Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | March 1, 2010

Charter Schools

Why doesn’t Kuwait have any charter schools? These are independent publicly funded schools (no tuition, religious affiliation or selective student admissions), but are separated from the rules of the Ministry as long as they abide by agreed upon performance standards.

A charter school is authorized to function once it has received a charter, a statutorily defined performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.

The point is that they end up experimenting with better methods of teaching without being restricted by bureaucracy, while still being held accountable for student achievement. Successful examples in the US include High Tech High and Seattle Girls School.

I would love it if we had such choices in Kuwait. Most of the private schools are getting too expensive for most people and are attracting rich, spoiled kids that demand special behavior because they’re paying exorbitant fees. Students start developing an feeling of entitlement which defines their behavior throughout their lives. Public schools aren’t any better, but that’s because they lost interest and have settled on a comfortable rut that no one in power wants to change. A little competition can’t hurt.

Update: If not charter schools, then at least strictly not-for-profit private schools. It’s the profit motive that, I think, ruins most private schools.

Later Update: The reason why i’m asking for this is that education, like security and healthcare, is a right and not a privilege. Public schools have no innovation and their ability to develop well-rounded, curious and creative young men and women is weak. They teach to the test and have been stuck with the same curriculum taught in the same way for generations.

Experimenting with charter schools, or at least non-profit private schools, is simply a way to disrupt this stagnation. It will show that there are alternatives to the way we teach. If I was in charge of a school, i’d make these changes:

  1. Have a much later starting bell than usual, in the region of 9am. The school opens as early as 6:30, and parents would be free to drop their kids in anytime they want. Breakfast would be served in school for those that don’t have time at home. Kids that are there early can work on their projects or just socialize with their friends.
  2. Mandatory 15 minute exercise for students and faculty first thing in the morning.
  3. School would end much later than normal, somewhere around 4 or 5pm. They wouldn’t be expected to do any homework, all work is done in school. That means that they don’t carry their books home. Most kids don’t have good work spaces at home, and some have loud or disruptive home environments.
  4. Lots of extra-curricular activities (teachers would be encouraged to each start something in a field that they’re passionate about, for example astronomy, chess, wrestling, dance, gardening, cycling, etc) Every student would have to pick two or three activities as part of their schedule.
  5. Students would be served lunch in school at around noon, a healthy, nutritious lunch that’s made specifically for each student (there would be a nutrition specialist on staff that would ‘design’ each child’s menu for the year, based on clinical tests and physical exams. And no, I don’t think that’s crazy)
  6. Major emphasis on creativity and self-empowerment. There’s a test at the end of the year, but the weight of the test would be much less than usual. Team projects will be a main tool of education. The aim is teach kids how to learn.
  7. Much smaller classes than usual, depending on the subject and students.
  8. Troublemakers would be weeded out of the normal classes and put together with each other. They would be taught through tough, discipline oriented methods. They would have a second chance to go back to Gen-Pop, but only if they behave and work hard. This idea is from Season 4 of The Wire.
  9. No useless technology. Sometimes schools think that simply having technology will replace the act of teaching. Technology is a tool, and using it in the wrong way wastes time and money. Only stuff that works and is proven effective will be used.
  10. Community awareness. The kids would be constantly involved in local initiatives, cleaning up the park for example, or proposing and enacting changes to things they decided needed to change. Basic acts of micro-democracy and showing how when people organize and get involved, they can make stuff happen.
  11. Students will be constantly encouraged to make things. The school should have a pervasive and contagious feeling of creativity and experimentation. Students are taught not to say what they’re going to do, but what they did. Wet labs, wood shop, photography studio and dark room, art space, a theater. There’s always something happening.

There’s no way that this school could exist as part of the Ministry. It has to be separated from the rules that govern all public schools. I don’t see it being successful as a private, for-profit school, either. The motivation there is to make money, and that drive supersedes the desire to teach honestly and enthusiastically.

It has to be independent from the rules and not driven by profit. The only options are charter schools (free, public schools that are accountable to the Ministry, but don’t follow their rules) or a non-profit private school.


Responses

  1. I don’t think charter schools are an option here in Kuwait, the government has to interfere ( remember that segregation thing a couple of years back, I cant believe they made a HUGE deal! Theres a lot of stuff thats way more important than the whole segregation thing if they dont like it they can take their kids to a segregated school oo bas shilmushkela?:p), and I think that theres going to be a negative vibe from the community! Although I personally totally support that kind of education. I’d love to see one here some day!😀

  2. That’s true. I was exaggerating and I know charter schools have no chance of even being considered. Non-profit private schools, though, are feasible. I’m actually surprised that there aren’t any that don’t have any religious affiliation or gender bias.

  3. I honestly think that the Goverment has to interfere with schools. They even tried to interfere with Private schools and its very sad.

    The government schools aren’t lacking talented students, but as you said they follow the teach to test mantra and not to create creative students or for them to find what interests them.

    We need to pull the politics out of public schools and overhaul their system.

  4. FYI: Al-Bayan is a non-profit private school. Researching their ethos would be worthwhile.

  5. I completely agree with this post of yours! I personally think that schools have taken out the “thinking” aspect of school and made it more of a memorising atmosphere. The children that I see all around me are usually consuming very bad food at school and the school actually puts nacho’s, fries, popcorn, etc all in the canteen. Yes, a very smart choice for a 10 yr old, whether to eat a healthy sandwich or greasy fries?
    There are schools which are probably have more control, but if some sort of non-profit school was set up with all the aspects you mentioned, I would certainly enrol my children there!

  6. Reemis, if that’s true (I doubt that it really is), then they’re not understanding the point of it being non-profit. It’s very exclusionary (the price of admission is ridiculous) and that tends to create a culture of entitlement. I think the point of a non-profit school isn’t to just keep raising admission to buy the best equipment and hire the most expensive teachers. No, it has to be open to basically anyone that has the talent and the will to attend. There shouldn’t be a steep monetary barrier to enter, that’s the whole point of it being non-profit!

    Saja, that’s true. There are times when you need to memorize stuff, but that can’t be all that they do in school, which is sadly what happens in most cases.

    Those that are interested in teacher education, and how valuable it is to learn HOW to teach, read this. It’s a very interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine about training teachers in America: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Teachers-t.html?ref=magazine

    I recommend for everyone who cares about education to read that article.

    • Surprising? I know, however with a little bit of research you will have to accept the fact that it is. Now, this is only to show you how such a great concept in theory can turn out to be just another utopian ambition!
      Again I must reiterate the fact that if you are interested in the application of such an approach researching the existing non-profit private schools and how they came to being, continue to operate and flourish is a must.
      Another school you might want to look at is The English School (TES), which doesn’t target the Kuwaiti student per say (Kuwaitis make only 20% of the school) however remains as one of the first and well established private schools in the country.

  7. I graduated from AlBayan, and although I thought it was a great school it deteriorated so bad!
    And trust me, it’s ANYTHING BUT NONPROFIT!
    The admission fees are high, and once you’re in you need to pay for everything from trips to clothes to graduation gowns, etc.
    And they usually sent out flyers home saying they accept donations because they can’t cover costs
    My nephew goes there and now for your child to be recognized academically you have to “bribe” by “donating” to fix the soccer field or some other things
    AlBayan might have been nonprofit or a good school before, i’m so sorry to say I can’t say that anymore


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