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Union chief speaks about decision to shift nurseries under education ministry

KUWAIT: Dr Mohammad Al-Refaei, President of the Children’s Union of Nurseries in Kuwait (CUNK) speaks to Kuwait Times.
KUWAIT: Dr Mohammad Al-Refaei, President of the Children’s Union of Nurseries in Kuwait (CUNK) speaks to Kuwait Times.

KUWAIT: According to a recently issued law, nurseries will work under the authority of the Ministry of Education instead of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which was supervising them earlier. But the application of this law was recently deferred for another three months. After the law was passed by the parliament, it was sent to the Fatwa and Legislation Department by the Ministry of Education to complete the organizational structure of nurseries.

The Children’s Union of Nurseries in Kuwait (CUNK) was behind this law. Kuwait Times spoke to President of the General Assembly and the Honorary President of CUNK Dr Mohammad Al-Refaei about this issue.

CUNK was founded in 2003 and includes 36 member nurseries. “The union is in charge of the nurseries, staff and children,” he told Kuwait Times. “Nurseries that are not our members realized our vital and important role when they encountered problems, such as the closures they faced in 2009 during the swine flu crisis. We supported them and protested in front of the parliament and the Cabinet, and as a result, the decision was cancelled and the nurseries reopened after three months.”

CUNK is the only official union or NGO representing nurseries in Kuwait. “The members of the board of the union are elected every four years,” Refaei added. “Members pay a symbolic fee, which is the source of the union’s expenses. Members of CUNK care about children’s benefit and not material issues. As we are a legal body, we can act to defend the interests of the nurseries – we filed seven cases against the ministry of social affairs and labor and won all of them. The union is also allowed to receive donations or grants, as we are an NGO.”

There are certain conditions for joining the union. “We refuse to license a nursery whose owner has rented out the license to somebody else,” he pointed out. “Also, we refuse applicants if the license is issued to somebody who is not a graduate of education or a related field, or at least if the director of the nursery is not a graduate in this specialization. All these conditions are also included in the new law that mainly aims to eliminate the commercial exploitation of children.”

Dramatic growth
The number of nurseries has grown rapidly in the past few years. “From 1974 to 2009, 150 nurseries opened, which is an acceptable figure spanning 35 years,” Refaei indicated. “What I consider ridiculous is that 170 new nurseries were established within just four years, between 2010 and 2014, many of which are committing violations against the interests of the kids.”

According to the new law, the conditions to get a license for establishing a nursery should be stricter. “For instance, an employee is not allowed to get a license to establish a nursery,” he explained. “Also, the owner should be a specialist in the field, so he or the director of the nursery should be graduates from the educational field. The law also requires that the nursery should have a curriculum, which can be enforced and inspected by the ministry of education as they already have experience with schools. Also, the ministry of social affairs was issuing licenses for nurseries very easily, as the only condition was to be a 21-year-old citizen.”

According to the new law, the Municipal Council will grant 200 plots of 6,000 sq m to build kindergartens. “An area of 1,000 square meters can be deducted from this land to establish a nursery on it,” Refaei noted. “This will help avoid traffic jams and also avoid conflicts with neighbors, which are now happening, as nurseries are located in residential areas. This will also be safer for the kids as they will not have to cross the road. In this way, nurseries will have unified standards. If any mistake happens after applying the new law, I will be responsible and will resolve any problem with the ministry. At the end of the day, we want what is best for the child.”

Future plans
Approving this law is the first step in the reform of nurseries. “Our future plan is to set up a national authority for early childhood” he said. “Various ministries will participate in this project. This authority will also include a technical committee which will include members from different institutions such as the university and others.”

Nurseries are places of learning and not educating. “I am against having nurseries as part of schools in the same building,” he indicated. “If the nursery is placed in a separate building, this is fine. Otherwise, mixing or having 3-year-old children play in the same place with 10-year-olds may lead to serious problems and even reach child abuse. The minister of education assured us there won’t be merging of nurseries with schools.”

Other parties
Kuwait Times also sought to get opinions from nurseries that are not members of the union, as some of these nurseries previously announced in the media that they are against the new law. But none of the 14 nurseries that promised to contact Kuwait Times responded, despite repeated calls.

By Nawara Fattahova

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