Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Education Reforms in Saudi Arabia.

Reading articles about education reforms in Saudi Arabia is a bit of a hobby of mine.  Having grown up with parents very involved in education, and then having participated in a number of education related projects myself over the years, I just can't help being drawn to reports on the subject.

A number of recent articles have been quite interesting and, if you're the least bit interested in teaching as a profession in this country, you might find the unfolding saga of improving Saudi's education system as intriguing as I do.  Let's start with this editorial in the Arab News - Streamlining the educational system (Mar 2014) -  which basically looks at whether spending the huge education budget (somewhere in the vicinity of 200 billion SAR) on teacher training and happiness, including accommodation, is preferable to spending most of the budget on better looking schools.  It's almost a chicken and egg situation - What should come first, good quality structures or good quality teachers and how does one strike the right balance of both of these factors effectively?

This article in Al Arabya News, 'Saudi Arabia's education system in the spotlight again', (Feb 2014) touches on a number of reasons for the failure of the Saudi Education system to turn out well educated citizens, though the main thrust is lack of quality, not just in the curriculum but also the teachers, two obvious reasons for failing education anywhere.
But how to fix these problems, that is the question.
Reform is always the answer.
Implementation of said reforms is another story.

It appears issues with the curriculum are being addressed if this 'Saudi education catching up world's best' article (Nov 2013) is anything to go by, where the introduction of a 'revamped national curriculum' allows students to 'acquire skills such as conception, practice, critical thinking, innovation and creativity' through 'discovery, practice, experience and collaboration' as opposed to the rote learning methods currently used.

Having an improved curriculum is a good start to Saudi's education issues.  However, in order for the new curriculum to be implemented successfully, teachers need professional development in its delivery.  Teaching teachers who are the product of a public school system that discouraged critical thinking, creativity or any form of debate how to teach outside the only square they know is a bit of a challenge in itself.  And, unfortunately, training teachers and changing attitudes and behaviors (both of teachers and students) doesn't happen overnight.

(Did a Panteen ad just pop into your head?  It popped into mine - "It won't happen overnight, but it will happen".  I think I ought to wrap this post up and go to bed!)  

Probably the best and quickest way for Saudi teachers to begin to grasp the Constructivism Learning Theory that current policy is asking them to comprehend is to send them overseas to western schools already utilizing the model to get a feel for it, to see the theory in action in the classroom, to ask questions about it and to try it out themselves.  I'm sure many a teacher trainee would jump at the chance of an overseas training  jaunt exercise.  But, in lieu of the government funding teacher training trips to the wicked west, the next best thing is to have the west come to Saudi.

Goodness knows there are umpteen international organisations chomping at the bit to come to Saudi Arabia and help them out with their education woes, while enjoying a slice of the multi-billion dollar budget set aside for education reform, and if you'd visited the recent Education Exhibition you would have met representatives from more than a few of them.

This is the second time I've been to a Saudi Education Exhibition and what was refreshingly obvious was the number of young Saudi presenting products and systems, as opposed to foreigners.  Though, there again is a problem.  The bright and beautiful of Saudi don't want to teach in classrooms...they prefer to be at the top, tech savvy or managerial end of the education sector.

I also got a sense that Saudi parents and students were looking at the educational programs on display as shortcuts to success.  Meaning, they believe if they plug a program into their TV or computer and sit their child in front of it he, or she, will get brainy.  The Saudi psyche, generally speaking, doesn't yet consider learning through communication, questioning, actively searching for answers, discussion and interaction to be 'education'.   One day they will.  That day is not yet here.

Of course, reforms in curriculum, teacher training methods and educational attitudes aren't the only problems with Saudi education.  The mess seems to start from the top in the Ministry (and if I'm reading the signs correctly that means someone is helping themselves to the cream off the budget pie while slices are being handed out willy nilly to keep the loudest children quiet), so it too is going through a shake up.  Hopes are being pinned on the newly appointed Minister of Education, Khalid al-Faisal to sort things out.  Best of luck to him fixing the Saudi Arabian education system and implementing any reforms.  And that, folks is my round up on Saudi Arabia and education.  Chur :)

Ka Kite,


  1. hi, i chanced upon your site while searching for attractions in al kharj. we planned to visit kharj next week. your site is quite informative and your blog posts are well drafted. happy and surprised to know that people from newzealand are working in saudi arabia. if only money, time and permits i would love to visit wellington, auckland, christ church.....a long list. though black caps are not a force to reckon in cricket as they are in rugby still few of my favourite cricket players are kiwis. on any day my vote and support is for the kiwis than for your trans tasman rival.

    1. Hi Shrek, my vote is for the black caps too :) Glad you enjoyed my blog. Hope you get to NZ one day and enjoy your trip to Al Kharj.


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