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A. Introduction

Having established something of the social setting in Kuwait, this chapter will try to show the educational setting for Al-Dharra Madressor (ADM). In so doing, this paper will answer the question: Why would anyone want to develop a private, bilingual school in Kuwait?

This may, at first, seem like a relatively unimportant question. After all, many "third world" and Arab countries have private schools, and this compensates for their rather poor public schools. However, at the time of Al-Dharra’s founding, Kuwait had one of the best public school systems in the region and one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world (Crystal, 1992). Beyond that, it held at least two well-established independent overseas schools, the Kuwait American School and the English School-Fahaheel. This raises the question again: Why start a private, bilingual school in Kuwait?

This analysis will show that ADM’s founding and development had as much to do with social factors as with educational factors. At end of this section, it will explain the uniquess of Al-Dharra as singularly: co-educational; bilingual; American/Kuwait curriculum; Kuwaiti majority; and home to a particularly affluent group of students.

B. Education in Kuwait: the Beginning

Like most Arabic countries, Kuwait long held "madressors," small private schools in which students learned the Koran and how to read and write Arabic. Despite the recent negative connotations attached to the word "madressor," it simply means school, so "madressor Dharra," means "Al-Dharra school."

These madressors taught only boys. The boys sat on the floor around a single instructor, a revered figure charged with their education, to whom the boys’ fathers paid the tuition. The instructor enjoyed a position of high respect within the community as one of the few persons who not only could read and write well but also held an intimate knowledge of the Koran.

With the arrival of the British, this situation started to change. The British Christian missionaries set up their own school (Salih, 1992). While primarily designed to teach the children of the local British workers, it also taught reading and writing to those Arab students willing to attend and learn.

This policy caused considerable suspicion on the part of the small Kuwaiti community. The Kuwaitis believed that the missionaries intended to teach Christianity as well. Due to this fear and also to a growing acknowledgment that their children needed a better education than that provided by the madressors, the merchants set up the Mubarak School in 1937; the Shia soon set up a rival school. The fact that the merchants needed to pay all of the expenses for the school formed just one of their complaints against the Emir, resulting in the Parliament of 1938, dealt with in chapter five (Salih, 1992).

Partly to co-opt the merchants’ agenda and partly to exert control over the development of education, the Emir, after disbanding Parliament, agreed to fund public schooling. Subsequently, the merchants closed their school. Due to the relative liberalism of his wife, the Emir opened a separate school for girls, the first in the Gulf, a few years later (Sapsted, 1980).

Almost from the start, these schools relied on foreigners, especially Palestinians, for their teaching staff (Beesen, 1979). Initially, this reliance on outside teachers stemmed from a very simple fact: few Kuwaitis could read and write, let alone teach the subjects proposed.

Thus one can describe the beginnings of Kuwaiti education as modest. Teachers came from outside the region. Since most male children in the impoverished, pre-oil world of Kuwait needed to work as sailors, few attended school, which primarily enrolled children of the top merchants, the Asil, and the Al-Sabah themselves.

With the wealth provided by oil, this situation changed dramatically in several respects. First, the oil money funded a far more extensive, universal system. Second, the demands of jobs either created directly or indirectly from the oil wealth called for an educated population. Third, with the spread of oil wealth, boys no longer needed to work at an early age, and girls no longer needed to marry at fourteen; they could go to school for years. Fourth, the subsequent naturalization of the Bedouin introduced a large body of illiterate citizens whose children, as future soldiers and policemen, needed to have some kind of an education.

To look at education in modern Kuwait, and to consider Al-Dharra’s role in this education, this analysis will turn to look at three different educational alternatives: the public school system, the private school system, and Al-Dharra Madressor.

C. The Public School System

Describing the public school system serves two important purposes. First, it describes a system that competes with that of the private schools. In other words, parents must make a conscious decision to leave this public system, pay money, and enroll their children in a private school instead.

Second, the description of the public schools also helps to introduce one aspect of Al-Dharra itself since the Arab half of the school must meet minimum Kuwaiti public school standards in order to retain Kuwait accreditation. Of course, the school expects students and teachers to exceed these standards, but describing the Arab public schools provides a good point of departure for considering the Arab half of the Al-Dharra identity.

Initially, prominent merchants set up their own school along more Western lines (Saleh, 1992), so the Al-Sabah, in co-opting the merchants’ concept, set up a similar public school system. The motivation for the public schools, then, proceeded from the merchants’ original two goals: to prevent "cultural pollution" from the British and to help their children become successful. One can still discern these factors, educational advancement and cultural protection, sometimes at odds with one another, at play in the modern Kuwaiti public school system.

Between 1972 and 1982 N.N. Kharma published some of the few extant articles on the subject of the Kuwait public school system. From the few additional sources available to this author, such as the interviews in Appendix One (Al-Khansa, 2002; Al-Jinnah, 2001), it appears relatively little has changed in more recent years; therefore, this analysis will rely heavily on Kharma’s work, supplemented wherever possible.

Several key words probably describe the modern Kuwaiti public schools:

(1) gender segregated
(2) mass-oriented
(3) tolerant
(4) foreign-taught
(5) foreign-filled
(6) traditional
(7) weak in English instruction

The gender segregation (Sapsted, 1980) probably strikes the Western reader as the most unusual aspect of Kuwaiti public education. However, when the government set up the system in the 1950s, it provided education for a conservative, illiterate population. As time passed, other factors, especially the granting of citizenship to the Bedouin and the Islamic revival, reinforced conservative tendencies. Therefore, Kuwaiti public schools remain gender-segregated, as do many public schools in the Arab world.

The second main point concerns their "mass orientation." This comes in two different aspects. First, the public schools endeavor to educate everyone, no matter how long it takes. In this respect, recall the situation in the early 1950s when the oil industry first came to Kuwait. Neither the oil companies nor the government could readily employ illiterate Kuwaitis in newly created government jobs, turning to educated Palestinians instead. As a result, the government resorted to make-shift expedients such as requiring each building to hire a dozen well-paid Kuwaiti guards (Frazier, 1969), most of whom did nothing other than collect a check. The government hoped, and continues to hope, that the education of Kuwaitis would lead to "Kuwaitization," the replacement of foreigners, particularly well-paid foreigners, with competent Kuwaitis (Kennedy, 1998).

The public system exhibits mass orientation in another sense. Like public schools everywhere, it attempts to educate the average student, not the gifted one. Students take, for example, standardized tests and even standardized examinations throughout the system. The Ministry of Education promulgates these tests and the entire curriculum, so that teachers turn out a standardized product (British Council, 1983).

This standardization pays off. External observers consider the Kuwaiti public system "high quality" (Smith, 1983), particularly in comparison with other Arabic countries. The following statement about a Kuwaiti’s early education, except for the reference to the Koran, about equals that of an American public elementary school (Kharma, 1977 II):

By the age of ten the Kuwaiti Arab child is already able to read and write reasonably well in his mother tongue, or rather in what is now called "Modern Standard" Arabic....The association of Arabic with the Holy Koran gives it [Arabic] a very high status. (p. 105)

The third point concerns tolerance. This refers to the fact that, while the Kuwaiti public school system does have standards, these standards tend to allow students many chances. For example, Kharma (1978) criticizes, in particular, how poorly the public schools teach students English and the low standards for passing examinations, "The pass mark is only 40 percent... [and] about 40% of the examined gather around the pass mark....This does not in itself indicate any real competence" (p. 79).

Some other features of the public schools show this tolerance. Middle school students can pass their classes in public schools by scoring 50% or higher. In addition, students can miss as many as twenty school days without losing credit in a course (ADM 11, 1998). Students also can remain in the public schools up until age twenty-one (British Council, 1983).

This tolerance even extends to the university level and Kuwait University, which Kuwaitis attend at no cost. Not only does the government give special instruction to students studying abroad, it also accepts students of relatively low English proficiency to Kuwait University, an institution which conducts its more prestigious, science curriculum classes in English (British Council, 1983). As Kharma notes (Kharma, 1977):

As far as English is concerned, it does not constitute an impediment for the best students who are sent abroad to an English-medium university. The government provides for the necessary instruction before entrance....Arab universities, including the University of Kuwait, accept students to departments where instruction is given in English by virtue of their overall performance on the GSSC examination, [i.e., their GPA in their high school], irrespective of their standard of English proficiency. (p. 81)

Kharma credits all of this tolerance to the government’s seemingly endless resources (Kharma, 1977). The government’s tolerance, however, appears to stem from two motives, largesse and, again, the goal of replacing foreign workers. A high school dropout adds nothing to the national labor pool other than another under-skilled worker for whom the State, due to its Constitution (in Kennedy, 1998) must provide a job. Such a student might as well attend college as graduate and draw a salary.

Toleration extends in another direction, a tolerance of cheating. In one university class, Kharma discovered students cheating even on their own self-graded assignments (Kharma, 1981, p. 404). Yet, as may not surprise those familiar with teaching students in Kuwait, the administrators in charge of the students essentially cheated as well (Kharma, 1981):

The reading course was an accredited one, and a certain standard had to be reached by every student before he could proceed to the next course. Most students failed to reach that standard. Failing the majority of students was not acceptable to anybody. (p. 404)

In other words, the administrators in charge found the solution to the problem of low student test scores by simply changing the standards. Again, one can consider this as an extension of the general "tolerance" of the system. The Kuwaiti public schools expect students to succeed and provide alternative ways for this to occur.

In this respect, note that the public system essentially forms a complete whole. Students, particularly Kuwaitis, who attend the public school system tend to either graduate into a job or into Kuwait University. Hence, the concept of external standards does not apply even to Kuwait University-bound students. At Al-Dharra, those students certain to attend Kuwait University may not even bother to take the SAT since the University admits them according to their GSSC scores, which essentially compile their GPA.

This system’s tolerant ideology, though, cannot protect the student who intends to study abroad. After all, he or she needs to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), in order to achieve foreign university admission. Those intending to study in Britain or the US need to take either the A levels or the SAT/ACT in addition to the TOEFL. Still, with most public school students able to read and write in Arabic and fill government positions, one can consider this system a relative success.

To proceed to the next point, foreign-taught, the vast majority of teachers continue to come from other Arabic countries, especially Palestine and Egypt, with the Egyptians now filling many of the positions vacated by the Palestinians. 90% of the teachers came from other countries throughout the post-oil era (Kharma, 1977; Metz, 1994).

It bears mention, in this context, that despite the high number of female and male Kuwaiti college graduates, few Kuwaitis enter teaching. This may seem surprising given that with increasing "desertization" teaching in a girls’ school offers one of the few "safe occupations" in which women can work (Beesen 1979; Longva 1997) since it provides gender segregation. The government even pays Kuwaiti teachers higher salaries than their foreign counterparts to try to lure them into the classroom. To see why few choose a career in education requires looking at their other alternatives.

Few Asil consider teaching. For men, and women in more liberal families, the choice usually lies between securing a high-level government position and one in the family firm. For women from slightly more conservative families, the choice usually rests between getting married and working in a "safe," high-status, secure work environment. In this author’s four years at ADM, only a single ADM graduate (0.6%), a student of less than stellar academic performance, opted to study at Kuwait Teachers’ College. She stated her intention of attending college just to waste time while she sought a husband; she had no intention of actually teaching.

The question, then, becomes why lower-class Kuwaitis and Bedouin do not enter teaching. For these new Kuwaitis, the choice typically lies between a lower-level government job and teaching; teaching suffers in this comparison. A person entering teaching enters a profession occupied by "lower class" Palestinians and Egyptians. Also, compared to a low-stress government job, many of which boast a five-hour workday, teaching requires more work and longer hours. Hence the few Kuwaitis in "education" tend to become either school owners or government officials in the Ministry of Education. As Tetreault (1992) concludes, most Kuwaitis abandon education for "the more lucrative jobs of trade, business, or even other government areas, and it is difficult to see a large proportion of those acquiring higher education opting for teaching posts" (p. 70). This leads Tetreault to predict (1992) the continued employment of Palestinian and Egyptian teachers due to their fluency in Arabic.

Observers vary as to their estimation of the quality of these foreign-passport teachers.

Ismael compliments the quality of the teachers (Ismael, 1979):

By offering high salaries and a high standard of living, Kuwait has siphoned off the available talent from neighboring Arab countries to staff its educational system...[The] proportion of Kuwaiti teachers at these levels actually decreased form 32.3% to 27.7%" [from 1971-2 to 1978-9]. (p. 137)

On the contrary, Kharma, writing at about the same time, questions the quality of those teachers, particularly English teachers. In one of her studies she maintains (Kharma, 1972):

At Khawla Girls' school there were three first intermediate [English] classes, each taught by a different teacher....The three teachers differed so much in their teaching ability that it was meaningless to try to compare their classes. (pp. 140-141)

However, Kharma’s work concentrates more narrowly on English instruction, which appears in a separate discussion below. In general, as in the West, despite the high status accorded to teachers in both traditional Arabic culture and among the Palestinians, teachers in Kuwait continue to suffer low salaries and low status in comparison with other professions. The following assertion (Sarsour, 1975) should sound familiar to most Westerner teachers, "The teacher's status is, to say the least, not high, and the majority, 77%, according to a recent study, are dissatisfied with the salaries paid them" (p. 79).

On the subject of foreign teacher quality, the subject of the Palestinians requires separate consideration. Most observers perceive the 1991 general exit of the Palestinians as leading to a decline in quality of the public school system (Al-Khansa, 2001; Al-Jinnah, 2001). The Palestinian departure, therefore, corresponds closely with the formation date of many private Arabic schools, some of which hired Palestinians previously employed in the public schools. In fact, most discussions of the public school system contain either the phrases "before the Palestinians left" or "after the Palestinians left.…" This author’s Egyptian friend attended a public girls’ high school in the period both before and after the Iraqi Invasion, and she noticed the difference in quality:

Before the war, it was really good. The teachers were really excellent.…After the war, it was a joke. I remember girls fooling around in class all of the time. We didn’t really learn anything.

The foreign-born, lower status of teachers leads to the next point: foreign-filled. This does not merely repeat the previous point. It refers to the apparently contradictory fact that, despite a rapidly increasing population and the wholesale adoption of entire, prolific Bedouin tribes, the Kuwaitis represent a shrinking percentage of students in their own public schools. For example, in the time period between 1967 and 1977, the percentage of non-Kuwaitis in the public schools rose from 26.3% to 45.5% (Ismael, 1982). Of course, the rising number of Palestinians account for part of this. However, even after the Gulf War, Kuwaitis continued their decline towards minority status (Longva, 1997):

In the field of education, the line of division was officially between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, with the former attending the free public schools and the latter attending the private "community" schools. In reality, approximately half of the students in the Kuwaiti public schools were non-Kuwaitis, the majority being Palestinians/Jordanians, while the rest were nationals from the Gulf countries (Social Statistics, 1998). Most non-Kuwaiti children, meanwhile, attended community schools....There were Palestinian, Iranian, Egyptian, Pakistani, and Indian schools and a series of US, British, and French schools. (p. 37)

Thus, the portion of the oil money set aside to educate Kuwaitis, ironically enough, finances the education of foreign students taught by foreign teachers. Here, as in the case of the right-to-a-job provisions of the Kuwaiti Constitution, a law enacted for one purpose resulted in some totally unintended consequences.

Originally, the government allowed the non-Arab nationalities their own community schools as a means of dealing with an awkward problem: Indian students, for instance, would not wish to have an education in Arabic, much preferring English. The same, of course, holds true for the children of English-speaking engineers and oil executives who also wanted a school environment more like that of their home countries. At the same time, allowing private Arab schools would deal with another issue: foreign-born, Arabic-speaking children. Letting these foreign Arabs set up their own schools allowed for some voluntary segregation between them and the Kuwaitis. All of the schools, of course, required "Kuwaiti ownership," and pure greed undoubtedly played some part in these legal provisions.

More discussion of the private schools will occur in the next section. Here, however, suffice it to say that, as time went on, and the Kuwaiti population became more affluent and more educated, two different things happened. First, more affluence meant that even ordinary Kuwaitis could afford private schooling. Second, as Kuwaitis started to withdraw from the public schools, these schools started to become the preserve of the non-Kuwaitis, and hence the public schools became the schools of the "lower classes." This concept applies whether considering Asil exiting because Bedouin started attending or Bedouin, newly conscious of their "Kuwaiti status," exiting because of the presence of foreigners. To anyone who has experienced "white flight," the concept should sound very familiar. The decline in teacher quality merely accelerated this process.

This leaves the public schools primarily attended by Palestinians, Egyptians, and lesser numbers of Syrians and Lebanese taught by, appropriately enough, Palestinians and Egyptians. Whereas once any kind of an education served as a status symbol, now only a private education will do (Longva, 1997).

The Kuwaiti public schools remain very traditional, though certainly "progressive" in comparison with the madressors that preceded them. Students now attend a full 13 years of public schooling, divided between elementary, middle school, and high school (British Council, 1983; Kennedy, 1998). Further, schools teach basically the same curriculum one might find in a Western school, with Arabic substituting for English or French (British Council, 1983).

In some other ways, however, the public schools remain more traditional than those of the West, including the manner of classroom instruction. Public schools continue to feature traditional, authoritarian, teacher-centered classrooms. Teachers heavily emphasize memorization of lessons (Al-Khansa, 2001) and passive listening; very seldom do students "actively engage" the teacher. Unsurprisingly, public school classrooms resemble those of pre-Diaspora Palestine. Correspondingly, Kharma (1981) finds genuine resistance to a number of teaching strategies commonly accepted in the West:

Tutoring of especially weak students is another method employed---again on a small scale in our schools.....Grouping inside the classroom employed in Europe and America has not been popular with our teachers...Peer-teaching, problem-solving, and project work, are rarely found in our schools. (p. 400)

In four years and in literally hundreds of random observations of neighboring Arab, primarily Palestinian, classroom teachers, this author only found the methods mentioned above employed perhaps four or five times and then very cautiously. The ideal student in these classrooms learned the "correct" answers and stayed quiet, polite, and respectful.

Traditionalism refers to the public schools in another way as they increasingly became the target of the Islamist and Bedouin Parliamentary social agenda (Ghabra II, 1997):

By 1981 Islamist influence had spread to the teachers' association, and from there to the Ministry of Education. This laid the groundwork for the imposition of a more conservative school curriculum. Books in Arabic began citing parables from the Koran rather than from modern sources. The secular and "open" poetry of the 1970s was increasingly replaced by that of a religious and conservative nature. First grade Arabic primers were revised to include examples of children praying, eating and drinking and thanking God for what they had; no examples were given of people working, producing, drawing, singing, dancing and so on. (p. 15)

The dual forces of an Islamic revival and the growing influence of the Bedouin mean that the public schools feel pressure to become more outwardly Islamic. This pressure originates in two directions. On the one hand, the Kuwaiti parents, themselves, come from an increasingly conservative strain of society (Ghabra II, 1997). On the other hand, the growing influence of both the Bedouin and Islamists in Parliament means that the schools become an easy target for instituting a conservative social agenda. Such matters as having students in a girls' school perform a traditional Kuwaiti dance in front of male school board members became matters for serious and long-winded Parliamentary debate. The decision to gender-segregate classes at Kuwait University, in which students sit by gender anyway, took up literally months of Parliamentary time. Thus, the government schools increasingly become a place in which a more liberal parent might not want to place his or her children; certainly two Kuwaiti Ministers of Education agree as they placed their children in Al-Dharra Madressor.

One final point concerns the relative weakness of English-language instruction. Recall the importance of an English education. Not only does it allow entrance into an English-speaking university, but it also forms a necessary prerequisite for business success in Kuwait. A businessman not only speaks English to his/her American or English contacts, but he also needs to speak English to work with Indian computer technicians and Bangladeshi handymen. While a person, particularly a worker or low-level manager, can survive in Kuwait with little knowledge of English, most important people need bilingual competence.

The public schools generally do not offer this. For one thing, public schools cannot afford to hire native speakers of English, instead hiring Arab teachers with English majors (Kharma, 1977 II). In general, these Arab English majors constitute some of the weakest students at Arab universities, i.e., those who could not make it in more prestigious university departments (Kharma, 1977 II):

Only a small minority of teachers in Kuwait and other Arab countries are adequately trained as teachers of English. Secondly, those who have chosen to join the English department at a university need not have made their choice out of interest; many must certainly have done so out of necessity....[These teachers] are not very fluent.…More than 85% are not natives of the country [Kuwait] and work on a temporary basis. (p. 107)

One can envision teaching of English as something forced upon an Egyptian or Palestinian with a degree. He or she could, and generally would, rather work elsewhere and earn more. Necessity, however, forces him or her, often at the expense of leaving family and friends, to journey to Kuwait and teach. This leads to mediocre teaching (Kharma, 1977 II):

Since most teachers of English in the country are so far of the mediocre type, a good textbook seems...indispensable. [Under these conditions] you need a teacher who is professionally trained, who is imaginative and creative, who is highly motivated, who has the time to think about and prepare his lessons adequately....This kind of teacher is the small minority, and most of the others depend almost entirely on the textbook or the course prescribed. (p. 108)

Weaker teachers of English may resort to the easier expedient of teaching a grammar-based rather than conversation-based program. This, of course, results in easy-to-grade tests and exams and definite "right answers," but it does not teach English very well, as Kharma (1981) concludes:

In spite of eight years of [public school] English instruction at school, final examinations showed then, and still show now, that our students score far less on the reading comprehension part of the examination papers than on the parts that test the elements of the language such as structure and vocabulary. (pp. 399-400)

Correspondingly, only a tiny handful of public school students at the junior-high or high-school level successfully pass the English portion of Al-Dharra’s entrance examination, and those invariably come from families with siblings in Al-Dharra or another international school. In contrast, the few ADM students who transfer to the public school system, including even those who "flunk out," invariably earn straight "As" in English.

In general, then, the public system of Kuwait does its basic job of supplying general Arabic literacy. That it fails in educating Kuwaitis who can "replace" the foreigners results largely from the fact that Kuwaitis have little incentive to try, and those very Kuwaitis with that incentive typically leave the public schools anyway. Such a system does not serve everyone, not even every Kuwaiti. In particular, it does not suit those such as the Asil who expect not only to have English on their certificate but also to attend American and British universities and use English in running their businesses.

D. The Private Schools of Kuwait

As indicated above, the proliferation of private schools in Kuwait happened almost by accident. Indeed, the merchants initially closed their own private school because the government’s public schools effectively replaced it.

Over time, however, the needs of the various foreign populations and the social aspirations of different classes of Kuwaitis led to the proliferation of different types of private schools. As of 1979, the founding date of Al-Dharra, relatively few Kuwaitis attended these schools (Beesen, Meleis, & El-Sanabary, 1979):

[There are] 81 private schools and institutes with enrollments nearly 38,000. These schools exist primarily to serve the needs of the large and varied non-Kuwaiti population. Nearly 3/4 of these schools are Arabic; the remaining ones are mostly English schools. (p. 117, emphasis added)

Private school numbers expanded considerably. According to The Kuwait Pocket Guide, (Kennedy, 1998) as of 1998 104 private schools operated in Kuwait, including 42 non-Arabic and 62 Arabic, and accounting for 40,000 and 75,000 students, respectively, a tripling of the number of students. As indicated previously, a lot of that increase came from Arabs exiting the public schools. Hence, even in the non-Arabic schools, Arabs numbered 50% of the total, including 25% Kuwaiti (Kennedy, 1998). To make some sense of these numbers, this means that the average non-Arabic private school includes the following.

Kennedy explains the Kuwaitis’ preference for private schools according to many of the factors already mentioned above (Kennedy, 1998):

According to educationalists, there is a marked preference among Kuwaitis for a Western education due to several factors. These factors include the inadequacy of state education, the importance of an English education in preparation for further education overseas and life in general, and the advanced curriculum of the non-Arabic foreign schools in Kuwait. Despite the comparatively very high fees, schools that teach American, French, and British curricula are booming. (p. 128)

These schools do not operate solely according to their own whims as they remain under the oversight of the Ministry of Private Education. Technically, the Ministry oversees such matters as staff qualification and endorsement (Kennedy, 1998). In reality, however, the Ministry, a typical sheikly bureau, exercises relatively little control and shows a passing interest in these schools. The actual "guidance" typically consists in soliciting and returning papers. For example, schools need to submit a request for any school field trip, which the Ministry then signs and returns. The few private schools, such as Al-Dharra, with Kuwaiti accreditation meet with greater Ministry scrutiny and submit more paperwork; still Al-Dharra receives only about two visits per year from the Ministry. Typically, then, one can describe the Ministry’s oversight as "benign indifference."

One can categorize these private schools in several different ways, according to language of instruction, social milieu, and cost. Typically, though, these categorizations all tend to overlap. Roughly, speaking, one can categorize them as:

(0)Kuwait public schools (cheap, conservative)
(1)Arab private schools (cheap, generally conservative)
(2)Indian and other communitarian schools (cheap to moderate, liberal)
(3)International Schools, including English and bilingual schools (moderate to expensive, conservative to Westernized)

Choosing a school, then, means a market-based decision as well as a means of social classification. The market decision derives from choosing a school as something of an investment, and you tend to get what you pay for in terms of class size and quality of instruction. For example, an Indian student in an Indian school attends classes of forty, six hours a day, and studies under an all-Indian instructional staff. That same student attending Kuwait American School experiences half as many fellow-students, an additional hour of instruction, and American/Canadian expatriate instructors.

An important piece of information in this context concerns price. The Ministry actively regulates prices and approves or rejects tuition hikes. Of course, though, Asil owners sometimes think of clever means of raising prices anyway such as through charging mandatory "book fees." Still, consider the following as giving approximate prices (dollar equivalents in parentheses (extracted from Kennedy, 1998)):

One has to question the wisdom of sending a child to a Western-style school that costs almost as much as a university for the purpose of sending that child to a university. Still, parents do this, and this shows the value that they put not only on education but on their family. The Indian schools seem, in this instance, a veritable bargain.

The second distinction concerns class. While for most families their class coincides with their passport, the type of school attended differentiates the sub-categories of Kuwaitis. For example, the Bedouin attend the public schools or the cheaper private schools. Only an Asil family in desperate times or with a really pathetic son would consider sending him to a public school, though parents might send a daughter for reasons of gender segregation. Indeed, Longva attributes the rising number of Kuwaitis attending private schools mainly to class considerations (Longva, 1997), a topic reconsidered in the next chapter.

The third differentiation consists of social orientation, and this ranges from conservative to Westernized, and this aspect of the schooling decision usually most concerns the parents of girls (Beesen, Meleis, & El-Sanabury, 1979; Al-Khansa, 2001). Here, again, the communitarian (nationality) schools offer an environment familiar to nationals of those countries, and the public schools provide an environment legislated for them by an increasingly conservative Parliament.

Parents opting for a more specific type of environment find a relatively large range of options in the private schools. For the ultra-conservative, the newly opened Al-Ruya Bilingual School not only splits the school on gender lines but hires an all-Muslim staff (ECIS: Al-Ruya, 2001). The Oxford Academy/The English School for Girls (ECIS: ESG, 2001) offer two schools literally next door but run with no contact, and the latter fits its all-girl model into that of a traditional English girls school (ECIS: Oxford Academy; ECIS: English School for Girls, 2001). The American Academy for Girls also offers an all-girls school (ECIS: American Academy for Girls, 2001). Finally, the American Creative Academy runs a single school for boys and girls that divides into two campuses for classes but re-unites both genders for activities (ECIS: American Creativity Academy, 2001). At the extremely liberal end, the Kuwait American School not only offers co-ed classes and activities (ECIS: Kuwait American School, 2001) but does not even bother to enforce Kuwaiti law preventing students publicly eating and drinking on campus during Ramadan.

Having differentiated along these three lines, one can identify, then, five different types of private schools, considered below:

(1) private Arabic schools
(2) true community schools
(3) American schools
(4) British schools
(5) bilingual schools

First, parents can opt for a private Arabic school. These serve a dual function: first, they offer a sound education in Arabic; second, they allow individual sub-communities to have their own schools. All of these schools, like all private schools, run under Kuwaiti ownership. These often prove the choice for the poor, non-Kuwaiti Arab.

Second, one can distinguish the true "community schools," which serve only a particular community. The Armenian school, for example, conducts all of its classes in Armenian, and the Iranian school in Iranian with Arabic as a foreign language. Along these same lines, most of the Pakistani schools hold classes in Urdu, the Pakistani national language. The Filipino schools instruct in both Tagalog and English. The Indian schools form a special sub-category of the communitarian schools. While they function as community schools, they teach exclusively in English with Hindi and Arabic offered as second languages.

The "American" schools and "British" schools show considerable variation. The one uniting factor is that the British schools provide British style education and degrees while the American offer American style.

The British School in Kuwait (BSK), Kuwait British School (KBS), Gulf English School (GES), and New English School (NES) probably function as the most "British" of the British schools (ECIS: British School in Kuwait; Kuwait British School; Gulf English School; and New English School, 2001). In each case, the school features a co-ed environment, dresses students in uniform, and prepares them for British-style exit exams. There the similarities end. BSK, the "embassy school," receives a grant from the British government to educate British government dependents. Both KBS and BSK hold substantial numbers of Indian students who, along with the British nationals, form the dominant academic element. In contrast, GES includes many more non-Kuwaiti Arab students while NES educates many Kuwaitis of the lower classes and the newly rich. Other British schools include Kuwait International English School (KIES), Kuwait National English School (KNES), The English Academy (EA), and The English School (TES), and all offer a co-educational British style curriculum (ECIS: Kuwait Independent English School; Kuwait National English School; The English Academy; The English School, 2001). As noted above, more conservative parents of Kuwaitis can consider the brother/sister school of Oxford Academy/the English School for Girls.

The American schools offer similar variety. The Kuwait American School (KAS) serves as the embassy school and enrolls the dependents of embassy personnel. American International School (AIS) and Universal American School (UAS) both include substantial non-Kuwaiti populations. Their programs offer American class progressions, the SAT, etc. (ECIS: American International School; Universal American School, 2001).

More conservative parents, again, have an option, in this case American Creativity Academy. ACA splits the genders into two campuses. Females teach on both campuses, but no males teach on the female campus. Both genders, however, participate together in activities. The director of ACA, an Egyptian woman, perhaps aware of the apparent contradiction of segregating an essentially co-educational "American" school, defends her institution, not on the grounds of Islamic religion, but on that of American studies showing that girls perform better in segregated classes. For those desiring more segregation still, AAG provides an all-girl school.

The American and British schools, however, include only small and optional amounts of Arabic instruction. Typically, students can take 1-2 hours of Arabic a day. To get a roughly equal amount of Arabic and English requires enrolling in one of only three schools: Al-Dharra Madressor, Al-Ruya, or Dasman Model School (ECIS: Dasman Model School, 2001), of which only Dharra dates back to the time before the Gulf War. Thus, before the Gulf War, bilingual education meant Al-Dharra Madressor.

E. Private Schools as a Function of Kuwait’s Historical Evolution

Chapter three detailed the post-oil evolution of Kuwait, and the evolution of the private school world of Kuwait helps illustrate this process. Historically, one can distinguish between three distinct "waves" of private schools, and each wave resulted from important changes in economic and social conditions in post-oil Kuwait.

Note that the figures below for all of the schools show a persistent imbalance in which boys far outnumber girls. This may seem curious since the school-age population, unlike the working-age population, splits equally between the two genders. Two factors explain the relative absence of girls in private schools. First, even in liberal Arab families, parents worry more about girls in a mixed school than they worry about boys, and they usually quiet those fears by keeping their daughters in segregated public girls schools. Second, many parents consider a girl’s education of lesser value anyway. This helps explain the riddle of the relatively small enrollment and late foundation of ESG and AAG. The ultra-conservative and Bedouin most interested in protecting their daughters generally do not have the money or inclination to waste money on a daughter they intend to marry off anyway.

The first wave began with the setting up of the initial schools built mainly to educate foreign nationals, i.e., TES-F, NES, and KAS. Significantly TES-F owners built their school close to the oil fields in Fahaheel and taught the dependents of the British oil-company employees (ECIS: The English School-Fahaheel, 2001). The Kuwait American School and New English School, located closer to the Kuwaiti City, responded to a further influx of English and American nationals and originally catered, again, to their dependents. All of these schools exclusively taught the curriculum of the home country.

The second wave of schools included Al-Dharra Madressor, Gulf English School, Kuwait British School, and the British School in Kuwait. This wave coincided with two important economic events: the rise in oil prices following the 1973 War and the Iranian Revolution of 1978; and the later rise of the Manakh Al Suk. This second wave, then corresponds, on the one hand, with a time many Kuwaitis suddenly could afford private school tuition and, on the other, to the first serious challenge of the Asil by rising, public school-educated Kuwaiti adults, the Manakh rich. Schools founded in this second wave, correspondingly, made more efforts to accommodate host country and Arab nationals. Of this second wave, only KBS claims a totally national (British) curriculum. GES offers a British curriculum "supplemented" by the local curriculum, and BSK offers both. Al-Dharra fits logically into this second group as it features yet another mix: American and Kuwaiti curriculum with an equal attention to both languages.

The biggest, third wave of schools came in the wake of the Gulf War when parents perceived the public system as going downhill, both from the increased numbers of Bedouin and foreigners and the loss of Palestinian teachers. This wave includes several more schools drawn on earlier models, others catering to the rise of Bedouin and Kuwaiti conservatives, and even schools catering to the handicapped and special-needs learners.

Abbreviations in all charts
circa = when started
where = location
curric = curriculum- UK; US; US,K (both US and Kuwaiti); UK, K (both UK and Kuwaiti) US/K (US with some Kuwaiti); UK, UK/K (UK with some Kuwaiti);
exam = high school examinations
nat = total number of nationalities
%K= percentage Kuwaiti
NA= not available


By this standard, bilingual schools altogether represent only a scant 7%, i.e. 35% of 20%, of the private school population, a tiny amount. However, recall in this context, that the people who count in Kuwait number around 10,000, about one half of one percent, so size does not always indicate importance.

This should, then, give a general impression of private education. Private schools serve a wide variety of communities, social classes, and self-conceptions. From the economically rising new Kuwaiti to the liberal intellectual to the Indian engineer, the private school world offered and offers a place for everyone willing to pay.

F. Tutoring

One cannot complete a discussion of education in Kuwait without mentioning tutoring. Tutoring supplements, complements, and even sometimes replaces private and public school education, and it takes several different forms.

In its most organized form, tutoring consists of classes such as the TOEFL and SAT preparation courses taught by American Standard School (AMS), which also offer the TOEFL. Many public school parents perceive these classes as a lesser-cost alternative to sending their children to an expensive private school. Students, then, take the progressive TOEFL courses and the test several times. A common pattern involves students graduating from public school with a government scholarship to attend college in the United States only to fail the TOEFL test. Then students retake the TOEFL, along with the preparation courses or tutoring, until they pass or surrender their scholarships.

However, tutoring occurs everywhere and in far less organized fashion. Kuwaiti students hire English-speaking teachers as tutors. Public school students hire Arabic-speaking tutors. Daily newspapers even advertise Hindi tutors to prepare students for the Indian Central Board Examinations. Tutoring occurs in almost every subject imaginable.

Tutoring can provide a lucrative side-line. An effective tutor, judged always by results on an upcoming examination, can expect to get more than the "going rate," and the going rate generally about equals the hourly pay given to a classroom teacher of his nationality with correspondingly higher and lower salaries for English, Hindi, and Arabic speakers. Some teachers even quit their regular teaching jobs simply to tutor.

All of this tutoring signals three different factors at work. First, for many parents tutoring seems to offer a cost-effective way of increasing a child’s chance of finding "the way out." Hence, investing in it makes perfect economic sense. With plenty of teachers around, a ready market evolved that involved poorer Kuwaiti and foreign parents who cannot afford to send their children to a private school or not for their child’s entire school career. Many parents, for example, keep their students in public school for several years and then hire a tutor or enter their children in summer classes at places like AMS, which offers summer supplemental English classes, prior to having them tested for a private school.

If tutoring offers a bargain for some parents, to others it offers yet another luxury, and this particularly describes Asil parents. An imbalance occurs when parents have wealth on a whole different order of magnitude from that of their teachers. To these parents, hiring a tutor represents not so much a need for success as a need to spend.

A final factor seems to particularly describe the tutoring market for the Asil: the servant mentality. Growing up in a life of luxury surrounded by foreign servants, Asil expect to have foreigners come when they demand them, just as they expect other servants to do their bidding. Tutoring means that these students can learn when they wish, rather than when told to learn, just as their father goes to the office when he wishes, while his managers adhere to a set timetable.

G. What Makes Al-Dharra Unique

The preceding sections of this chapter begin to define Al-Dharra within the educational world of Kuwait. This section will make some of these distinctions more clear. Just as one can distinguish a Palestinian from a Kuwaiti, and an Asil from a Bedouin, one can distinguish Al-Dharra from other schools by a list of characteristics. Note, however, that no single characteristic describes the school but only the conjunction of them. Al-Dharra Madressor is:

(1) co-educational
(2) bilingual
(3) American/Kuwaiti curriculum
(4) Kuwaiti majority
(5) home to mostly wealthy students

As noted previously, Al-Dharra clearly dominates the bilingual category in terms of numbers and longevity. ADM served as the only bilingual school prior to 1996. Further, even in 2002, one can distinguish Al-Dharra from Al-Ruya, though not so easily from Dasman.

While Dasman clearly followed in Al-Dharra's path, some points distinguish Al-Ruya Bilingual (Al-Ruya 2002) from Al-Dharra. Al-Ruya started in 1996. It includes an all-Moslem staff. This means, to put this into perspective, that Al-Ruya hires only Muslim Americans and British. A far more conservative place than Al-Dharra, Al-Ruya girls all wear the hijab, the Moslem female headdress. When this author tried to enlist Al-Ruya to enter the Kuwait Debate League, he learned that Al-Ruya's students would not attend since Al-Dharra girls would not wear suitably modest attire, even if the Al-Ruya girls themselves did, creating an atmosphere considered "unsuitable" for Al-Ruya boys. Interestingly enough, Al-Ruya's owner used to have her own children enrolled in Al-Dharra, but a dispute with the director persuaded her to start her own school. She, herself, dresses in Western style and probably matches any Al-Dharra parent for her liberalism; however, she draws a very different clientele: Bedouin.

Another identifying characteristic relates to the number of nationalities. Excluding the two handicapped schools, one finds that Al-Dharra ranges near the bottom in terms of nationalities with "only" 21 (below). Only Dasman and ACA have even fewer. Frankly, the 21 listed for Dharra forms something of an exaggeration. Realistically, as chapter twelve will show, the school includes, along with Kuwaitis, Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Iranians, and Palestinians, who may hold any of a dozen national passports. One suspects that though Al-Ruya does not appear on this list it would rank with Dharra near the top as "most Kuwaiti," and AIS would rank near the far end as most international.

The second and last columns need particular consideration in this context. "Nat" indicates the number of nationalities officially listed by the school. The next column lists the percentage of Kuwaitis enrolled.

That Al-Dharra boasts 88% percent Kuwaiti itself forms an interesting point of comparison. Using the estimates above, the average international school should only contain 25% Kuwaitis. Of the schools listed by ECIS, only GES, KAS, and ADM specifically mention host country population. ADM tops this list (88% to 60% to 33%) by some margin in terms of host country percentage. Further, it makes sense to include, also, that the term "Kuwaiti" in most of the other schools may include some Bedouin but not in the case of ADM. In fact, in most conversations with teachers at other schools ADM quickly distinguishes itself by the percentage of Kuwaitis and its "Kuwaitiness."

One final point of comparison comes in terms of fees. Note here that BSK and KAS receive some amount of financial aid for teaching dependents of embassy personnel so, in reality, their tuition could fall about 25% below that listed. Still, even before considering the effects of this overall tuition, Al-Dharra, already charges as much if not more than almost any other school. By comparison, Al-Dharra's rival, Dasman, seems like something of a bargain, but Dasman’s listing contains information for a middle school, and high school tuition costs more at any of these schools.

One final point merits discussion in conjunction with this. In comparison to the other schools listed here, Al-Dharra pays its Arab staff relatively well. This accounts for some of the high costs noted above. However, it also has something to do with the orientation and values of the school. Typically, international schools pay local-hire teachers less (Broman, 1996). Most international schools in Kuwait make it practice to pay their "local hires" just above the public school rate. This does not matter that much to these schools because in all but a few schools the Arabic teachers have about the same role as that of foreign language teachers in an English language school since English forms the medium of instruction in almost all classes. Hence, these other international schools pay Arab teachers somewhere between KD 300-400 per month ($1000-$1320).

In contrast, Al-Dharra always pays its Arab staff the same as the English staff minus, KD100 ($330), in addition to offering half-priced tuition to the children of the staff. Thus, Arab teachers receive between KD200 and KD300 more than elsewhere. This pay relates, again, as much to ideology as economics and expresses a basic belief in the equality of the two languages. Thus, Arab teachers get paid somewhere between 500-600 ($1650-$1980) per month, more than anywhere else and a factor in the higher tuitions.

In sum, then, Al-Dharra distinguishes itself in several different ways. First, until recently, it offered the only bilingual system mixing the American and Kuwaiti curricula. Second, and this point will lead to the next discussion, it looks markedly more Kuwaiti than other schools both in its valuing Arabic more and in spending more on its Arab staff.

At this point, it should seem obvious that more than any other school, Al-Dharra serves the Asil community. They, of course, can afford to pay high tuition costs. Further, as indicated before, they need an effective bilingual education with a strong knowledge of both languages. Further, as the next chapter will show, the Asil owners founded the school specifically for their needs, so it should come as no surprise that they attend.

Onward to Chapter 8: The World of Al-Dharra Madressor
Back to Chapter 6: The Palestinian Dilemma

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