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Kuwait education and international schools

The government educational sector in Kuwait is restricted to local children, so it boils down to choosing a school teaching an international curriculum here or putting them on a plane back home.  

Kuwait boasts more than 40 foreign schools, if you count all the Indian, Pakistani, Iranian etc. There are then about half a dozen others with a smattering of expat children throughout the school. Most useful are several British and American schools, largely owned by individuals or families, who aim for high results and whose graduates regularly get into top-notch colleges and universities.

Results are mixed, but some of the British schools are on a par with the private sector in the UK and the schools in the American system do consistently send children on to some of the leading colleges in the US. However, beware, most schools are businesses so class sizes can be pretty large.

International schools

British schools

Ok, we know the selection sounds as if came from the a wacky comedy script but no, they all exist and are the main schools considered by expats.

If you’re looking for a British curriculum, there are five schools which attract the bulk of the western expatriate children: British School of KuwaitEnglish School FahaheelKuwait English SchoolNew English School Kuwait,and The English School which finishes at year 8.

Alternatives are the English Academy, the Gulf English School and the Kuwait National English School all offering A Levels as their graduating qualification and there is one single sex school in this sector the English School for Girls which ends after IGCSEs and is not externally accredited.

Some of these deeply confusingly named schools date back to the 1950s and 1960s and they follow the National Curriculum for England. The greatest proportion heading for overseas universities tend to choose American universities, with many of the local students on full scholarships from the Kuwait government, although the British School of Kuwait and Kuwait English School, in particular, send an impressive number to top UK universities.

American schools

American schools also market their wares very openly, so if American is in the name, that tends to be the curriculum, although the International Baccalaureat programmes are increasing in popularity.

Three of the schools, regularly chosen by US citizens, are the American School of KuwaitUniversal American School Kuwait and the American Creativity Academy. They all take children from nursery to grade 12, offer a US college preparatory curriculum and are fully accredited.

The American International School and the American Creativity Academy offer the IB Diploma with the former teaching the Primary and Middle Years Programmes as well. The US version of its British counterpart, the American Academy for Girls, is mainly attended by local pupils but offers an American High School Diploma. The newish (2013) American United School has an adapted curriculum and the Kuwait Bilingual School is authorised to teach the IB Primary and Middle Years Programmes but has its own diploma.

For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Kuwait considered by expats'.

Other nationality schools

There is a French lycée, offering the French Baccalaureate, plus a number of other schools serving the many nationalities in Kuwait. There are private bilingual schools but unless the children are very young, it is difficult for children who do not have an Arabic-speaking parent at home to help with catching up. School work is done in Classical Arabic, which is not a spoken language and differs from the Kuwaiti, Egyptian and other dialects heard in the streets. 

Regulations

All schools have to comply with Ministry of Education regulations. Before any pupil can be admitted to a school, the School Health Section of the Ministry requires evidence of a BCG vaccination and a general health examination from a government health clinic in the area in which you live or are about to live. 

It is also a Ministry requirement that all children study Arabic from a certain age. Children are split into either Arabic for Arabs, or Arabic for Foreigners. Those of the Muslim faith have compulsory Islamic Studies lessons. No other religious studies are permitted in any of the schools.

Inspections

Apart from the English School, Fahaheel and the English School for Girls, all the schools above are externally accredited. Schools here are also obliged to undergo a local OFSTED-type inspection, covering service, fees and a buildings inspection.

Exams

Regarding exam results, view school reports with a jaundiced eye. All may not be as it seems. A comment has been “It is very difficult to make comparisons between schools because some schools hide poor candidates or call them 'private entries' which distort the tables.” It is not uncommon for schools to enter weak students as 'independent' candidates with only the strong entered as school candidates - hence the fantastic percentages on results for Kuwait secondary English schools with such a high ESL population.

It is commonly viewed by the teaching fraternity here that the 'raw' i.e. correct percentages are rather lower than those quoted – but there is no way of verifying this or calculating the real scores. Only a few schools are strictly honest on this. It is something parents should absolutely ask about in all cases, and if necessary, get an agreement in writing in advance that their children will be able to take certain exams no matter what, regardless of whether or not school thinks they are up to it.

SEN

Special Education Needs are not always a high priority and many teachers tend not to have sufficient  experience of how to handle children with behavioural issues, related to learning difficulties. Parents of native English speaking children report that, although there has been improvement, in some schools, “priority for SEN assistance seems to be given to ESL children first”.

Some children have extra assistance from dyslexia specialists and others who work independently or come into schools part time. Most of the schools state that they have learning support and are sympathetic, but parents will need to check out how well their child’s needs will be met. Many determined parents look for people out in the community who happen to have SEN qualifications to help children after school hours, which can be tough on an already tired child who has had a hard enough time in school.

Outside of the mainstream in Kuwait, there are some schools for children with learning difficulties. The leader in this field is Fawzia Sultan International School, which is a non-profit organisation for children with learning-related problems. The curriculum is based on the American one and is run by highly qualified overseas staff. It also offers assessment and consultation services for those enrolled in other schools.

Useful information

Teachers who enjoy the lifestyle in Kuwait often stay many years but, in even the best of the schools, there is always a regular turnover of staff.

The traffic around schools can be dreadful, so many parents opt for the school buses, which cover a wide area of the city. Most Kuwaiti children are ferried to school by a maid and driver, and some of the schools operate a system whereby the cars draw up outside the school, and school maids take the children out of the car and into the school. Car-pooling does exist, but is not very common.

The atmosphere in the schools is described by children as friendly. Some of the larger schools with small premises can be intimidating as there is little room to move in the playground and it is difficult at first to break into a circle. However, children do seem to settle in within a term or two and become very loyal to their school.

Schools with enough room have separate areas for different age groups. Kuwaitis and other Arab nationals in foreign schools have chosen these schools because they hope that their children will learn English and perhaps go to college in America, or university in Europe or Australia. 

The different nationalities mix well in the playground, though children report that it can be hard to find friends prepared to get together regularly outside of school unless they are fellow expats. In almost all of the schools, the western expatriate child will be very much in the minority with perhaps only a handful of other American or British children in the class.

The other issue is that Kuwaiti teenagers have a very different idea of how to enjoy themselves; in the case of the boys, their concept of girls is not one you would want your sons to develop. Because older Kuwaiti teenage girls are more protected, and because the Western concept of friendship between boys and girls does not exist, perfectly innocent and pleasant overtures from a Western girl can be misinterpreted. 

All the schools work hard to develop their sports teams and to provide extracurricular activities. In particular, there are some excellent school bands. Children may have the opportunity to travel around the Gulf region with school sports teams. Most schools also organise field trips both inside Kuwait and abroad. Space is in short supply in some of the larger schools, which utilise fenced, shaded roof areas for playgrounds and certain sports – not unlike many urban, land-locked schools in the UK and US. 

To deal with congestion inside, the corridors in some of the schools have a strictly enforced one way system which ensures that large numbers of children can move around crowded spaces quickly and safely. It soon becomes second nature to new arrivals, because they rapidly learn that if anything is left behind, they have to go a long way round to retrieve it. 

There is a good selection of nursery schools to choose from in Kuwait, including Gulf Montessori Nursery, British Playhouse Nursery, Bright Start English Nursery and Busy Bodies English Montessori Nursery.

And finally…

An English parent who is happy with the education available in Kuwait describes what is on offer for the British family as ‘similar to a good UK state school which lacks space and facilities, but delivers what our children need to get IGCSEs and A levels – the difference is, we have to pay for it here’. 

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