Kuwait is situated northeast of Saudi Arabia at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, south of Iraq. It is slightly larger than Hawaii. The low-lying desert land is mainly sandy and barren. Currently, Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy, governed by the al-Sabah family.
Kuwait is believed to have been part of an early civilization in the 3rd millennium B.C. and to have traded with Mesopotamian cities. Archeological and historical traces disappeared around the first millennium B.C. At the beginning of the 18th century A.D., the 'Anizah tribe of central Arabia founded Kuwait City, which became an autonomous sheikdom by 1756. 'Abd Rahim of the al-Sabah became the first sheik, and his descendants continue to rule Kuwait today.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the sheikdom belonged to the fringes of the Ottoman Empire. Kuwait obtained British protection in 1897 when it was feared that the Turks would expand their hold over the area. In 1961, Britain ended the protectorate, giving Kuwait independence, but agreed to provide military aid on request. Iraq immediately threatened to occupy the area, and the British sent troops to defend Kuwait. Soon afterward the Arab League sent troops to replace the British troops. Iraq's claim was dropped when the Arab League recognized Kuwait's independence on July 20, 1961.
Oil was discovered there in the 1930s, and Kuwait proved to have 20% of the world's known oil resources. Since 1946 it has been the world's second-largest oil exporter. The sheik, who receives half of the profits, devotes most of them to the education, welfare, and modernization of his kingdom. By 1968, the sheikdom had established a model welfare state, and it sought to establish dominance among the sheikdoms and emirates of the Persian Gulf.
In July 1990, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein blamed Kuwait for falling oil prices. After a failed Arab mediation attempt to solve the dispute peacefully, Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, set up a pro-Iraqi provisional government, and drained Kuwait of its economic resources. A coalition of Arab and Western military forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in a mere four days, from Feb. 23–27, 1991, ending the Persian Gulf War. The emir returned to his country from Saudi Arabia in mid-March. Iraqi “training” maneuvers near the Kuwaiti border in Oct. 1994 renewed fears of aggression in the country. A Kuwaiti appeal brought the quick deployment of U.S. and British troops and equipment.
In 1999, the emir gave women the right to vote and run for parliament, but later that year parliament defeated the ruler's decree. In 2003, traditionalists won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections. In May 2005, Kuwait abandoned its 1999 ban on women's suffrage, and in June a woman was appointed to the cabinet. Women voted for the first time in April 2006.
In 1993 Kuwait's population was highly educated, both in comparison to other states in the region and in comparison to its own pre-oil education levels. The impressive education system was brought about by a conscious government decision to invest heavily
in human resources.
Although the pre-oil education system was modest by 1993 standards, it was still impressive, given the limited finances at the time. In the early 1900s, education consisted largely of Quran schools offering basic literacy training in the context of religious instruction. This system provided some formal schooling for nearly all boys and most girls. Wealthy families often sent sons abroad for further education.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, merchants anxious for more extensive training for their sons opened a few private schools, notably the Mubarakiyyah School in 1911 and the Ahmadiyyah School in 1921. In the 1930s, merchants established the Education Council and expanded the system to include four new primary schools, including one for girls. The government soon took over this growing system and, with new oil revenues after World War II, rapidly expanded the system. In 1956 the government laid down the basis of the education system that still existed in 1993: kindergarten and primary, middle, and secondary schools. A 1965 law made education compulsory until the age of fourteen. A small system of private schools also developed.
Public education, including preschool and higher education, was from the beginning free for all nationals and for many foreigners. The government absorbs not only the costs of schools but also those of books, uniforms, meals, transportation, and incidental expenses. In pre-invasion Kuwait, the majority of the students in the education system were non-Kuwaitis.
The apex of the public education system is Kuwait University, which the government established in 1966. More than half the students at Kuwait University are women, in part because families are more likely to send boys abroad for study. The government also subsidizes hundreds of students in university study abroad, many in the United States.
As a result of these efforts, the school population and the literacy rate increased steadily. By the mid-1980s, literacy and education rates were high. Although only 55 percent of the citizen population was literate in 1975, by 1985 that percentage had increased to 73.6 percent (84 percent for males and 63.1 percent for females). In 1990 the overall literacy rate was 73 percent. The total number of teachers increased from just under 3,000 at independence in 1961 to more than 28,000 in the academic year 1988-89; the number of schools increased from 140 to 642 during the same period.
The education system relies heavily on foreign teachers. In the late 1950s, almost 90 percent were non-Kuwaitis. Despite a long-standing government effort to indigenize education, the system continues to rely heavily on foreigners. The higher education system produces many liberal arts graduates and few with training in fields that correspond to Kuwait's most pressing labor needs.
The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education oversee all levels of education in Kuwait.
Primary and Secondary Education
Students enter Primary School at age 6. After four years of primary education, students advance to Intermediate School for an additional four years of study, where they are awarded the Intermediate School Certificate.
General Secondary education consists of a four-year cycle comprising grades nine through twelve. For grades nine and ten, students follow a common curriculum. For grades eleven and twelve, they may choose between Science and Arts specializations. Religious Education (Islamic) and Special Education specializations are also offered. The Ministry of Education supervises all aspects of secondary education, both public and private, for general and Islamic education. The Shahadat Al-Thanawiya-Al-A'amais is awarded upon completion of 12 years of primary, intermediate and secondary education.
First Cycle, Academic
Admission into university-level studies is as follows:
- Name of secondary school credential required: Shahadat Al-Thanawiya-Al-A'ama
- Alternatives to credentials: Religious Secondary Education Certificate (only to enroll in the College of Arts and Education, the College of Law, or the College of Islamic Law and Islamic Studies). Students from British schools may present results from the International Certificate of General Secondary Education (ICGSE); and students from French schools may present the Baccalaureat.
Kuwait University is the only university in the country. It comprises 30 departments in the following colleges: Arts; Commerce; Economics and Political Science; Engineering and Petroleum; Law; Islamic Law (sharii 'a) and Islamic Studies; Medicine; Allied Health and Nursing; Science; Education; Graduate Studies; and the Women's College. The Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts and the Higher Institute of Musical Arts also offer undergraduate programs. The number of years required for a bachelor's degree varies. Please see Placement Recommendations and Advice to Admissions Officers for specifics.
First Cycle, Vocational/Technical
Admission into non-university-level studies is as follows:
- Name of secondary school credential required: Shahadat Al-Thanawiya-Al-A'ama
- Alternatives to Shahadat Al-Thanawiya-Al-A'ama: Students from British schools may present results from the International Certificate of General Secondary Education (ICGSE); and students from French schools may present the Baccalaureat. Technical colleges run by PAAET require an entrance exam with a score of 65%.
Technical training is supervised by the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET) and takes place in its five post-secondary colleges and seven training institutes. Unless indicated otherwise, all programs require two years of study.
Below are a list of programs:
- College of Basic Education: Diploma in Arts and Education or Diploma in Science and Education
- College of Business Studies: Diploma in Applied Business Studies
- College of Health Sciences: College of Nursing
- College of Technological Studies: Associate degrees and Diploma in Technology (two-and-one-half years)
Diplomas and certificates are awarded at the following institutes. All programs require two-years of study:
- Electricity and Water Training Centre: Technician
- Telecommunications and Air Navigation Centre: Technician
- Industrial Training Institutes (2 campuses): Technicians, Beauty and Tourism Institute
- Institutes of Secretariat and Administrative Studies
- Vocational Training Institute
Second and Third Cycle, Academic
Kuwait University offers Master's Degrees in Science, Engineering, Philosophy, and Medicine through the College of Graduate Studies. These programs require one or two years' study beyond the Bachelor's Degree.
Second and Third Cycle, Vocational/Technical
The Continuing Education & Community Service Centre, supervised by Kuwait University, offers courses in Languages, Computer Sciences, Business Administration and Accounting Sciences, Statistics and Insurance, Economics, Secretarial Studies, Humanities, Arts and General Knowledge, as well as in-service training programs.
Pre-primary and primary/basic school teachers: The Faculty of Basic Education and the Faculty of Education at the University of Kuwait train primary school teachers.
Secondary school teachers: The Faculty of Education at Kuwait University offers four-year Bachelor's degree programs for intermediate and secondary teachers. The Teacher Training Faculty of Kuwait University offers higher studies programs for teachers whereby they may obtain a Higher Teaching Diploma or a Master's Degree in Teaching.
Higher education teachers: Assistant teachers in the University and instructors in technical colleges must hold a Master's degree. University professors must hold a PhD.