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Kuwaiti Academic’s Book Offers Views on How to Reform a Failing Education System

After she launched a community initiative to reform Kuwait’s education a year ago, Esra Aleisa is publishing a book on the initiative this month with the support of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, which will print and distribute it free.

The initiative, called “From Here We Sail”, has the views of about 50 education experts in response to the deterioration of Kuwait’s education system in recent years, a deterioration that was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. In an interview, Aleisa told Al-Fanar Media that the initiative aims to identify problems analytically and suggest solutions.

Covid-19 and Education in Kuwait

One of the pandemic’s repercussions was Kuwait’s decision in February 2020 to close public universities and schools. Education was suspended at universities for four months and at public schools for about seven months before a remote learning system was fully in place.

“We found government-supervised international reports do not reflect the reality on the ground, but always beautify the situation.”

Esra Aleisa, a Kuwaiti academic and a founder of the “From Here We Sail” initiative

These suspensions made Aleisa wonder about the education system’s inability to use online learning. While she believes that Kuwait was a pioneer in facing the pandemic, she says that education was not a priority.

(See a related article, “Covid-19 School Closures Could Cost $17 Trillion in Lost Earnings, Report Says”.)

Besides Aleisa, the initiative included educators, such as Ahoud Alasfour of Kuwait’s Public Authority for Applied Education and Training, Ali Al-Kandari and Abdullah Al-Failakawi of Kuwait University, Fatimah Alhashem of the Gulf University for Science and Technology, and Ibrahim Alhouti of University College London.

Finding no reliable scientific sources to diagnose Kuwait’s education problems, they launched the reform initiative. “We found government-supervised international reports do not reflect the reality on the ground, and always beautify the situation,” said Aleisa.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Kuwait came 85th out of 141 countries in research and development, 112th in graduate skills, and 108th in innovation capacity. Confronted with these rankings, the initiative’s participants reviewed international reports and conducted field visits and interviews with over 70 Kuwaiti public figures to verify the figures and data.

Ideas and Recommendations

They made several recommendations, most notably a call to view teachers as the basis of education. They drew up a career path that guarantees teachers’ moral and material continuity. They designed methods to evaluate the efficiency of educational professionals and built curricula using modern technology that promote creativity and innovation for school students.

While ensuring the study of Arabic and humanities, the initiative aims to link curricula to the labour market and to include people with disabilities in all educational paths.

“We have a real water and food security crisis. Future powers will be countries that have water resources and fertilisers.”

Esra Aleisa  

The initiative also addressed Kuwait’s higher education system, especially Kuwait University’s downward trend in international rankings. Aleisa, who is an associate professor at the university’s College of Engineering and Petroleum, attributes the decline to the fact that academic promotion is linked only to research.

(See a related article, “Kuwait University’s Decline in QS Rankings Stirs Heated Debate on Campus”.)

The initiative’s report also blamed the lack of oversight of research preparation and bureaucratic burdens, which resulted in poor research proposals that failed to obtain funding.

The initiative recommended the establishment of a Higher Education Council to lead the system forward, with full powers to hold scientific research institutions accountable.

Academic Career

After graduating from Kuwait University’s College of Engineering and Petroleum in 1997, Aleisa travelled abroad to complete her postgraduate studies in the United States. During her six years at the State University of New York at Buffalo, she received master’s (2001) and doctoral (2005) degrees in industrial engineering, specialising in digital sustainability.

As well as her academic work at Kuwait University, Aleisa also researched and wrote reports for Unesco on science, innovation, and technology. She also writes about water sustainability for the United Nations Environment Programme and has served as an advisor to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Water Sustainability

Aleisa regards water sustainability as the biggest challenge facing the world. She says that the Arab region, like the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented water and food security crisis.

According to a 2019 analysis by the World Resources Institute, 12 of the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa.

Those countries are facing the greatest danger because more than 80 percent of their available water goes to agriculture, industry and cities.

Nine of the most water-stressed countries are Arab. They are, in order of their ranking: Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman.

Nine other Arab countries face high to medium-high levels of baseline water stress. They are: Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Djibouti, Iraq, Egypt, and Sudan.

“We have a real water and food security crisis,” Aleisa said. “Future powers will be countries that have water resources and fertilisers.”

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