Manama- On February 14, the Kingdom of Bahrain will celebrated the18th anniversary of its National Action Charter. The document reflects the Bahraini King’s vision in various fields of development, especially education. 2019 also marks the 100th anniversary of the first public school in Bahrain as the Al-Hidaya Al-Khalifa School officially opened its doors to the public in 1919. The school has since been a leading educational institution in the Gulf region. As such, the Kingdom will also be celebrating 100 years of formal education in Bahrain.
Throughout this century, Bahrain has made tremendous leaps and carried out unprecedented initiatives towards modernizing and improving education and the quality of educational services. As a result, regional and international organizations such as UNESCO commended Bahrain’s efforts toward educational modernization.
Bahrain’s efforts would further be recognized on January 30, 2019 when it was awarded the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)’s Prize for Open Digital Educational Resources for 2018. The fact that this was the first time ISESCO gave out this award, thus making Bahrain its first ever recipient, made the occasion even more special.
The award aims to encourage digital educational innovations within ISESCO’s member states. The award also inspires states to be scientifically competitive as they strive to highlight their innovative capabilities in the field of educational technology. Furthermore, the award encourages states to introduce, support and disseminate leading digital educational projects.
These targets support the international community’s efforts towards achieving the fourth objective of its sustainable development goals for 2030, namely “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Majalla met with Bahrain’s Minister of Education Dr. Majed al-Nuaimi in Manama, and he spoke to us about Bahrain’s vision for its educational future.
* On February 14, the Kingdom of Bahrain celebrated the anniversary of issuing the National Action Charter. How has the Charter affected Bahrain’s educational system?
- Voting on the National Action Charter was a milestone in the history of the Kingdom of Bahrain as its citizens unanimously agreed to vote "yes" to the Charter. The Charter, for its part, reflects the vision of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who launched a new stage of development and prosperity in various sectors, especially in education at its various levels.
Since then there have been many breakthroughs in Bahrain’s educational system. Furthermore, the launch of the National project for the development of education and training presented an important development for our educational innovation since it included five qualitative initiatives.
First, it established Bahrain’s Teachers College, which contributed to providing the educational field with qualified teachers who work in accordance to the highest international standards.
Second, it also implemented a project to improve the schools’ performance and develop the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the education sector, thus further developing general and vocational training.
Third, it established the Ed ucation and Training Quality Authority (BQA), which externally evaluates and assesses educational bodies.
Fourth, it launched an initiative to develop the higher education sector; including the establishment of Bahrain Technical College aka Bahrain Polytechnic. This constituted a distinctive addition to institutions of higher education as it includes new academic programs that meet the requirements of the labor market.
Fifth, it launched the Teachers’ Cadre Project, which has made a qualitative leap for those working in the educational field. The Project provides more facilities in the field of investment in private education in accordance with laws and regulations on the quality of services. It also aimed at providing more educational opportunities for citizens, that was until the recent increase of private schools in Bahrain (which presently amount to 73) and as well as private higher education institutions (of which there are 13 in total).
Education in Bahrain also witnessed a remarkable boom in many aspects, for example we recently established a new infrastructural model for public schools, and moreover this model is based on international standards. As such, these schools are equipped with the latest education requirements and are environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.
* What can you tell us about your experience in promoting the integration of technology into education and making the most of ICT in the educational field?
- The Kingdom of Bahrain's schools have moved to an advanced level of e-learning through the initiation of the 2005 King Hamad Schools of the Future project, which became standard in all schools since 2009. The project achieved all its quantitative and qualitative goals in the field of integrating technology in education.
In this context, Bahrain moved to a more advanced level in 2015, when it followed royal orders and launched the Digital Empowerment in Education Project. This project aimed for enhancing our students and teachers’ capacity in the field digital educational content production instead of just using the ones provided to us.
Before implementing this project, we reviewed a number of successful international experiments with similar initiatives, such as those in the United States, South Korea and Singapore.
We then provided schools with the necessary digital devices and applications and gave teachers qualitative training. The project is based on several pillars, including digital educational content, the e-learning portal that provides advanced communication features for students, teachers and parents, safe use of technology, specialized training and technical guidance.
Field follow-up and scientific evaluation proved the success of the project as it encouraged students and teachers to move from consuming digital educational content to producing high quality digital content.
The students and teachers also proved their creativity. There were many schools that made a myriad of digital educational content, such as interactive lessons, games and interactive digital competitions. Such creations were in turn presented in more than one event and received praise from many Bahraini and foreign experts.
The students' motivation for academic achievement also clearly grew as the project provided them with interesting and varied educational techniques that took into consideration their different needs and learning abilities.
Bahrain's efforts have had a positive impact on the international level. The most recent of its achievements was being awarded the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)’s Prize for Open Digital Educational Resources in its first edition in 2018. Bahrain received the award for launching the “MaktabatyAr-Raqmia” (My E-Library) initiative.
Additionally, Bahrain's local efforts reached the whole world when it launched, under the directive of King Hamad, the UNESCO King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Prize for the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education.
The Prize had a lot global interest as many scientists and researchers from around the world competed in many of the award’s contests and submitted high-level projects for evaluation. Such a high turnout from qualified scientists and innovators around the world reflects the event’s success.
Finally, in cooperation with UNESCO, the Regional Centre for the Information and Communication Technology (RCICT) was launched and provides qualitative training programs in the field of e-learning, benefiting educators both locally and regionally.
*The Kingdom of Bahrain has followed the growing global interest in technical and vocational education. What are your most important achievements in these areas?
- The Ministry of Education has launched an advanced system of technical and vocational education, which provides many new qualitative education majors for boys and girls to meet the labor market’s requirements and contribute to the realization of the Kingdom’s development aspirations. To do this we learned from other countries’ successful technical/vocational training programs and received consultancy from leading global vocational experts.
It should also be noted that the Ministry has expanded the vocational and technical majors directed toward girls, thus encouraging higher female participation in such fields.
This step has achieved remarkable success, especially in the two majors, namely medical device maintenance and computer technologies. Both majors had mostly female applicants; this is mostly due to the numerous opportunities that such fields can give them throughout both their university and career lives.
Moreover, the Ministry also had a distinct experience of cooperation with UNESCO.
Both bodies cooperated to develop this sector’s curriculum, which was subsequently disseminated by the UN to many countries, including Nigeria and a number of African countries. They also established the Bahrain Centre of Excellence for Technical and Vocational Education, which provides training for educational staff working in this sector.
The Education Ministry has taken another major step in implementing the field training program “Takween” in cooperation with labor market institutions. This program is one of the prerequisites for graduating from this educational system. The program aims to enhance the curriculum with related skills and practical experience to ensure students master the basic professional competencies needed for the labor market. The program also adds to the students’ educational knowledge as it enables them to excel in university studies. Thousands of students apply to this training program on a yearly basis.
The Ministry also implemented a vocational guidance project for high school students. To do this the program encourages a number of instructors to continuously provide guidance for students in schools and persuade them to apply to vocational majors.
This has contributed to the rise in the number of students enrolled in this sector, as now 37 per cent of high school students go into vocational programs.
* Tell us about the Ministry’s experience in implementing a community service course in high schools.
- We started implementing this curriculum during the 2005-2006 academic year within the framework of the Ministry's vision to enhance the students’ belonging to his or her society and consolidate his or her citizen values.
Taking this course is a prerequisite for high school graduation. The course constitutes a total of 60 hours of study. Thirty of which are spent in school as students participate in educational activities, they then spend the remaining 30 hours volunteering for public and private institutions such as public libraries, health centers and care centers for the elderly and people with special needs.
Today it is considered a unifying pillar throughout all the country’s high schools, and it has succeeded in developing students’ skills, abilities, positive attitudes and behaviors towards their country and society. The number of students benefiting from this curriculum increased to 9,000; furthermore the number of institutions taking in student volunteers has increased to 165.
* When the Kingdom established its Higher Education Council (HEC) in 2005, the higher education sector witnessed a new phase of development. Can you tell us more about it?
- Indeed, the education sector has witnessed great development in all levels since the establishment of the Higher Education Council in accordance with law number 3 under the 2005 decree.
Investment in private higher education was encouraged by granting local and foreign investors facilitations to establish educational institutions, especially after they met all the necessary requirements.
This step aimed to keep Bahrain up to date with global and specialized academic developments and make Bahrain a regional center for higher education.
The Kingdom has succeeded in attracting many foreign universities, including the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), the British University and Vatel International Hospitality Management School, which is one of the most important international institutions in the field of hospitality management. Our higher education institutions have also been encouraged to host academic programs in cooperation with prestigious universities.
The HEC and its General Secretariat are responsible for following up with the higher education institutions and monitoring their programs, supporting services, quality of performance, outputs and financial conditions.
It also launched the National Higher Education Strategy 2014-24 and the National Scientific Research Strategy 2014-19. Its General Secretariat, for its part, prepared plans to achieve the two strategies’ goals.
As a result of confidence in the level of higher education in the Kingdom, Bahrain's higher education institutions have seen an increasing number of foreign students from many countries, especially those from the GCC states. During the 2017-18 academic year alone, there were more than 6,000 foreign students in Bahraini universities.
In order to attract more of these students, the HEC called on all higher education institutions to obtain academic accreditation. It is for this reason that the HEC has been cooperating with the British Accreditation Council to obtain such accreditation. As a result of these efforts, three higher education institutions obtained this accreditation, and four others are in the process of obtaining it.
* What can you tell us on the educational cooperation between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
- We cherish this educational cooperation with Saudi Arabia and look forward toward enhancing it, as it benefits the two countries’ educational field.
This cooperation has had many benefits for Bahrain’s education sector. First and foremost our cooperation has encouraged a number of Saudi educational staff to come here to work in our Education Ministry and public schools, their presence has had a clear imprint in all the Ministry's development projects.
Both Kingdoms have also shared and exchanged math and science curriculums thus enriching the national education system of both countries. I should also mention Saudi Arabia’s willingness to provide scholarships for our outstanding students, who in turn benefit from learning at prestigious Saudi universities.
Work is also underway toward establishing the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Medical City, which is currently under construction in the Kingdom of Bahrain., representing another outstanding example of the bilateral and historic brotherly relations.
This medical city, which is scheduled to be inaugurated soon, aims to enhance the educational services offered by the Arabian Gulf University through a number of areas, mainly the medical education service. It will consist of an educational hospital, a medical school building, a research center and training center as well as special accommodations for hospital staff and students and support services.