The Kuwait Teachers Society directed harsh criticism towards the Minister of Education, Dr. Saud Al Harbi, for his mismanagement of the education issue during the COVID-19 crisis.
In a statement, the Teachers Society said that they lost confidence in Al Harbi as he does not have a vision or strategy for the future of education in Kuwait.
“The minister was unclear about his decisions from the beginning. Plus, at the start of the pandemic, the minister refused online learning as he said that the ministry was working on an online platform. Why were they more concerned with creating an online platform than the future of our children’s education?” Education Matters, a parent and educator, told Gulf News.
Last week, Al Harbi announced that all classes will be conducted online for the first semester. He added that the decision will be revised in November and will take into account the health situation of the country.
All schools are expected to resume on October 4, after a seven-month hiatus. Although schools were closed most private schools conducted e-learning classes throughout the pandemic and ended the school year on schedule.
In terms of public schools, last month, Al Harbi announced that the 2019/2020 school year has ended after schools were suspended since March 12. Kindergarten students up until 11th graders, who have passed more than four subjects, graduated to the next year. As for 12th graders, in the beginning of August, Al Harbi announced that they will continue the school year online and then take the tests in person.
“The 12th graders are only now completing the 2019/2020 school year, after being out of school for five months from March until July. The halting of schools has delayed all students’ education, including 12th graders that were unable to graduate,” Education Matters said.
As some schools rushed to implement e-learning, many students, teachers and parents had a hard time adjusting to this new way of learning.
“Online learning for younger children does not work, it is an unrealistic option. We tried it for a few months but we were lucky if we got the kids attention for more than five minutes,” Sarah Boodai, co-owner of Leap preschool, told Gulf News.
According to a report by Unicef, preschools should be the first to be considered to open as remote learning has proved ineffective in most cases. In addition, preschools are important not only for the child’s educational career, but also for the parents to ensure that their children are being cared for as they return to work.
“Online learning is also difficult for parents, especially working parents and single parents, as they are at work all day and then are expected to go back home and help their children with their school work,” Education Matters said.
Some schools have given the parents the option for their children to enrol in the morning or afternoon session to accommodate the parents’ schedules. In addition, some schools including Leap, have been developing alternative learning methods that are not time sensitive.
“We will be creating weekly learning packages for the kids that can be completed at the parents’ and child’s own pace, since the younger kids need the assistance of their parents,” Boodai explained.
As for teachers, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, they were left out of the decision making process. Many have voiced their concern with e-learning as they are not trained to teach online or do not have the resources to do so. “Some teachers also find it challenging to conduct all the lessons online, as some were not trained or used to teaching virtually. Plus, from an educational point of view, not all subjects can be taught online as they require hands-on teaching methods,” Education Matter explained.
Preschools and kindergartens have been immensely affected by the COVID-19 crisis, as they have not only been closed since March, but have also not been included in the ministry’s reopening plan.
“The main problem we have is that we can not anticipate how big the loss is because we do not have any kind information about when we can open,” Boodi explained. “Last month was the first time we heard from the government since the pandemic began and all they told us was that we needed to pay back the tuition fees for those that paid after February.”
The fate of 570 preschools in Kuwait is uncertain if they continue to remain shut as many are already struggling to pay rent and salaries. Many have voiced not only their economic concerns, but what the continued closure would mean for the children’s social and developmental skills.
“The foundation years of a person are between zero and six, so keeping children out of school during those years has an immense effect on their academic career as they end up falling behind socially and emotionally,” Boodi pointed out.
Boodi added, “While some kids have developed stuttering tendencies because they are not receiving social skills, others are beginning to lose the fine motor skills that they usually gain by doing different activities in school.”
Last month, the Ministry of Education decided to reduce all public schools’ fees by 25 per cent. In retaliation to the decision, the President of the Kuwait Union of Owners of Private Schools and Cultural Institutions, Omar Al Ghurair, announced that the union has submitted a grievance letter to the Ministry of Education.
“Those decisions were issued individually by the ministry without consulting the union in its capacity as the competent, accredited and representative authority for private school owners,” Al Ghurair told Al Anba.
The decision only affects private schools, as public schools are free of charge for Kuwaitis.