Most intellectuals and liberals in the Arab world agree on the importance of education reform, but no one says what is the goal or the means in order to reform society and change traditional concepts and counter extremism.
Talking about education reform is always focused on the introduction of computers in schools, rehabilitation of teachers and reviewing their situation to increase salaries, and achieve high results in science exams for example, but no one calls to expunge radical materials or ones that encourage conservative or extremist ideas and perhaps false opinions too. The goal of education should be to upgrade the regional and global standing and future of the state.
Reform of education must succeed in building new thinking skills and respect for others’ beliefs and ideas in line with the constitution and its principles. Education must be a tool to eliminate the extended influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and encourage others seeking for the renewal and modernization of the curriculum. The teaching materials must have a direct impact on the students’ daily lives and behaviors.
Education reform has become a need in all Arab countries and not only in Kuwait. In Kuwait, the cost of a student in the kindergarten stage in 2011/2012 was KD 4,031. Spending on the following three stages of education was KD 3,262 for primary, KD 3,299 for intermediate and KD 4,137 for high school. Public spending and the annual estimated budget for the education sector amounted to KD 1 billion for 2013, with salaries for the year 2011/2012 at KD 776.3 million and spending on buildings, training activities and tools not more than KD 250 million. This amount is not enough to have a serious reform process.
I know that drastic reform of education is not an easy process and can’t be done in a day. It needs decades and will as much as decisions to recognize that education is still in the same place since the past 30 years. Education is not only the responsibility of the state, but is everyone’s mission. The most important question is the philosophy of higher education and what do we want to have – researchers, administrators or intellectuals?
How do we fix education? Firstly, we must make education a priority in the agenda of any government. We have to reject the typical claim that the ministry is hijacked by an Islamist group or others, because this argument reflects impotence and failure and no one can dominate the culture of a society unless they are allowed to do so.
How do Islamist groups work in education? They rely on memorization and repetition as well as a refusal to debate, and of course the concept that democracy is a danger and any new calls for educational reform are a threat. It is common that such education results in people who act like they are programmed and execute any order without the slightest discussion, and so it is normal to see professors and teachers who have college degrees but hold extremist thoughts and are narrow-minded.
Let’s take the vivid example of the number of terrorists in IS, especially those from the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Others may have their reasons, such as ignorance and poverty, but there is no justification for those from our region to become terrorists. They have been brainwashed and poisoned with ideas of sick people, probably those who are professors and teachers. It is the education that allowed them to be an easy prey.
It is our right to demand for education reform. Real education reform must encourage the plurality of opinions and ideologies and should not be less important than mathematics, for instance. There is a need for adoption of quality indicators to measure learning standards of all students and educational staff to follow their performance and monitor the output of the educational system in Kuwait according to global performance systems.