What is the state of Bahrain’s education sector a century after the arrival of modern pedagogy?
In 2019, Bahrain celebrated 100 years of formal education in the Kingdom in a series of events organized by the Ministry of Education, including a conference in Amwaj Islands last June—which was organized in cooperation with the UNICEF.
Hitting the centenary mark is an apt occasion to take a step back and review the Kingdom’s progress in public and private education over the last one hundred years, appreciating the long way the Kingdom has come.
In 1919 the first public school—in the modern sense of the word—was inaugurated in Muharraq: Al-Hidaya Al-Khalifa School for Boys. A similar public school for girls was opened in Muharraq in 1928.
By 1986, the number of public schools had risen to 139, but still some school-aged children were left behind.
Nowadays, however, all children within the school age must attend either a public or a private school by virtue of law. Public schools do not charge a tuition fee and offer free transportation. Some items such as textbooks are provided for free each academic year.
If high literacy rates among Bahraini citizens—95.7 in total and 93.5 for women—are anything to go by, the compulsory attendance law has worked well.
But, these days, Bahrain’s school system has to serve not only the citizens, but also the Kingdom’s sizable expat community, which forms over 50% of the resident population.
International schools following the education systems of other countries are quite common in Manama, Riffa, and Muharraq.
There are schools offering the US’s common core curriculum and its famous K-12 qualification system. Similarly, there are schools following the national curriculum of the UK, offering A-Level and O-Level accreditations.
Some locals and non-Western expats decide to attend American or British schools, too, due to their use of English as the language of instruction and the global acceptability of their accreditation systems.
Other non-western expats may prefer to send their children to schools such as the Philippine School of Bahrain, the Pakistan Urdu School, or the Indian School, which have a long history of presence in the country.
Certain high-performing local schools tend to use the Swiss-designed International Baccalaureate Curriculum and deliver bilingual education, so as to prepare their students for the GCC region’s highly multicultural business market.
A similar pattern can be observed in higher education. In addition to state-run institutions such as the University of Bahrain which deliver undergraduate and graduate programs, the Kingdom is home to private universities and overseas branches of foreign schools.
The College of Health and Sport Sciences, meanwhile, is operating under the patronage of the Ministry of Health, training the nurses and other healthcare professionals that the nation requires—though not physicians.
If one is interested in a career as a doctor of medicine, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland- Medical University of Bahrain (RCSI-Bahrain) is the place to go. Though training entirely takes place in the university’s Busaiteen campus and local medical centers, degrees are awarded jointly by the National University of Ireland.
A medical education leading to an MD qualification is also available at the Arabian Gulf University.
There is no shortage of options in any other area of interest. The coming into effect of the National Action Charter in 2001 led to the formation of many private universities, offering a diverse set of programs in business, engineering, and humanities.
There are currently over 20 private universities in Bahrain, and the quality of their programs is closely monitored by the Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training.
In a hundred years, Bahrain has successfully transformed itself into a world-class hub of education, serving its citizenry, its community of expats, and—at times—foreign students coming from elsewhere in the GGC or the Levant.
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