* Quality of education in GCC countries is not at par with developed countries
* Challenges are shortage of skilled teachers, low enrolment rate, high cost of construction
* Teaching profession is also of less interest to locals
After the Arab Spring in 2011, the education sector gained prominence and became a key priority for the Gulf countries. Today, nearly a quarter of the fiscal budgets of Gulf countries goes to the education sector.
Investments from both government and the private sector have grown and, as a result, literacy rates and school enrolment have touched new highs.
Despite the concerted efforts and attention, however, the quality of education in the GCC countries is still not at par with developed countries. Interestingly, the budgets allocated by GCC governments to the education sector far exceeds those of the US, UK and Germany.
Shortage of skilled teachers, relatively low tertiary enrolment rate, high cost of construction are the key challenges the sector faces in the region, according to a recent report by Kuwait-based Global Investment House.
Lack of teachers to blame?
Shortage of skilled teachers has been often quoted as the top concern when it comes to the question of quality of education. The student base has been growing immensely in the region – which has among the world’s highest population growth rates – but it has only a small pool of teachers.
Low wages and insufficient school management have put a dampener on attracting highly skilled teachers.
“Teachers do not have the same social status and respect that they used to have in earlier times. This makes it harder to find and sustain quality teachers,” says the report.
Incompetently skilled teachers could negatively impact students’ academic performance, mainly due to unproductively delivered curricula.
The UAE alone, where demand exceeds the supply, needs to hire a minimum of 14,000 teachers over the next four to five years.
The teaching profession is also of less interest to the locals who prefer to work in highly paid public sector jobs.
As a result, a high percentage of the teachers in the GCC region are recruited from foreign countries.
Most of these are hired on a contract for two or three years. This means schools incur more costs for visa fees, travel expenses, and housing, all of which have only gone up due to the rising cost of living in the GCC region.
The rising cost of construction is adding another burden on businesses to start new schools or to expand existing facilities.
The cost of construction in the GCC region has risen due to an increase in the wages of contractors and workers, as well as in the prices of building and construction materials, such as steel and cement. The high cost of setting up of a school, university or college is a major obstacle. The cost of construction in Qatar is the highest across the GCC.
Not compatible for jobs
In addition, enrollment in tertiary education remains low in the GCC countries as compared to developed nations (GER for tertiary education in the US is 86.7 per cent and Germany is 65.5 per cent), reflecting a disparity between skills imparted to graduates and labour market requirements.
Moreover, the education sector in the GCC is yet to align itself with the requirements of the private sector.
“The skill gap is a reason for the increasing unemployment among the youth of this region. This, in turn, demotivates students from enrolling for higher education,” the report adds.