GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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The ‘Singapore of the Middle East’: The role and attractiveness of the Singapore model and TIMMS on education policy and borrowing in the Kingdom of Bahrain
Paper Proposal Text :
The ‘Singapore of the Middle East’: The role and attractiveness of the Singapore model and TIMMS on education policy and borrowing in the Kingdom of Bahrain

Dr. Daniel Kirk, Macon State College, USA

At the beginning of 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ movement reached the shores of the small Kingdom of Bahrain, nestled in the Arabian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Bahrain was rocked by large-scale civil and political unrest; unique among the Gulf states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which had largely avoided the unrest of other Arab nations. Looking outward to its bigger and more stable neighbors for assistance, there was also a recognition that internal issues needed to come to the forefront of policy, thus allowing some form of normalcy to return as a pre-cursor to beginning national dialogue. Within the leadership of the Kingdom, there was a recognition that looking outward, to successful education systems and models, could bring rapid reform and change to the underperforming national school system. Previous to the unrest, Bahrain had been working closely with the National Institute of Education, Singapore, to ‘borrow’ expertise, curricula, methods and materials that would offer an ‘off-the-shelf’ education model, viewed by the leadership of Bahrain as epitomizing a high-performing and successful system.

This partnership led to several fundamental changes in the way education was viewed and carried out on the island. Along with the materials came a shake-up in the way teachers were prepared, leading to the dissolution of the College of Education at the University of Bahrain (UoB), and the establishment of a semi-autonomous unit within the UoB structure, Bahrain Teachers College (BTC). Central to this reorganization was a belief among senior leadership that ‘borrowing’ the Singapore model would enhance the level of teachers and education on the island alongside raising the profile of Bahrain within the international large-scale tests in which it participates, namely TIMMS, with a view to greatly increase the ranking the country achieves in the 2011 round of tests. Yet, the borrowing of the model, to date, has not made any significant impact in student attainment or teacher efficacy, largely due to the slow rate of contextualization of the materials, leading to inappropriate curricula and models that are not ‘fit for purpose’. These results are mirrored in the national curriculum examinations, based on Arabic, English, mathematics and science in grades 3, 6 and 9, which show little to no improvement over the past few years.

Through an additional move of governmental coupling of the national Economic Development Board (EDB) and Bahrain Teachers College (BTC), the national leadership has identified the need to develop the educational infrastructure and provision, to allow access to employment and economic prosperity for all citizens. The creation of bodies such as the National Examination Unit (NEU), that administers tests based on the national curriculum, and the Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET), that oversees schools inspections among other things, has had an impact upon the education policy and practice in the country. BTC has been charged with overhauling initial teacher preparation alongside widening in-service professional development, rigorous post-graduate education programs and developing programs for school leaders. However, this wide-ranging mandate does not overtly address the numerous issues that face the teaching profession and student attainment in the country; low status and compensation, divided communities and school populations, high attrition rates within the profession, top-down and centralized control, lack of professional autonomy, ever increasing workloads and a lack of males entering the profession. Many of these issues are faced by countries around the world, and are widely reported in the professional literature. What makes the situation in Bahrain unique, however, are the recent unrest and the focused attention of the leadership to address many social and economic inequalities that exist.

This paper will explore the role that large-scale national and international testing and datasets are having on educational reform and policy in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Drawing on data from TIMMS, along with the Bahrain National Examinations Unit (NEU) and the Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) it will be possible to track the current trends and moves within the education sector of the Kingdom and explore if and how educational attainment is being raised across the system.