8 April 2015

Kuwait, often hailed as the most politically democratic of the Gulf states, continues to use its education system to promote uncritical nationalism and Islamic obedience, in tension with its democratic maturation and its aspirations for a knowledge-based society.


Rania Al-Nakib, Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Gulf University for Science and Technology


Photo credit: Matilde Gattoni/Getty Images


  • Kuwait’s democratic maturation and its aspirations for a ‘knowledge economy’ require the recognition, agency and action of its citizens; however, such development is hindered by the reality that these features are largely absent from the country’s education system.
  • Public schools are segregated on multiple levels (nationality, religion, and gender most obviously, and cultural and economic backgrounds more subtly); such segregation mirrors current societal divisions, and prevents groups from exploring and addressing the differential experiences of ‘being Kuwaiti’.
  • The national curriculum conflates citizenship and nationalism, and constructs an exclusive, singular and fixed ‘cultural identity’, with ‘other’ affiliations and cultural change presented as threats to national unity.
  • Islamic focus in national curricula promotes obedience at the expense of critical thinking; the particular patriarchal interpretations that are presented are assumed to be complete, precluding input and expansions from individuals and groups – including women and Shias.
  • Nationalism and religion work together to control students, breed passivity and maintain the current balance of power, at the expense of Kuwait’s democratic, knowledge-based development.
  • Empirical findings point to human rights education as a potential ‘interruption’ to the nationalistic and Islamic hegemony in Kuwait’s school structures and curricula. Study of human rights provides opportunities for more inclusive citizenship, active learning, criticality, and both sanctioned and unsanctioned youth action.