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The Academic Year of Deception

The Academic Year of Deception

Al-Qabad, Kuwait, September 25

By virtue of both age and circumstance, I happen to have experienced two bitter crises that had monumental impacts on our country’s education system. The first was the brutal Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which led to the shutdown of schools for an entire academic year. Following liberation, the educational authorities were forced to make a tough decision that many of us recall to this very day, by imposing the “year of integration,” in which the educational curriculum of each grade was merged to cover two years’ worth of teaching. Today, over three decades later, another crisis is threatening our educational system. This time, it’s the coronavirus, which has disrupted education in all countries of the world. While this most recent crisis is far from unique to Kuwait, our country does stand out in the disproportional effect of the virus on our children’s education. While many other states implemented remote learning solutions that enabled students to maintain a degree of normalcy in everyday life, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education decided to simply send our students home. The solution, according to the ministry, was simply to bump students up a grade without achieving any of the learning requirements for the year. Ironically, no one at the ministry is owning this policy outright. Last week, it published the so-called “pass rates” for the most recent high school matriculation examinations. The figure stood at 99.7%. Now let’s be clear: Not even the most advanced nations and the most endowed educational systems in the world, in places like Finland and Singapore, yield this kind of completion rate. Therefore, it is surely impossible that Kuwaiti high-schoolers did. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end in high school. Given these fabricated rates, our university systems will be the next to suffer. With limited seats available to students, how will our higher education institutions know which students to admit? How will they make use of their limited governmental budgets to accommodate larger classes of students? The absorption of all high school graduates into our few universities will create a crisis of its own. Yes, the decision pleased the students and their proud families. It also allowed our politicians to remove great pressure from their own shoulders. But it inevitably led us into an educational crisis that no one knows how to get out of. The absence of academic excellence, let alone basic academic competence, should be a concern to us all. – Modhi Abdul Aziz Al-Hamoud (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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