands-on activities or fine arts classes (even though these things are advertised in all our brochures). I see that most students do worksheets and dictations, and more worksheets….I just hate it!
    I really hope the government is serious about improving the education here, for the sake of all children growing up in Bahrain.
    Regarding the “hawzas, ” I believe these are fine since it is voluntary. I know a few ladies (middle-aged housewives) who attend hawzas in the Summer. They just go to learn Quran and dua (supplications) and practice reciting. It is like a hobby to them and they just want to know more about their religion, like people of every faith do.

    • mahmood says:

      Thanks for your comment Janessa. I am convinced that the “hawzas” (and their counterpart) are no where near being innocent. What they do, and what I have observed, is that they polarise society even more. They entrench differences rather than ameliorate them. They are one of the main tools used to drive a wedge in the heart of this community. They serve no real spiritual purpose other than spreading hate or at least intolerance. Especially that they are not really supervised and even if they are, those who will in this political circumstance lack credibility. In short, they are used politically to further agendas rather than spread understanding and spirituality.

  4. Bu Yousef says:

    Needless to say we have the same issue in Kuwait. Apart from the education system, what I find most frustrating is in fact the subject of your photo… I don’t understand why we have these huge walls around our schools!

    • mahmood says:

      Welcome Bu Yousef!

      I think these walls and all manner of fences etc are designed by inspiration from prisons. The difference is that they go one step further: they are designed to keep people OUT and imprison those who are IN too.

      Education is a secondary circumstance of those buildings.

      • Mike P says:

        This might sound like a really trivial question but are there any research-led universities in Bahrain?

        I’ve been looking at the websites of the Bahraini based universities and none of them seem to be actively involved in any research.

  5. Leith says:

    The sad thing about Bahrain and the rest of the totalitarian Arab countries is that their educational system is built on indoctrination rather than education. You cannot have a different opinion, nor are you allowed to take a different approach solving problems. In addition, subjects such as history and religion are only taught from the perspective of the state, which you cannot question. For example, you are not taught about the piracy in the Gulf, you are not taught about the Assyrians, you are not taught about the Safavids, you are not taught about pre-Islamic Arabia and you are not taught that much about the Greeks when they were in Bahrain. In addition, you are not given a proper project to write, nor are you given any real assignments. A lot of teachers did not check if the students really did there homework because most students used to copy each other. However, the maths teachers were the only ones that cared, and I respect them. It was sad to see that many of who just memorised and cheated in their exams got high grades and were awarded scholarships. I assume that many of them continued to cheat even when they went to university. Overall, I doubt if there is going to be a complete overhaul of the educational system because if that happens, the dominating culture will change and we will see less of what we are seeing today. For example, sectarianism will disappear because people will start to question their beliefs, and we will see less prejudice.

    • Mike P says:

      Leith, I remember being force-fed the government’s version of Bahrain’s history and the lead up to it’s independence. Our humanities school book was actually authored by the govt and it was our only source of information on the subject. I can still remember the big Ministry of Education logo on the front of the book.

      • Leith says:

        Mike, I have read The Persian Gulf by Wilson, and I suggest that you read it if you want to hear a different version from the one you have been taught. The “truth” is that most ruling families of the GCC used to engage in piracy, which means that their economies did not depend entirely on pearl fishing. However, Wilson has his references and you can question that as well.

  6. Husaini says:

    The truth is, that the educational systems are designed intentionally to be inadequate because in the whole Arab region, because poor education results in a stronger hold of power. The arab world has always been against free thinkers, innovation may result in revolution, these are all the factors the ruling class are afraid of.

    Had we been pro-education, the Arab world does have very smart scientist and innovators, who simply do not have any funding in order to pursue their developments. Hence they go to the West, where their ideas are welcomed with open arms.

  7. MohJee says:

    I can tell that you’re really passionate about the subject since you’ve used not-so-nice words couple of times in this article. It goes without saying, though, that our educational system is indeed a joke. Everywhere you turn there’s some “university”; they became like cold stores. Nine out of ten college graduates have a degree in business. Hell, I’m currently 2nd-year in college here in Bahrain studying business; 80% of the people I know are studying business. What the hell… It would be a stroke of luck if we actually got decent jobs in the future seeing as how the market is already saturated as it is.

    You said: “Tear down the school’s perimeter walls. Something that is 10-foot high surmounted by barbed wire or metal spikes is not conducive to creating the required trust-based educational establishment.”

    I agree completely with that point. I know a very fitting quote for this dilemma which says, “Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” (Plato).
    Making students feel they’re imprisoned is exactly the reason most of them flush out the little information that they may actually could have learned otherwise (Besides the fact that our schools don’t make students understand but instead makes them memorize stuff like parrots). I hope the situation improves for the next generations. Otherwise we’ll see increasing numbers of citizens flying to other countries to study and get jobs.

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