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:
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.