Education International
Education International

Kuwait: Arab countries work to strengthen role of education in the region amid ongoing conflict

published 30 November 2016 updated 1 December 2016

Leaders at the Third Conference of Education International’s Arab Countries Cross Regional Structure reaffirm their commitment to securing the rights of children in the region’s conflict areas and help ensure refugee children’s right to education.

The members of Education International in the Arab countries who met in Kuwait on 29 November- 1 December, have urged the public authorities of Kurdistan, Iraq, to stop delaying the payment of teachers’ salaries. The Kurdistan Teachers Union reported to the conference on 30 November that the living and working conditions of teachers in Kurdistan are rapidly deteriorating. Last school year 40 school days were lost as a result of military action in the region, while at the beginning of September  schools in Sulaimanyah, Halabja, Raparin and Garmyan remained closed.

In his opening address to the conference, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen spoke about the violent conflicts, rising extremism and human suffering in the region. He addressed the plight of refugees and said that Education International (EI) and its affiliates should make every possible effort to ensure that refugee and displaced children be given access to education in their host and transit countries. "In times of great distress and uncertainty it is important to hold on to one’s core principles and objectives," van Leeuwen said.

Kuwait marked the first time that EI convened a conference on the Arab peninsula. In his welcoming address Mr. Waleed Alhissawi, President of the Kuwait Teachers Society, said that the KTS is strongly committed to achieve quality education for all children and to improve the status of teachers in the Arab region.

Education International affiliates in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan are directly affected by the war in Syria and Iraq. The Lebanese teachers organisations requested EI to press for international support to the Lebanese government to enable the public school system to accommodate some 600,000 Syrian refugee students.  To date 150,000 refugee children, making up 50 percent of the public school population, have found a place in Lebanon's public schools. They also stressed that education unions should be involved in the development of refugee education programmes sponsored by international aid agencies. According to the Lebanese organisations, their country falls short of teachers' training programmes as a result of which the number of unqualified teachers is on the rise. Similar problems were reported by the Iraqi teachers organisations. Schools are unable to accommodate all children of the internally displaced families who have fled the conflict areas. They asked for professional assistance  to help their members deal with traumatised students.

The conference discussed current education reform trends in Arab countries, including  privatisation of education services and the expansion of for-profit schooling. The Tunisian and Moroccan affiliates expressed that they considered taking industrial action against such plans in their countries. The conference also addressed the role of education unions in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the "Education 2030" agenda in the Arab countries.

Education International Vice President Mugwena Maluleke guided discussions on changes in the cross regional structures' bylaws, while Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst briefed the conference on EI policies and programmes relevant to EI's Arab affiliates.

65 representatives of 25 education unions and teachers associations from 12 countries attended the meeting. A representative of the independent teachers union from Egypt was prevented from attending as he was held and interrogated at the airport in Cairo. Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the leader of the Bahrain Teachers Association who had been released earlier this year after a five-year prison sentence for organising a teachers’ strike in support of democratic reforms, was also denied entry to Kuwait

The Kuwait Teachers Society, which hosted EI's 3rd ACCRS Conference, is a professional association to which most teachers in Kuwait belong. With some 10,000 members, KTS is the largest civil society organisation in the Princedom. The association is currently promoting the establishment of a law protecting teachers rights, safety and employment conditions. So far the authorities have not followed up on their promise to develop such legislation. The Society has recently expressed the concern that the teaching profession is becoming less attractive to young Kuwaiti's, who are opting for other professions with better terms and employment conditions.