By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO
The allure of the Middle East, for western foreigners, is primarily found in monetary perks that makes life in the region more financially savvy than back at home. First of all, skilled and specialized workers from the US and Europe stand to earn three to four times more money than could be earned at home and they face less job competition. Second, not having to pay taxes and enjoying heavily governmentally subsidized utilities as well as health care are added bonuses. However, what most expatriates do not realize is that there is a heavy price to be paid. And it is in the form of the education of their children.
Wealthy Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE provide a cradle-to-grave welfare system that keeps their citizens living a very comfortable life with free education only being one out of hundreds of social benefits. Expatriate children are not allowed to attend public schools which are reserved exclusively for the children of the citizens of the country. Expatriate parents must put their children in private schools which are often costly, poorly managed, overcrowded and understaffed. Many Gulf nations are host to several European and American private schools which boast a curriculum on par with the most exclusive schools in the world. Unfortunately, the tuition fees are so high that many expatriate parents can only afford to send one child, if any, to school while the others must attend less expensive private schools. And that is in the event that the child can even get into the school.
For countries, like Kuwait for example, private schools are regulated by the Ministry of Education. Each school is ranked according to student performance and receives special preference as well as accolades based on the percentage of students that do well. What is unfortunate is that most private schools in Kuwait require an admission test to ensure that only the best and brightest students get admission which guarantees a high percentage of student performance. Prospective students are not given a book or even a manual to study from in preparation for the test. All they can do is hope that they have the knowledge to pass it. For those who do not pass, they will most probably miss an entire school year or more. Until a student can pass the admission test there is no hope that his journey for a quality education can begin.
What is painfully ironic is that, while there are stringent controls for the admission of students to private schools, there are no such requirements for the hiring of teachers. The private schools in Kuwait, and other regions of the Gulf, are full of teachers who do not possess college degrees and have little experience teaching in the classroom. It is not uncommon for housewives to become teachers without having even a basic college degree. And for many teachers who do possess a â€œdegreeâ€, a careful inspection of the document will most likely reveal that it is a fake certificate obtained from a country in Southeast Asia. So even for children who do pass the admission test, the catch 22 is that the standard is far less than what the school administration purports.
For Shermyla Mohammad, a housewife and mother in Kuwait, her journey to enroll her son in school has been a twisted battle that has spanned more than five years. â€œMy son studied the Holy Quran for several years and met with a tutor to teach him school subjects privately at home.â€ When her son was ten years old she began visiting various schools in order to enroll him. He is now fifteen years old and has never seen the inside of the classroom. â€œMy son failed several admission tests because he could not prepare for the specific questions asked. One time he did pass but the school administration refused to accept him because the percentage was not high enough.â€ Her son is waiting to take yet another admissions test in the hopes that he can finally begin his education.
There are countless numbers of children all across the Gulf region who deserve an education but it remains out of reach. It is a basic human right to be able to attend school and not be barred from an education that will most certainly define every aspect of life and determine its quality.