Reforms fail to improve Gulf school's standards

Gulf education officials and ministers have given warning that reforms have not improved standards.

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Gulf education officials and ministers have given warning that reforms have not improved standards in state school systems. The 20th meeting of GCC education ministers this week in Doha, Qatar, heard how considerable efforts to overhaul the systems had not generated substantial gains in pupil performance. Sheikha Ahmad al Mahmoud, the Qatari education minister, said the wealth of the Gulf states provided ample resources but that reforms had not generated substantial gains in performance.

From 1995 to 2005, Oman spent 3.9 per cent of its gross domestic product on education. Qatar spent 4 per cent, Saudi Arabia 6.3 per cent and the UAE 1.7 per cent. GCC countries performed below average in this year's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test the skills of grade four and grade eight pupils. With a score of 296, grade 4 pupils from Qatar fell well below the TIMSS average of 500 in maths. Pupils in Kuwait did marginally better, with a score of 316, while pupils from Dubai scored 444.

In grade eight maths, pupils from Oman scored 372; Saudi Arabian pupils scored 329 and pupils from Qatar scored 307. GCC countries, Sheikha al Mahmoud said, need to study their school systems more carefully to determine what has worked to improve outcomes - and to discard what is not working. Several GCC states have embarked on major reform initiatives in the past decade, some more than once. Education reform has been high on the agenda for the UAE for the past 10 years but pupils continue to underperform compared with their peers around the world.

A recent World Bank report said the MENA region (which includes the six GCC countries) has "not capitalised fully on past investments in education, let alone developed education systems capable of meeting new challenges." Ali Abdul Khaleq al Qarni, the director general of the Arab Bureau of Education, said countries should "give greater concern to teachers and their counterparts worldwide." "We still need the educated teacher," Dr Qarni said. "Unfortunately teachers in the Arab world lack information literacy and this causes a big gap between them and students."

The UAE Minister of Education, Hanif Hassan, said success should be measured by the ability of pupils in the region compared with pupils in "advanced" countries. Until then, he said, the GCC countries must continue to devote energy to improving school systems.