The Business of ‘Back to School’

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Kids’ going back to school is big business in Kuwait and the rest of the GCC. Eager stores and shops started putting up ‘Back to School’ displays back in July almost 2 full months before school was even set to begin. And as the clock winds down with only a few more days left until school starts the advertising onslaught is getting even fiercer. Circulars and ads are being stuck on the windshields of parked cars and stuffed into the door jams of private residences.

You would think that the advertisements would be for sales on school supplies but not so in Kuwait. Business owners stand to earn a pretty penny over the Back-to-School shopping rush. The ads pretty much only serve to highlight what is available in each store. The most popular supplies in Kuwait feature favorite cartoon characters like LuLu the cat, Power Rangers, Spiderman and Fulla. And the supplies range from the gaudy to the outrageous. One store is promoting a set of backpacks for girls that are covered in costume pearls and rhinestones. Each bag costs about $50. Another store is promoting a book bag that features a Parisian cat with a REAL crystal tiara stitched onto the bag. And for boy’s, many shops are featuring a backpack that has a water bottle sewn into it and has a huge plastic straw so that they can drink while on the go!

The prices for these luxury school supplies are shocking. But the prices for regular school supply fare are equally despicable. A pack of 10-pencils costs almost $3.00 in Kuwait. Contrastingly, in the US the same pack of pencils might be on sale for 99 cents or less. Even notebooks and stationary supplies have become more expensive since last year.

With the price of rent and school fees ever growing, parents are breaking under the pressure of footing such a large school supply bill. Famidah Bibi, a Pakistani housewife, says, “I cannot afford to buy school supplies in Kuwait. I have my family in Pakistan buy the supplies there and ship them to Kuwait.” Another expatriate mother, Sara Al-Kandari says, “I have family in the U.S. and they have already sent a big box of school supplies from Wal-Mart to me here in Kuwait. I am just praying it will arrive before school starts.”

Mid-income parents are forced to go to the ‘Mia, Mia’ shops, which are basically 37cents stores, for their child’s school supplies. All the items are mainly from China and to call the goods cheap is an understatement. Most of the pencils are made out of plastic instead of wood and are impossible to sharpen. A lot of them are coated in glitter which rubs off on sweaty little hands sometimes even irritating and staining the skin. The erasers turn to a pile of rubble under the pressure of erasing something. And the notebooks are haphazardly stapled with staples that are so rusty that the inner seam has rust stains!

Low-income expatriate parents cannot even afford to buy supplies for their children, period. They send them to school without even a single pencil and tell them to borrow supplies from their friends. This of course adds an extra burden to the student who already feels nervous about the first day back-to-school and now must beg for supplies.

School supplies are the tools that children use to build their education to set the path to a bright future. It is horrendous that greedy business owners in Kuwait are so bloodthirsty for the Kuwaiti Dinar that they would let the youngest wardens of this country go back to school frustrated and ill-prepared simply because their parents cannot afford to buy ordinary school supplies.


0 replies