Challenges of Using a Western Teaching Approach in Kuwait

Abstract

In this paper what was explored were two challenges of using a western teaching approach in Kuwait. These challenges consist of gender segregation in colleges and universities as well as the concept of “wasta” (i.e. social networks). Males and females within Kuwait are taught in separate schools from elementary to high school. This method of education is based on cultural reservations regarding the interaction between males and females wherein societal attitudes have been oriented towards gender segregation which is based upon a male-dominated societal culture. The inherent issue though with such a method of teaching students is that there is no inherent difference between what is taught to males or females with the process of segregation negatively impacting the capacity of students to interact with one another. The other challenge that is tackled in this paper is social networks which are one of the most influential resources embedded in Kuwaiti society due to their capacity to help people get into particular studies or to speed up the processing of certain documents. It is known as “Wasta” which is a process wherein you use someone you know who has some sort of power in a specific workplace or influential relationship to serve your need quickly and informally such as renewing a passport, getting a good job, or promotion. It can be seen that students seemingly lacked any passion for education since they believe that it is only through “Wasta” that they would be able to get a particular type of job.

Keywords: segregation in education, social networks, and students’ passion.

Introduction

Societal culture can be considered one of the most challenging factors that could interfere with the educational system in Kuwait. This can come in the form of societal prejudices, traditional cultural practices, and perceptions (ex: separation between males and females, gender biases, etc) which result in obstacles that hinder the development of a country’s educational system. While it may be true that some socio-cultural factors contribute towards developing and facilitating the creation of a functional system of education (as seen in the case of E.U.), the fact remains that not all such systems create a positive contribution. What you have to understand is that a society’s culture has a definite and distinct impact on the development of its educational system. These aspects are connected and work simultaneously since one of the functions of a country’s educational system is to impart aspects of local societal culture onto students. It is based on this that this paper will explore two socio-cultural factors that impact the use of western teaching approaches within Kuwait. These consist of gender segregation in colleges and universities as well as the concept of “wasta” (i.e. social networks) which impact student motivation. This will be the scope of the paper, which is derived from a personal experience of teaching two different classes at Kuwait University (KU) in Summer 2013 as a requirement of the Ph.D. program in social work at the University of Kentucky.

Segregation in Education by Gender

One of the socio-cultural factors that create challenges in implementing a western teaching approach in Kuwait comes in the form of segregation between male and female students within the various schools and colleges in the country. Males and females within Kuwait are taught in separate schools from elementary to high school. This method of education is based on cultural reservations regarding the interaction between males and females wherein societal attitudes have been oriented towards gender segregation which is based upon a male-dominated societal culture. This socio-cultural attitude has “spilled over” so to speak into the realm of education wherein the segregation is seen in general society is applied to educational practices as well. For example, even though Kuwait University and other community colleges accept both men and women, they are segregated into different classes, especially during the introductory classes of the college. However, it should be noted that there are no differences in male and female courses wherein each has the same level of content and policies. This calls into question whether gender segregation is even logical when taking into consideration the sheer amount of resources needed to instill gender-segregated methods of learning and the various complications that come with utilizing such a process (Lappalainen, Mietola & Lahelma, 2013). One of the few arguments that help to justify the use of gender segregation comes in the form of males and females feeling more comfortable when they are segregated since they have become used to such a method of learning throughout their educational experience. Basically, they are not used to sitting with each other in one class which creates issues when attempting to implement a more “westernized” approach in learning wherein males and females learn with each other. The inherent problem with implementing the aforementioned approach to education within this particular context is the fact that a degree of “hesitance” can be seen in class participation when students of both genders are placed in the same class (Kleinjans, 2009). It was noted that both male and female students felt too shy to participate in front of each other. This is even though both genders had valuable insights regarding the issue that was being discussed (Taysum, 2013). The result is that they would prefer to remain silent instead of talking resulting in a lower level of class participation as compared to instances where gender-segregated classes are implemented. Through such a situation, instructors would never know how much the students have internalized from the lessons and it becomes doubtful that they would be able to incite sufficient critical thinking practices when dealing with the degree of hesitance that both genders have in openly interacting with each other within a learning environment (Brown, 2013). It is based on the degree of hesitance to communicate that some faculty instructors think that segregated classes provide a more comfortable setting to discuss issues related to marital couple or family problems, relationships, parenting practices, intimacy, gender roles, etc. since students within a particular class are more likely to communicate their thoughts and ideas on the subject when in the presence of their peers of the same gender (Beckmann, 2010). Thus, when it comes to implementing western teaching practices of combined gender classes, teachers find it quite challenging and require new techniques and innovations in teaching practices to be able to address the problems of students that are used to gender segregation in their learning environments (Barone, 2011). It should be noted though that there is no evidence cited in the main resources of Islam, which are the Quran and the prophet Mohammed, that support segregation in education by gender. Instead, what is present in the modern-day system of education within Kuwait is more likely the result of conservative political party pressure in upholding traditional cultural practices within educational institutions.

Summary

When taking all the factors that have been mentioned into consideration, it can be seen that teachers that have been taught via western teaching methods need to develop entirely new techniques within Kuwait given the issue of gender-segregated practices (Foster, 2006). Teachers need to be able to develop such a process since they need the current generation of students to be more open in terms of communicating between genders since “in the real world” there are numerous instances where they would need to communicate and collaborate with members of the opposite sex (Cole, 1997). For example, within Kuwait, there is no such thing as segregated employment except within the government-controlled school system. Even the army and police departments within the country nowadays have a mix of male and female students. Sooner or later the students that graduate from college will be employed either in governmental or private sector departments where the local workforce will consist of individuals of different genders, beliefs, and backgrounds (Van den Brink & Stobbe, 2009). This is especially true if they are to work in other regions such as the U.S. and Europe where gender segregation practices are largely absent with men and women sharing responsibilities in the workplace (Kajisa & Palanichamy, 2010). Based on the examples presented, it shows how crucial and significant it is to have a mixed-gender class especially in a male dominant society to produce not only critical thinkers but confident, and respectful students that value and respect different opinions and perspectives, especially those of the female gender (Sein et al., 2012). As such, teachers in the current system of education in Kuwait are going to be experiencing significant difficulties in the future in fixing the current system to the how endemic the practice of segregation is within the system of education within Kuwait.

Social Networks and Student Perception on Education

There is an old saying that states that “it is not what you know but who you know what determines your success”, this particular quote is applicable within the context of the social system of Kuwait. Social networks are one of the most influential resources embedded in Kuwaiti society due to their capacity to help people get into particular studies or to speed up the processing of certain documents. It is known as “Wasta” which is a process wherein you use someone you know who has some sort of power in a specific workplace or influential relationship to serve your need quickly and informally such as renewing a passport, getting a good job, or promotion. Such a practice is endemic within the societal structure of Kuwait and has impacted the educational process within most of the local universities. It can be seen that students seemingly lacked any passion for education since they believe that it is only through “Wasta” that they would be able to get a particular type of job. One of the most distinguishing aspects of the western teaching model is the concept that by studying hard and performing well in school, a person would be able to achieve a certain degree of success in the field of interest that they are pursuing (Dyrbye et al. 2010). This is one of the reasons why a grading system is utilized in order to measure the level of achievement that a student has had in internalizing the lessons they have been taught. It is often stated that the more effort one puts into learning and getting high grades, the greater the likelihood that they would be able to get a great job in the future (Akcam, Guler & Hekim, 2012). Through the use of such a system, teachers utilizing western teaching approaches can motivate their students to learn more through the use of extrinsic methods of motivation which equate higher grades to a greater likelihood of success (Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Unfortunately, within the context of the system of education within Kuwait, it is hard to motivate students who have observed that their peers that have graduated ahead of them have been waiting for months to get hired since they lack “wasta”. The result is that the relatives and friends of students try to find a social link to reach the instructor personally or a beloved relative and/or friend to the instructor to mediate and raise the student’s grade unfairly or to help them get particular job opportunities. It is due to the presence of such a system that denies equal opportunities and fairness that teachers within Kuwait find it increasingly difficult to address the issue of student motivation in college courses since some students believe that without a proper “wasta” in place, they will be unable to get a good job and that all their efforts would be useless. This creates a considerable problem for educators since it is their job to not only present lessons to students but they must also motivate them to internalize what is being presented. If students develop the notion that no matter how much effort they put into their studies they will not be rewarded for it as compared to someone that merely relies on their connections, this would impact their performance levels (Studsrød & Bru, 2012). Within the context of the classroom learning environment, teachers have to develop new methods of encouraging learning activities that take into account the social problem of “wasta” which their western counterparts do not have to deal with.

Addressing the Issue of Motivation

Students that lack sufficient motivation with their current social/academic position have been shown as being more likely to leave for “greener pastures” (i.e. drop out of school) as compared to students that have been sufficiently motivated by their school/teacher (Green, 2002). This can come in the form of reward programs, school/teacher policies, or varying degrees of empowerment that in effect encourage students to work harder and stay longer at their studies (Huang & Tansley 2012). Based on the work of Green (2002), it was determined that student motivation played an important role in student talent management practices due to its correlation in creating students that are more motivated to work, more interested in studying, and, as a result, stayed longer with their respective schools (Green, 2002). Motivation, as stated by Green (2002),

is a crucial aspect of student talent management since no matter how well a school/teacher develops its students through a plethora of training programs and seminars” (Green, 2002.)

If said students find little willingness to apply what they were taught productively and enthusiastically then the training itself would have been a useless venture (Green, 2002). The reason behind this is the fact that the current system of education does not operate within a vacuum and has to deal with an intensely competitive environment on an almost daily basis (i.e. multiple students attempting to get a limited amount of jobs) (Höglund, 2012). As such, in order to meet these challenges schools/teachers often have to retain students in school and motivate them by offering certain benefits while at the same time instituting costly training practices to improve performance, these factors result in added costs for the school/teacher (Höglund, 2012). This is an important factor to take into consideration for schools since such programs increase student performance levels (Ghemawat, 2012). One example of this seen in modern-day schools is the student incentive program which rewards hard workers and those who fulfill certain standards of attendance. Such programs often come in the form of promoting certain students to companies by showing how well they perform in school. Through such a program, students become more encouraged to perform and do better in their studies since such a program helps to get around the problem of “wasta” by the school going directly to companies and introducing students. In such a situation, teachers can prepare students to become more “academically attractive” to companies by informing students regarding the type of grades and performance levels that certain companies are after. The result is that students would actively seek teachers to help develop their skills resulting in better performance in the long run. Another interesting point brought up by Downs (2012) is the assumptions on what drives a student to perform better (Downs, 2012). This comes in the form of varying models which emphasize that most individuals are goal direct, are driven towards intrinsic rewards, and need such rewards to work better (Yang, Becerik-Gerber & Mino, 2013). Such models of behavior are important facilitators in understanding student behaviors and, as such, are important in the creation of new policies and strategies in boosting student performance (Downs, 2012; Andersson, 2012). For example, when using such models of behavior a school/teacher may employ a rewards program for efficiency and productivity in order to encourage all students to work harder as a result. Within the Santhoshkumar & Rajasekar (2012) study, it was shown how motivation initiates, directs, and sustains a student’s performance to the work they are accomplishing (Santhoshkumar & Rajasekar, 2012). When examining this particular aspect, it becomes obvious that all students need some form of motivating factor to work harder, without this there is no incentive to improve one’s performance. For example, if a school/teacher does not have any means of motivating their students to work harder it is unlikely that the performance of the students under their care will improve and thus is an ineffective method of student talent management (Andersson, 2012). It is based on this that to address the issue of student motivation, the student incentive program presents itself as a viable method of encouraging students to improve their performance to the potential of an extrinsic reward.

Conclusion

Overall, this paper has shown that gender segregation and “wasta” are factors that create challenges when implementing a western teaching approach within Kuwait. While gender segregation can be resolved by slowly combining classes over some time, addressing the issue of “wasta” will need considerably more effort in the form of developing relationships with corporations to promote students who have clearly shown exemplary performance.

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