Experts in the Middle East are projecting the construction of over 50,000 new schools in the region by 2020.
But in an August press release, officials from the International and Private Schools Education Forum (IPSEF) say demand will outstrip planned building by around 7,000, with 41,000 schools already slated for construction. The tally includes over 44,000 schools in Saudi Arabia, with several thousand in Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.
Education researchers note that several of these countries, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, as well as Oman, have set aside over 20 percent of total budgets for education.
Part of the problem, they say, is the timeline - stakeholders need a 24-month lead time to allow for design and approvals of new schools.
“This has been ongoing since many of the countries in the
Gulf region started focusing on developing a knowledge-based economy in the
early part of the new millennium when many of the strategic national plans were
set in place to veer away from dependence on oil revenues.”
co-founder Rhona Greenhill told the Gulf News Journal. “Since then, increasing enrollments, emphasis on quality of education, adoption
of smart learning and liberalizing the education sector to encourage more
private sector investment and involvement have contributed significantly
towards developing the education sector in the GCC.”
Greenhill said schools will also need to change curriculum to succeed.
“The issue of quality is of paramount importance for the ministries involved, as this is a key foundation of developing the education sector within their respective countries.” Greenhill said. “The GCC education system is yet to align itself with the needs of the globalized industry and become competitive in the fields of science and research. Because of the skill gap, unemployment among the youth in the member nations has increased. So this is something that will need to be addressed by making curriculum changes that is responsive to the needs of the market … but curriculum content is not the only quality consideration. As the education market matures, parents will expect the buildings to be designed and delivered to the highest standards.”
It’s a tall order, but in terms of building, Greenhill said the countries should be able to manage demand going forward.
“The forecast is manageable, considering the amount of resources being put in by governments in the GCC to cope with the demand.” Greenhill said. “(Budget allocations) indicate the seriousness of these Gulf states’ efforts to develop their education sector … private-sector developers are also being incentivized, and with the market expected to develop further in the coming years, it could be a profitable proposition for private school/contractors and developers to get involved.”
Greenhill also talked about suggested best practices.
“(In the beginning) certainly there was a focus on adopting international standards, and rightly so, as this will make the quality of education throughout the region globally competitive," Greenhill said. "However, there has also been a greater emphasis on developing local practices that are more aligned with cultural environment in this part of the world.”