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Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a small island country located near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. Formerly an emirate, the islands that comprise Bahrain were declared a kingdom in 2002. Bahrain is currently ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family, and as of 2010, it has a population of roughly 1.2 million, of which over half are non-national residents. With only 290 square miles of land area, Bahrain is one of the smallest countries in the world by size, and because of its relatively large population, it is also one of the densest, with over 1600 people per every square kilometer (the world average is 50 people per square kilometer). In total, Bahrain consists of 33 islands, with the largest being Bahrain Island, and is surrounded by Saudi Arabia to the west and Qatar to the southeast.
Bahrain has become renowned for its huge oil reserves and pearls—a wealthy country in which many impressive structures can be found; skyscrapers that include the Bahrain Financial Harbor and the Bahrain World Trade Center. This unusual wealth is part of the reason why the country is home to so many immigrants—people who came to Bahrain to “make their mark on the world.” While the bulk of the population remains ethnically Arab, there are a noteworthy number of people from South Asia in the country. In fact, as of the last census, nearly 300,000 ethnic Indian nationals had taken up residence in Bahrain, making this group the most visible ethnic minority in the country. Islam is the official religion in Bahrain, and is practiced by a whopping 98.7 percent of the population.
Education in Bahrain
In 1932, the sitting government of Bahrain took control of the country’s struggling education system, which at that time included two primary schools for boys. The date on which this happened makes Bahrain’s public education system one of the oldest in the world and the oldest in the Arabian Peninsula. Since that time, Bahrain has subsequently opened up many new schools, including separate facilities for female students and many different types of secondary institutions.
Since 1970, public education has been the loftiest expenditure in the Bahraini operating budget, but despite efforts to improve schools and increase educational access, the literacy rate in the country is still only 77 percent. These numbers, however, reflect all Bahraini adults, and may not accurately depict the rates among Bahrain’s younger students and working generation. Those who were born after 1971, the year Bahrain claimed independence from Great Britain, tend to read at a much higher level and have a much lower illiteracy rate than those born earlier. This is mainly because an estimated 85-90 percent of primary and secondary school-age children now attend school on a regular basis.
Today the schools in Bahrain, including those operated by religious groups, play host to some 125,000 students. Education is divided into three distinct levels, primary, preparatory (junior high school) and secondary school. Primary and preparatory students, ages 6-14, are instructed in a wide range of academic subjects, including mathematics, science, language, computers, social studies, art and music. Secondary schools offer a mixture of academic and vocational classes, the former geared towards university preparation and the latter focusing on the knowledge and skills students will need for transitioning into a broad range of career fields.
Much like European and North American countries, Bahrain offers a variety of higher education opportunities, and its students have several colleges and universities from which to choose. Once enrolled in the institution of their choice, Bahraini students can pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in most major academic fields, or gain advanced certification in a specific career field. Specialty colleges offer courses and training in a countless number of vocations, including health services, hotel and catering, culinary arts and all construction fields—trades important to the Bahraini economy that have been very lucrative in recent years.