Bahrain has the oldest public education system in the Arabian Gulf region. In 1919 a boys’ school was built in Muharraq; the Al Hadaya Al Khalifiya school. This was followed two years later by the 1921 building of the Al Hidayaschoolin Manama and numerous other boys schools were built over the next few years.
According to contemporary accounts, the force behind the establishment of the first schools was Abdullah Bin-Isa Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s ruler at that time. Abdullah proposed the initiative soon after returning from celebrations in England to mark the end of the First World War, allowing him to see modern schools first hand. Soon after, when an Education Committee was set up, Abdullah was chosen to chair the Committee, making him the effective first Minister of Education.
Girls had to wait until 1928 for their own school to be built. However, once again, Bahrain was first in the region to make public schooling available for girls.
Even before the twentieth century, a missionary elementary school was set up in 1892 by the Dutch Reformed Church with a modern school syllabus. Despite a brief period of closure during the mid-1930s, this school exists until today under the name of the Al Raja School.
For many years, higher education opportunities were limited to those who could travel out of Bahrain to institutions like the American University of Beirut. Reportedly, the first Bahraini students enrolled there in 1928. The first institution of higher education in Bahrain, the Gulf Polytechnic, was established in 1968 as the Gulf Technical College.
Prior to the establishment of the modern schooling, students were sent to Quranic schools; either local centres; or religious schools in mainland Arabia for Sunnis; or the more distant seminaries in Karbala or Najaf for Shia students. As well was giving Bahraini students excellent education opportunities, it should be thus noted that the modern schooling system allowed for greater interaction between previously-segregated Sunni and Shia communities.
This role of Bahrain’s public school system in cementing a collective Bahraini identity is a major reason why civil society activism in the first half of the twentieth century among educated Bahrainis was less likely to be along sectarian lines.
Throughout the twentieth century, Bahrainis have valued education and sought the best schooling opportunities for their young people.
First for Bahrain
- Bahrain’s first mosque
- First artificial islands
- Female president of UN General Assembly
- First nation to host Gulf Cup
- First mention in historical record
- First modern schools
- First causeway
- First oil well in the region
- First media outlets
- Bahrain’s first lady
- Women in medicine
- International Airshow
- First referendum
- First Grand Prix