Monday, 27 January 2014

Introducing Critical Thinking to Saudi Arabia

Critical thinking has, of recent times, been widely discouraged in Saudi Arabia.  Largely, of course, by a certain control freakish sector of the society scared by the prospect of change.  Keeping people ignorant has always been the power ploy of tyrants.  However, the Regal Ones, or someone up the regal chain, are attempting to change the general lackadaisical nature of the Saudi grey matter. Why?  I have no idea.  Not having a Regal One on my Christmas Card List to whom I can direct my question, I can only guess at the reasons for the change of mind (if anyone reading this blog knows the King personally and can get him to grant me an audience so we can discuss the issue I'd be ever so grateful - just it putting it out there!)

Expats, especially the non-working women, can find themselves falling into the role of 'the ignorant' unless they take steps to keep their intellects engaged.  Not surprisingly, numerous expat women use their time here as a chance to study online papers.  The brain can very quickly forget how to think when it doesn't have to take responsibility for anything because that's the mans job.

Mr UK asked me the other day if the Saudi lady I had introduced him to was intelligent. (We were at a function - no seedy late night meetings in the desert here folks).   I almost choked on my spoonful of dessert!  Lord only knows what possessed him to ask such a question in the first place.  Granted, earlier in the evening we had been discussing the quality of work produced by Saudi ladies in projects at various workplaces which, if current circulating stories are anything to go by, isn't great.  Spitting my food back into my plate, he presumed my answer to his query would be less than positive.

The young lady in question is not, to be honest, academically gifted.  Being a female born and bred in Saudi Arabia outside the higher stratum of the Regally Rich, where your only scholastic option is the Saudi public school system, is a bit of a road block to substantial academic achievement as we know it in the west.  Can you imagine how hard it is to kick start the thinking process when you've been raised not to ask questions, not to have an opinion or not to think critically?  She does, however, have enthusiasm in abundance, a positive attitude and, when the goal excites her, she's extremely motivated.  So yes, she is intelligent.

It's a pity the reforms in Saudi education being trialed in various schools around the country are a decade too late for her.  With such great personal attributes she would flourish in a system that encourages 'education though discovery, practice, experience and collaboration' (that's according to the blurb in this Arab News article Saudi education catching up with the world's best.)

I'm a little skeptical about the whole 'Saudi education reform' news each time it hits the headlines.  Apparently reforms have been tried before and fallen on their face because of conservative backlash.  According to the history lesson delivered to me over a coffee table one evening, the conservatives wheedled themselves into a great deal after the 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure, taking control of two rather important areas of Saudi life - education and justice.  Of course, from there things went downhill fast.

I shouldn't be too critical about Saudi education, after all, New Zealand education performance has been slipping lately, and the Big Wigs back home have just realized that it takes quality teachers and teaching methods to create higher achieving students.  (Really!  Ya Think!).  And it took a study to come to the conclusion recently that the current penchant for wrapping kids in cotton wool at play time isn't actually good for them.  (Duh, Ya Don't Say!).  And I know a few rellies whose grey matter doesn't like to kick itself into high gear ever, though that's usually due to brains being fried by drug fueled lifestyle choices. 

Anyway, the Regals in Saudi had to implement a plan to deal with conservative control of education and they did.  It was called patience.  Basically they figured that, as their countrymen took advantage of the Scholarships to Study Abroad and opportunities to travel, they would, eventually, learn that the west wasn't as evil as conservatives liked to say.  At some point in the modernization of the country, there would come a time where the young up and comings would tip out the old and tired.  In 2009, that tipping point must have arrived because King Abdullah axed some of the dead wood from a few important government positions - namely justice, education, information, health, the Shoura Council and the religious police.  Changes have been coming thick and fast since then (though some would say not fast enough).

But just because dead wood has been axed doesn't mean they've gone away.  And 1979 isn't that far back that it can be forgotten.  So the Regals must tread carefully and slowly with their sweeping change.  Though things are looking positive.  I mean, now they are even experimenting with photo's of Saudi women in some educational books, something that has previously been unheard of.  Yes, here's hoping the proposed education reforms and the introduction of critical thinking to the Saudi education system doesn't run into any untoward snags

Ka Kite,

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