TEACH Bahrain: It Takes a Village to Educate a Child

We played a financial literacy game at Injaz.
Most everyone has heard the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The saying holds true even today. It takes an entire community to help a single child grow and develop. This theme was woven throughout the third day of the US-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellowship in Bahrain. Many people in a community think they do not impact a child’s learning if they are not his or her teacher. That could not be further from the truth. Everyone has the potential to play a role in students’ education. What could be a more noble cause?

At Junior Achievement Worldwide in Manama, Bahrain, I learned of how large corporations and local businesses support students’ education. Junior Achievement is called Injaz in Bahrain but the mission is the same: to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Through more than 3,000 volunteers, Injaz reaches 20,000 students annually. Volunteers from various businesses visit classrooms to teach students financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. The programs ignite the spark in young people to realize the opportunities and realities of work life in the 21st century.

Entrepreneur and Injaz volunteer, Fitawe
TEACH Fellows had the pleasure of hearing from Injaz volunteers. Fitawe is an entrepreneur who launched a mobile spa and salon service in 2013. She shared her inspiring journey. Fitawe became a business owner despite pressures from family and friends to continue her studies in medicine. In the end, she followed her passion and is now doing something she truly loves. Regardless of where you live in the world, volunteers and financial supporters teach students new skills and provide motivation. They contribute greatly to the education of every child they touch.

After tea and goodbyes, we left Injaz for The Bahrain Bayan School. Bayan School is a private International Baccalaureate (IB) School in Manama. IB teachers and coordinators develop and implement curriculums in almost 5,000 schools globally every day, in over 150 countries around the world. The program’s mission is to “promote intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century” (International Baccalaureate).

Facts about Bahrain Bayan School: 
  • Bilingual school
  • Co-education from K-12
  • 1,147 students: 53% male and 47% female
  • 98% Bahraini Nationals
  • Arabic and American English based curriculum
  • 90% of graduating students go to universities abroad
  • Average class size is 18-22 pupils
  • Total of 208 faculty and staff from 20+ different nationalities
  • Staff working hours is 7AM to 3PM
  • One school year consists of 190 days
  • Teacher contract includes housing and transportation to and from the school in addition to a monthly salary which is approximately $2,500 for a first-year employee. 

TEACH Fellows and hosts from Bayan School
School Facilities: 
  • School Library/Innovation Hub
  • Prayer Mosque
  •  Religion is a major part of life in the Middle East. An overwhelming majority of Bahrainis are Muslim so schools offer religion classes and opportunities for students to pray. 
  • Green House
  • Dance Studio
  • Track and Soccer Field
  • Tennis Court 
  • Fitness Center
  • Two Gymnasiums
  • Science Labs for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology
The school week in Bahrain is Sunday through Thursday since Friday and Saturday make up the weekend. However, students at Bayan School have a four day week. Every Tuesday, students are excused from classes so teachers can have a full day of professional development. How great is that? My students back home were very curious to know if Bahraini schools have recess. I found out that at Bayan School, students get a 25-minute recess and then an extended lunch of approximately 45 minutes to eat and have social time.

Government (Public) Schools: 

Education is compulsory and free in Bahrain. Primary school is the first six years of a child’s education. The following three years makes up intermediate education and the next three years are secondary education. Students receive instruction from subject teachers beginning in grade three. There are separate schools for boys and girls until grade six when genders are integrated. Boys are taught by female teachers in primary and intermediate grades. Students are taught English and Arabic at a very young age. On average, teachers have direct contact with students 1.7 hours a day. The rest of teachers’ time is spent completing administration tasks.

I shared brochures my students created about life in Kentucky
with students at Bayan School.
In Bahrain’s 211 public schools, students are given a government mandated exam every six weeks. I was told by a director at Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) that because of testing, most teachers teach content, not skills. Students learn to memorize facts and subject areas are taught in isolation. Learning is not relevant to students but rather itemized for achieving a high test score. Until the entire system is changed, students will receive archaic instructional strategies (i.e. lectures, note-taking) rather than receiving opportunities to ask their own questions and investigate topics through a variety of sources.

In 2003, Bahraini students took The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Their scores ranked 55th out of 58 countries. Bahraini schools’ practice of teaching students to memorize content for the nation’s standardized test contributes to this low performance. As a result of schools promoting rote memorization, many students in Bahrain know things but cannot do things. Companies in Bahrain spend a lot of time training new employees to develop the skills needed to complete specific tasks.

The gender gap in the Arab World is the biggest on Earth according to international assessment data. Girls outperform boys by a very large margin. Males lack motivation. Boys realize they will inherit the family business or have little trouble landing a job upon graduation. Seventy percent of university graduates are women. Yet, females make up only 23% of the workplace. After graduation, it is customary for women stay at home and raise a family.

Recently, a teacher college was established in Bahrain where one can earn a Bachelor’s in Education degree. Pre-service teachers get a stipend of half a teacher’s salary plus a guaranteed position at the end of the training. Most secondary teachers do not have a degree in education. They have a content degree (i.e. Chemistry, Arabic). However, if a teacher does not have a teaching certificate, they cannot be promoted to the next pay scale.

From the meeting at the EDB, it is apparent that Bahrain has a skill gap. The answer to this problem lies in education. In order to deliver best practice instruction and inquiry-based learning, a change must occur at the top. Once the Ministry of Education believes in a new system to teaching and learning, the schools will have the opportunity to educate students using an interdisciplinary approach. I am reminded of the saying, “Culture eats the greatest strategy.”

School Library/Innovation Hub

I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the school’s newly renovated library now called, the Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub is staffed with a head librarian and two full-time assistants. The head librarian escorted me around the media center. She pointed out their new sound room, video studio, research center, quiet room, and makerspace.

To prepare for the renovation, library staff weeded 300 kilos of books that had not been borrowed within the past two years. Discarded items were donated to local public schools.
Since re-designing the library to a place centered on learning through discovery, the space is now reserved by 4 to 5 classes daily compared to 1 to 2 last year. The library operates on a flexible schedule which gives the library staff time and opportunity to collaborate with classroom teachers and student groups. Public schools in Bahrain also have libraries. Most library media specialists hold a bachelor’s degree in Library Science. The librarian at Bayan School said that the Innovation Hub is promoting STEM education. Students crave learning by doing and teachers are beginning to feel more comfortable using the new materials and technology.
Library Bahrain - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Bayan School Library/Innovation Hub

The Bayan School provides opportunities for students to participate in afterschool activities. Students can join the Vex Robotic team which competes in regional and international competitions. Intermediate students sign up for First Lego League Jr. Primary students can choose to attend after school workshops for learning the basics of binary computer coding. As you can see, STEM education at Bayan School begins at an early age. These programs lay the foundation for when students use more sophisticated computer programming software and technology tools in the upper grades.
Despite the Bayan School Library’s renovation, challenges persist. Here are some issues faced by the school’s librarian. These are similar to the issues many school libraries contend with in the U.S.
  • Connecting students with books
  • Motivating students to read independently. The school offers incentives like pizza parties and awards for the classes that read the highest number of books. 
  • Getting students to use the library’s virtual databases (i.e. EBSCOhost). Most of the time, students simply “Google” information and select the top search results.

There are so many complexities and anomalies when it comes to examining and understanding education in Bahrain. The same holds true for K-12 education across the United States. Despite our circumstances and challenges, we must continue to find new alternatives for enriching teaching and learning. A lot of what shapes a school climate is based on the decisions made at the state and national levels. However, that does not mean we cannot create a learning environment in our individual classrooms that promotes collaboration, cross-curricular connections, and relevant learning experiences. Regardless of a teacher’s background or location on the planet, the goal is the same: to teach students skills and content that will prepare them for life outside the classroom. It is comforting knowing that I have a common ground with my counterparts in Bahrain. Together, we can break the molds of tradition and embrace new methods for teaching students 21st century skills.
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