A classroom in the kitchen



A FEW days ago, I met one of my friends, who is a teacher. I asked him if he had any input on the recently announced plan to improve the quality of general education in the Kingdom.

With a broad face, he replied that he had heard and read about the plan, but in reality there was nothing new on the ground. He said he was fortunate enough that he was able to teach his students in the kitchen of a small, rented building.

According to the teacher, the children are crammed in a very small space, like the sticks in a matchbox. They are deprived of the opportunity for any physical, entertainment and cultural activities. Sometimes they are even denied fresh air to breathe.

He said his biggest concern was the disaster waiting to happen. In case of a major fire in the school, Allah forbid, there is little chance of anyone escaping from the narrow and crowded building.

Over the past few decades whenever a new education minister was appointed, we used to hear a host of announcements for improving the quality of education. Each minister made a thorough review of the existing system and then talked about his future plans. Workshops, forums and seminars would immediately follow. Many committees and sub-committees would be constituted to brainstorm new strategies. At the end the day, the only achievement would be a new logo and stamp for the ministry.

In the name of curriculum reform, some textbooks would have new names but without any change in content. The books would be reprinted at huge costs and with full of mistakes.

This happens when the schools continued to operate from rented buildings with plans to construct new schools by the government having put on hold.

A local newspaper recently published an interesting report about the state of general education in the country. It said the ratio of rented schools did not drop below 20 percent at any point in the past 14 years. On some occasions, this ratio rose above 23 percent.

The situation on the ground remained unchanged although every new minister came and gave promises to solve the issue as a top priority and close the chapter of rented schools once and for all.

The previous minister tried to solve the problem by merging schools in rented building with the ones that have own buildings in the area, thus creating a new problem of overcrowded classrooms.

He also resorted to opening night schools. However, none of this helped lower the high percentage of rented schools.

I tried to analyze the excuses given by education officials for the high number of rented schools and why they could not solve it despite the huge budget allocated for the education department every year. The seemingly plausible explanation was that the number of students increased rapidly every year. Another excuse was that the ministry did not own enough number of empty plots of land to construct new schools.

I wish this scenario would change during the tenure of our new education minister.

What I expect from the new minister is to take the issue of rented schools seriously and to come up with a clear-cut plan to tackle it. This plan needs to have a timeline from start and finish. And there should be a well-defined yardstick to measure the progress of work.

This will be a good step forward to solve the long-standing issue of rented schools and to also achieve the ambitious goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.