There is not an abundance of beggars in the streets pleading for money, as is the case with other countries in the region; nor does there seem to be any mention of such a problem in national or international statistics. For example: Kuwait’s outstanding performance when comparing the international poverty line, which is set at $1.08 per person per day, to the per capita expenditure of the poorest Kuwaiti of $11.8 per person per day— this is ten times higher than the international poverty standard.
It is not surprising, therefore, that most people in Kuwait give a resounding ‘no’ when approached with questions about the presence of poverty...
in the country. It is equally perplexing that, in Kuwait, the lack of education or lack of access to education is a kind of poverty that exists on a very real level. This statement may baffle many since education is one of the free social services provided in this country. In fact:
Over 12% of government expenditure goes towards educationthis has positively translated into a 93.3% literacy rate for adults and 99.7% youth literacy rate.
However, free education is a perk that is solely given to Kuwaiti citizens. Non—citizens may enroll in private schools if their parents can afford the exorbitant tuition fees or they can attend Arabic schools that cost a fraction of what private schools cost. Yet, despite the latter, more affordable option, there still remains a large portion of families who cannot meet even those expenses. This sector of society is dominated by two groups: Legal residents who are simply too poor to meet the relatively paltry tuition costs of Arabic schools; and those who are ‘alien residents’ in Kuwait and, therefore, cannot register their children to attend school. The latter group includes, for the most part, the Bidoun (around 120,000 in Kuwait) and other stateless peoples.
National statistics do not include non—Kuwaitis or non—residents, so educational and literacy statistics are almost impossible to find concerning this sector of society. However, there are a large number who cannot afford to go to school or cannot register for school. Though there are charitable societies that pay for those unable to pay school fees, even these organizations cannot pay for all those who have dropped out due to overdue tuition payments. One Palestinian woman (who wished to remain anonymous) has attempted to alleviate this problem by going to various schools, gathering names of children who are unable to afford an education and collecting donations on their behalf so that they may return to school.
“It is astonishing the number of children who are out of school because their parents could not pay their children’s school fees. For each school I went to — and I had been to at least 10 — the headmaster gave me a list of 50+ students who are out of school,” she said. “We are not talking about an extraordinary amount of money in comparison with other private schools; what we are talking about here are fees as low as 300 or 400 KD.”Other children are out of school because their parents could only pay half their fees, so many at the primary level are left to sit at home for lack of 100 KD. To put this figure into perspective: Kuwait’s budgetary surplus for 2006 – 2007 was $18.6 billion, while the 2007 – 2008 estimates puts the surplus at somewhere around $24.9 billion due to increasing oil prices.
This kind of poverty has been given only superficial examination and atThis kind of poverty has been given only superficial examination and attention at the popular level because poverty in the traditional sense has been most commonly linked with income deprivation. What few in society realize is that the idea of poverty has evolved globally — especially in the international development scene — into a multi-layered concept encompassing a massive range of deprivations. Poverty is no longer simply seen through the prism of poverty lines and expenditure ratios, but rather is defined through various approaches and measurements.
The most relevant approach for the purposes of this article is the concept of social exclusion. This concept is used to describe a larger process of deprivation and marginalization that occurs in a society by processes of economic restructuring or by political targeting of a specific group or population within that society rendering them unable to participate fully in the economic and political opportunities of that community. Stated simply, this approach highlights the deprivations that some sections of society suffer due to either the direct or indirect actions of an agent. Social exclusion, therefore, can be thought of as a way to look at poverty through multiple layers, which will allow us to see it not as an abstract, one-dimensional theory but as a real problem pervasive in our society today. It allows us to look at groups in our society who are at a real threat of falling into poverty due to the lack of a social safety net that would otherwise guarantee them education.
Viewed through the lens of social exclusion, the lack of education is a kind of poverty that can adversely affect the development of a nation. The link between education and development is an obvious one— education is an empowering experience and creates an individual capable of participating in the development process of the country.
“Dropping out of school because of poverty virtually guarantees perpetuation of the poverty cycle since the income-earning potential of the child is reduced.”
The value of education was recognized in Jordan last summer when the government, in response to the rising humanitarian situation, took the decision to allow Iraqi refugee children to attend public schools for free without the required residency permits. Fifty Thousand Iraqi children flooded Jordanian public schools this past academic year due to this decision. This means that 50,000 children now have a chance to fight falling into the ‘poverty trap’ and to increase their income-earning potential in the future. Giving these children free education does not guarantee them an escape from poverty, but it does give them the tools they will need to combat poverty and exclusion. What education will give these children is the ability to improve their overall productivity and participation in society.
Jordan, however, has a rather different problem than Kuwait with regards to education. As opposed to Kuwait, Jordan is dealing with a very specific humanitarian crisis that gathered strength quickly and with much global media attention. Kuwait has a much smaller problem in comparison, one that is not recognized or talked about at the popular level. It may be true that we speak about the problem of the Bidoun and read about them and other ‘illegal aliens’ in the local newspapers, but the implications of their lack of participation and emancipation is not sufficiently discussed nor addressed.
The two groups that this article has made mention of — those who cannot afford education and those who cannot go to school — suffer different problems and will therefore need different solutions; it is an issue that we must start tackling now. Each group will need a very different approach especially when it comes to dealing with non-residents. However, aside from the political issues involved, education must be seen as an indispensable part of the development process for all people living within this nation — not just its citizens.
What is needed is a reorientation in our way of thinking about poverty, development and education. The benefits of education include human and social development, which undeniably lead to economic and political development. In this way education is not just a means, but an end in and of itself. It is not a reward to be handed out to those more deserving or to those who can meet its expense. This kind of poverty is an actual problem that exists in our society today and that has thus far remained in the fringes, un-discussed. Education must be seen as an investment in the future, as it is nations and, therefore, the people of these nations who will benefit in the long run.
When we deny a child an education, we are robbing him of his future and a basic human right — a right as basic and as essential as any other right that we value as human beings. This reorientation begins as soon as we begin to view education as a right rather than a privilege afforded to some and not others.
By Siham Nuseibeh