Monday, May 26, 2008


Greetings from Kuwait!

I'm here with colleagues exploring a possible affiliation between the college district I teach in and a Kuwaiti educational organization that is interested in opening a community college in Kuwait City. Although this very American model of higher education has been exported throughout Latin America, New Zealand and most recently the Middle East, right now there are no community colleges in Kuwait. Should this affiliation work out, it would be mutually beneficial in numerous ways. For one, it would create far greater opportunities for students and faculty to learn about each other's cultures. We'll be here for a week. My aim in blogging is to give you a glimpse of what we're experiencing.
Before I tell you about our very interesting full day of activities, I'd like to give you some basic information about this highly industrialized nation. As you can see in these first three pictures, yesterday there was a sandstorm, so Kuwait City is enveloped in a haze, but I understand that (given pollution) it's usually cloudy anyway. By 10:00 AM today it was already past 100 degrees F.
Kuwait is a tiny cosmopolitan sovereign country on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is enclosed by Saudi Arabia to the south and Iraq to the north and west. (My Kuwait Airways flight flew right over Iraq. At 35,000 high, it was difficult to see much, but I must admit that it felt a little strange to be flying, as if all were normal, over a war.) Today there are about 3.5 million people in Kuwait; they're governed by a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system. Kuwait is the fourth richest country in the world per capita: it has the world's fifth largest oil reserves (so logically real estate is very expensive); oil was first exploited in the 1930s when the country was still a colony of the UK, and them more aggressively after it became independent in 1961. Pearls used to provide Kuwait's major source of income, but today petroleum and petroleum products account for almost 80% of the government's income.

On 2 August 1990, Kuwait was invaded and annexed by Iraq. The occupation lasted until 26 February 1991 when the US intervened and removed the Iraqis. (Kuwait paid the US-led coalition forces US $17 billions dollars for liberating the country.) Before retreating, the Iraqi army destroyed much of the infrastructure and set fire to almost 700 oil wells; it took over 9 months to put out the fires. Consequently, the country is still in rebuilding mode and the environment is visibly affected, which is especially sad when you consider that Kuwait has been a major center for spice trading, particularly between India and Europe, since the early 1600s. Today, Kuwait is the largest exported of oil in the Persian Gulf.

Kuwaitis are highly literate--82.9 percent. Public schooling is free and compulsory from age 5 to 18, but private schools are extremely popular, especially those patterned after American, British and Australian models. Private K-12 schools are extremely popular and abundant. (The Kuwaiti educational organization our district is working with owns 5 such schools: one American style K-12 school, one English style K-12 school, 2 Arabic schools [opened over 30 years ago, they now serve over 5,000 students] and New Zone, an adult learning center.) Kuwait University, established in 1966, is the only public university; it serves 24,000 students, and within the next 10 years it plans to serve 40,000. The Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET), formed in 1982, is a sort of community college (or vocational school) in that it exists to train and supply the skilled manpower needed in the country. (Our delegation will visit PAAET.) There are numerous private colleges and universities, many of them sponsored by or affiliated with organizations in the west (most deliver instruction in English), and the number continues to increase, which makes sense since Kuwait has the highest birth rate in the world. The government either completely funds or heavily subsidizes students in higher education.

Our delegation started working early on this Monday morning. First, we visited with Dr. Carol Ross-Black, the Dean of Student Affairs at the American
University of Kuwait
, and we toured the campus. AUK is a private co-educational liberal arts institution where all instruction is conducted in English; it is accredited by the Council of Private Universities of the Kuwait Ministry of Higher Education, and it is affiliated with Darmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. That affiliate relationship entails having a signed memoramdum of understanding that allows AUK to consult and cooperate with Darmouth on curriculum development, administrative matters, and participation in student bridge programs, as well as a series of seminars and conferences meant to advance the understanding of liberal arts and business education in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf region. That affiliate relationship is partly what interests us, since it's a model for what could be done to bring the community college to Kuwait--plus there's also the possibility of arranging articulation agreements such as the ones our district has with numerous universities in the States. Below you see John, Lance, Cindy, Raj and Dr. Ross-Black in the AUK library. Below is Dr. Ross-Black in the AUK Student Success Center. AUK opened in 2004 and is currently seeking US accreditation; it plans to move to a bigger new campus in a couple of years. Right now, there are more than 1,500 including its first graduating class. Below is Dr. Ross-Black with a graduating student, a stellar young woman who plans to become an administrator in higher education.
AUK's Mission Statement:
The American University of Kuwait is a liberal arts institution based on the American model of higher education. It is dedicated to providing students with knowledge, self-awareness, and personal growth experiences that can enhance critical thinking, effective communication, and respect for diversity. AUK seeks to create leaders and life-long learners who aspire to the highest standards of moral and ethical responsibility in their societies.

As we toured the AUK campus we came upon a "protest wall," above, where students had graffitied all sorts of comments, written in English and Arabic, opposing gender seggregation, a hot national topic and one of the two top reasons Parliament was dissolved a couple of months ago. Some of the reasons inscribed are quite funny: e.g., "what is peanut butter without jelly?" and "men and women are queally unfortunate." Gender seggregation essentially means that governmental policy requires men and women be taught in either separate buildings or separate classrooms. In private schools that policy doesn't seem to be enforced, and in fact males and females congregate freely, as can be seen in the picture of men and veiled and unveiled women in the AUK tech lab.

At AUK gender seggregation in the classroom is accomplished by dividing the room with a short mobile wall, as seen in the picture below with John and Raj on the left and Dr. Ross-Black on the right.

Of course, I had to take a photo of Starbucks, one of several eateries on the AUK campus.

After our tour of AUK, we ate lunch at Casper and Gambini's (right next to TGIF's) at the marina on the other side of town (2 pictures below).

After lunch, we visited one of the schools owned by Al Jeel Al Jadded, our host. The American Academy for Girls is a European and American accredited pre-K-12 school that opened in 1996 and now serves almost 900 females; all instruction (except Arabic language) is conducted in English, and the curriculum is American style. We toured the 3 school buildings, and met with the Superintendent, the Principals of the elementary and high schools, and with a group of impressive students in the high school. In the 3 pictures below you see students in their elementary school classrooms and high school girls in the gym.

The five high school girls we talked with said that they'd be very interested in attending a community college, but only if it met these requirements: that there are
--courses that lead to degrees in law, engineering, architecture, science and health;
--teachers who are well trained and come from diverse places outside of Kuwait;
--teachers who really enjoy teaching;
--language courses, especially in Spanish and French;
--ESL, Composition and Creative Writing classes;
and that there is a
--strong athletic program that includes basketball, volleyball and soccer;
--cadre of counselors willing to spend time guiding students, and that the
--curriculum taught completely in English, except Arabic language classes;
--degree accredited and transferable to universities in and out of Kuwait;
as well as
--scholarships available more abundantly, and
--transportation to and from the school.

I end this posting with a picture of a sticker I saw in one of the American teacher's file cabinet.

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