The Chatam house released on April 8th, 2015 a study from Rania Al-Nakib (Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences at the Gulf University for Science and Technology) about Education and Democratic Development in Kuwait called Citizens in Waiting. The study is part of the programme “Future Trends in the GCC”.
According to this research paper: “Kuwait, often hailed as the most politically democratic of the Gulf states, continues to use its education system to promote uncritical nationalism and Islamic obedience, in tension with its democratic maturation and its aspirations for a knowledge-based society.
Kuwait’s democratic maturation and its aspirations for a ‘knowledge economy’ require the recognition, agency and action of its citizens; however, such development is hindered by the reality that these features are largely absent from the country’s education system.
- Public schools are segregated on multiple levels (nationality, religion, and gender most obviously, and cultural and economic backgrounds more subtly); such segregation mirrors current societal divisions, and prevents groups from exploring and addressing the differential experiences of ‘being Kuwaiti’.
- The national curriculum conflates citizenship and nationalism, and constructs an exclusive, singular and fixed ‘cultural identity’, with ‘other’ affiliations and cultural change presented as threats to national unity.
- Islamic focus in national curricula promotes obedience at the expense of critical thinking; the particular patriarchal interpretations that are presented are assumed to be complete, precluding input and expansions from individuals and groups – including women and Shias.
- Nationalism and religion work together to control students, breed passivity and maintain the current balance of power, at the expense of Kuwait’s democratic, knowledge-based development.
- Empirical findings point to human rights education as a potential ‘interruption’ to the nationalistic and Islamic hegemony in Kuwait’s school structures and curricula. Study of human rights provides opportunities for more inclusive citizenship, active learning, criticality, and both sanctioned and unsanctioned youth action.”
Consecutively, the research paper concludes that “in order for schools to prefigure the democratic, knowledge-based society that Kuwait aspires to be, the authoritarian ethos should be replaced with a more humanistic environment, in which students’ rights are protected, their identities recognized and their agency secured. School populations should reflect the diversity of contemporary Kuwait, and provide opportunities for young people to confront and potentially bridge societal divisions and inequalities – as well as gain deeper understandings of the multi-layered
nature of individual identities. Students’ agency should be embraced, allowing time and space for active, participatory learning that fosters critical thinking and creativity. This would in turn encourage participation not only in knowledge construction, but also in unsanctioned transformative action.
When schools are spaces that are free from national, religious and corporate hegemony, the voices of young people may be heard – and how they are constructing their own identity may be recognized – and transformative education becomes possible.