In 1993 Kuwait's population was highly educated, both in comparison
to other states in the region and in comparison to its pre-oil
education levels. The impressive education system was brought
about by a conscious government decision, made possible by revenues
from oil that began in the 1950s, to invest heavily in human resources.
Although the pre-oil education system was modest by 1993 standards,
it was still impressive, given the limited finances at the time.
In the early 1900s, education consisted largely of Quran schools
offering basic literacy training in the context of religious instruction.
This system provided some formal schooling for nearly all boys
and most girls. Wealthy families often sent sons abroad for further
education. In the first decades of the twentieth century, merchants
anxious for more extensive training for their sons opened a few
private schools, notably the Mubarakiyyah School in 1911 and the
Ahmadiyyah School in 1921. In the 1930s, merchants established
the Education Council and expanded the system to include four
new primary schools, including one for girls. The government soon
took over this growing system and, with new oil revenues after
World War II,rapidly expanded the system. In 1956 the government
laid down the basis of the education system that still existed
in 1993: kindergarten and primary, middle, and secondary schools.
A 1965 law, largely enforced, made education compulsory until
the age of fourteen. A small system of private schools also developed.
Public education, including preschool and higher education, was
from the beginning free for all nationals and for many foreigners.
The government absorbs not only the costs of schools but also
those of books, uniforms, meals, transportation, and incidental
expenses. In preinvasion Kuwait, the majority of the students
in the education system were non-Kuwaitis (see table 3, Appendix).
The apex of the public education system is Kuwait University,
which the government established in 1966. More than half the students
at Kuwait University are women, in part because families are more
likely to send boys abroad for study. The government also subsidizes
hundreds of students in university study abroad, many in the United
As a result of these efforts, the school population and the literacy
rate increased steadily. By the mid-1980s, literacy and education
rates were high. Although only 55 percent of the citizen population
was literate in 1975, by 1985 that percentage had increased to
73.6 percent (84 percent for males and 63.1 percent for females).
In 1990 the overall literacy rate was 73 percent. The total number
of teachers increased from just under 3,000 at independence in
1961 to more than 28,000 in academic year 1988-89; the number
of schools increased from 140 to 642 during the same period (see
table 4, Appendix).
The education system has its problems, however. For example,
it relies heavily on foreign teachers. In the late 1950s, almost
90 percent were non-Kuwaitis. Despite a long-standing government
effort to indigenize education, the system continues to rely heavily
on foreigners. The system also often fails to train graduates
in fields that correspond to Kuwait's most pressing labor needs.
Especially in higher education, the system produces many graduates
with training in liberal arts and few with training in vocational
Data as of January 1993