(MENAFN - Oxford Business Group) Bahrain is looking to the past to help build its future. It is seeking to train more of its citizens in the country's traditional arts and skills to both preserve the Kingdom's rich heritage and provide employment and business opportunities.
On April 26, Bahrain's newest education facility was formally opened, with the unveiling of the Heraf Al Deiar School of Handicrafts in Muharraq. A part of the Sheikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture and Research, the school will help train students but also allow them to achieve self-empowerment, says the Heraf Al Deiar director, Aghadeer Jweihan.
"The mission of the school is to provide education to enhance the skills of craftsmen so that they can apply their knowledge and abilities in a wider field," Jweihan told the local press on April 24. "Trainees at the school will receive a vocational certificate in traditional arts and handicrafts. The training covers both practical and theoretical aspects of traditional craftsmanship in a comprehensive manner."
The role of the school is not just to pass on traditional skills but to also help students transfer their talents into commercial success if they so wish. Alongside the various arts-based streams, the school will also provide training in self-development skills, crafts basics, body language in marketing, the art of time management, communication skills and public relations. Combined, the education provided by the school is intended to assist students in reaching their full artistic and professional potential.
"Graduates, with the artistic taste, skills and experience they have developed at the school, will have the relevant skills to produce high-quality works and be able to earn a living," said Jweihan.
The school and the centre were the brainchild of Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain's minister of culture and information. Speaking at the opening of the school, Shaikha Mai said productive minds sustained human culture and development, with the project allowing Bahrain's artists to enhance their skills and creativity.
The project is very much in line with some of the goals of Sheikha Mai's ministry, which include the developing of an innovative, dynamic and sustainable tourism industry that aims to contribute to the country's socioeconomic development, while also protecting and promoting Bahrain's culture and heritage.
According to estimates by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the total contribution of tourism to the Kingdom's economy last year was some 12% of GDP. Significantly, the WTTC report showed that exports made up a major component of Bahrain's revenue from travel and tourism, with more than 13% or 1.8bn of the country's total foreign sales represented by purchases of overseas visitors, with a large proportion of these sales being traditional crafts and artworks. Given that the WTTC has predicted the value of Bahrain's visitor exports could rise to 5bn in a decade, it makes sound economic sense to broaden and deepen the skills pool of local artisans.
It is not just economic gain that is driving efforts to strengthen education in the traditional arts, crafts and professions, the campaign is just as much about protecting national identity and maintaining links with the past in a rapidly changing world.
In its Vision 2030, the blueprint for the Kingdom's future released in late 2008 and overseen by the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), the government said various measures would be put in place to ensure that Bahrain's "rich and ancient culture" would be promoted and protected. Among the measures outlined in the plan were encouraging new generations of Bahrainis to gain experience and an in-depth knowledge of their cultural heritage.
According to Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, the chief executive of the EDB, the arts are important to both the cultural and business life of the country.
"Our rich history is at the heart of what makes our country so attractive to international business and tourism alike, both playing a key role in achieving the ambitions of Vision 2030 and the national economic strategy," he said recently.