Education in Kuwait

Education in Kuwait

In 1993 Kuwait's population was highly educated, both in comparison to other states in the region and in comparison to its pre-oil education levels. The impressive education system was brought about by a conscious government decision, made possible by revenues from oil that began in the 1950s, to invest heavily in human resources.

Although the pre-oil education system was modest by 1993 standards, it was still impressive, given the limited finances at the time. In the early 1900s, education consisted largely of Quran schools offering basic literacy training in the context of religious instruction. This system provided some formal schooling for nearly all boys and most girls. Wealthy families often sent sons abroad for further education. In the first decades of the twentieth century, merchants anxious for more extensive training for their sons opened a few private schools, notably the Mubarakiyyah School in 1911 and the Ahmadiyyah School in 1921. In the 1930s, merchants established the Education Council and expanded the system to include four new primary schools, including one for girls. The government soon took over this growing system and, with new oil revenues after World War II, rapidly expanded the system. In 1956 the government laid down the basis of the education system that still existed in 1993: kindergarten and primary, middle, and secondary schools. A 1965 law, largely enforced, made education compulsory until the age of fourteen. A small system of private schools also developed. Public education, including preschool and higher education, was from the beginning free for all nationals and for many foreigners. The government absorbs not only the costs of schools but also those of books, uniforms, meals, transportation, and incidental expenses. In preinvasion Kuwait, the majority of the students in the education system were non-Kuwaitis.

The apex of the public education system is Kuwait University, which the government established in 1966. More than half the students at Kuwait University are women, in part because families are more likely to send boys abroad for study. The government also subsidizes hundreds of students in university study abroad, many in the United States.

As a result of these efforts, the school population and the literacy rate increased steadily. By the mid-1980s, literacy and education rates were high. Although only 55 percent of the citizen population was literate in 1975, by 1985 that percentage had increased to 73.6 percent (84 percent for males and 63.1 percent for females). In 1990 the overall literacy rate was 73 percent. The total number of teachers increased from just under 3,000 at independence in 1961 to more than 28,000 in academic year 1988-89; the number of schools increased from 140 to 642 during the same period (see table 4, Appendix).

The education system has its problems, however. For example, it relies heavily on foreign teachers. In the late 1950s, almost 90 percent were non-Kuwaitis. Despite a long-standing government effort to indigenize education, the system continues to rely heavily on foreigners. The system also often fails to train graduates in fields that correspond to Kuwait's most pressing labor needs. Especially in higher education, the system produces many graduates with training in liberal arts and few with training in vocational subjects.


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