It is universally acknowledged that education is the background for the successful development of any nation (Alyami 2014). In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, education has become one of the governmental priorities. Thus, in 2007, the government started King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Project for Public Education Development that is aimed at reforms the sphere of education (Alyami 2014).
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The project involves the opening of new educational establishments, decentralization, and empowerment of schools and educators through training and motivation as well as efficient evaluation. Under this incentive, teachers will be evaluated, and 80% of the weight of their assessment will depend on their students’ performance during the standardized test (Alnahdi & Abdulaziz 2014). Gender issues are also in the lens of the officials, and more egalitarian trends appear.
Many schools adopt the vision of the government and try to employ efficient strategies to improve the quality of the educational services provided as well as the performance of students. For instance, Tatweer Schools can be regarded as an illustration of this process. These schools focus on Professional Learning Community, evaluation and self-planning as well as lifelong professional development (Alyami 2014).
Many schools have already employed similar strategies that have proved to be effective. The effectiveness of the schools is measured through the analysis of the students’ performance and their behavior as well as teachers’ performance and motivation. This paper focuses on the benefits of such strategies utilized in one of the schools of Saudi Arabia. However, before discussing the rationale for choosing the educational establishment in question, it is essential to consider the peculiarities so of the educational system in Saudi Arabia to understand the context the school is operating in.
First, it is necessary to note that several governmental agencies administer the educational system in Saudi Arabia. The educational structure is defined by the social context. Thus, the Ministry of Education has been the primary administrative agency. The Ministry establishes major standards for public, private and special education. However, the rapid development of the country in the 1970s unveiled the need for high-profile professionals in various spheres, but the focus was still on the oil production industry (Sedgwick 2001).
There was a need to establish a governmental body that would develop, implement and manage policies aimed at the development of the educational establishments as well as the educational system as a whole. The Ministry of Higher Education created in 1975 focuses on post-secondary education, associated standards, programs and so on (Background educational system in Saudi Arabia 2013).
Apart from administering colleges and universities in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Higher Education provides supervision of scholarships for Saudi people studying abroad as well as “coordinates international inter-university relations and oversees the educational and cultural mission offices in different countries” (Background educational system in Saudi Arabia 2013, para. 5). Later, it became clear that the kingdom needed significant manpower having the necessary technical skills to satisfy the needs of the rapidly growing economy. A new governmental body was necessary to focus on the satisfaction of particular needs of industries. The General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training was founded in 1980. This educational establishment administers vocational facilities, institutes, and training centers in the country.
The educational system in Saudi Arabia involves primary, middle, secondary, and vocational or tertiary education. The gross enrollment in the primary to secondary education is over 90% in the kingdom (Education system in Saudi Arabia 2012). Importantly, 6-year old children are obliged to be enrolled at a primary school. The enrollment rate for boys is 99% and for girls is 96.3% the enrollment rate at primary school. At the age of 12, children go to middle school, and the enrollment rate is 95.9% (out of which 47% are girls) (Education system in Saudi Arabia 2012).
Secondary education is for students between 12 and 16 years old. It is necessary to note that the enrollment rate is somewhat lower, but it is still significantly higher compared to other Gulf countries (91%). As for vocational education, there are more than 150 vocational education establishments that provide training in various spheres. Tertiary education includes 24 government-funded universities that provide training in medicine, humanities, engineering, social sciences. Notably, the Saudi government provides bursaries that enable young people to obtain higher education overseas (Education system in Saudi Arabia 2012).
It is important to note that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, and Sharia is both the “constitution and legal framework” (Sedgwick 2001, para. 2). The official religion is the “Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam” (Sedgwick 2001, para. 2). The educational system, as well as any other aspect of social life, is governed and deeply rooted in the religious framework. On the one hand, such values as self-development, respect for traditions and knowledge, responsibility, commitment and so on are promoted. On the other hand, the focus is made on religion rather than the development of particular practical skills (Sedgwick 2001).
A large portion of students (in schools as well as universities) have to memorize Qur’an and develop skills to interpret the Holly texts as well as apply them in their daily life. Instead of learning more about new ways of management, innovation, and technological advances, students have to concentrate on the religious aspect and traditions. This approach makes the kingdom less competitive in the international business world as there is a lack of skilled workforce that focuses on innovation and development.
More so, Sedgwick (2001) notes that adherence and excessive focus on traditions and religious concepts also makes people less prepared for the changes. Teachers, as well as students, become more resistant to any change that undermines the development of the educational system and other industries as students enter the workforce and contribute (or jeopardize) the development of various spheres.
Another significant drawback of the Saudi educational system is associated with gender issues that arise as girls are still seen as passive in the social context. Thus, the schools are segregated. There are schools for boys and schools for girls. More so, in some programs, girls are not enrolled. For instance, traditional Islamic education is for boys exclusively (Sedgwick 2001). Only boys can train to become Ulema (religious clergy) (Sedgwick 2001). It is noteworthy that the curriculum for boys and girls is similar in areas other than religious education. Importantly, although girls were included in the student pool in 1960, it is still believed that informal education is better for them (Alyami 2014).
According to Islamic culture, society is seen as a hostile environment for girls who can be negatively affected. Thus, many people still believe that girls should receive education at home. As has been mentioned above the trend is changing, especially when it comes to primary and middle education. For instance, the enrollment rate for girls is more than 90% at present. Moreover, females can now enter various spheres including education, healthcare, and business. The government undertakes steps to make the workforce more diverse and encourage females to seek (and get) employment. King Abdullah revealed his commitment to the development of a more egalitarian society and allowed 30 females to take positions in the Shura Council (Al Alhareth, Al Alhareth & Al Dighrir 2015).
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The rapid development of the country in recent decades shows that the educational system is capable of providing professionals to satisfy the needs of the labor market. However, it is also clear that the system is not as efficient as it is in developed countries such as Finland, the United Kingdom or the United States (Alnahdi & Abdulaziz 2014). In this respect, the Saudi government is planning to pay specific attention to the development of the educational system especially such areas as metals processing, manufacturing, and sciences as it will help the country reduce its reliance on the oil production sector (Education system in Saudi Arabia 2012).
It is also clear that gender issues should also be addressed as the steps are undertaken are not enough. It is necessary to introduce more quotas in companies, open more schools and universities for girls, let females work in more spheres. It has been acknowledged that the involvement of females in social life translates into particular economic gains for the kingdom. For instance, Elimam et al. (2014) claim that there is a strong correlation between female participation in the labor force and the country’s GDP. It has also been estimated that the growth of the kingdom can reach up to 9% annually if Saudi women participate equally with men in the workforce.
Nevertheless, it has been acknowledged that the reform in the educational system is associated with a significant degree of confusion. More so, many schools and even individual educators try to resist the change, which makes the reform less effective (Alnahdi & Abdulaziz 2014). These people try to stick to traditional ways, and they stress that any change can lead to the westernization of the society and its destruction. Many see the changes as the betrayal of traditions and religious values. Of course, some people resist the change as they are simply afraid of the new system that has new and unknown principles.
This resistance, as well as the lack of training and experience among educators, results in inconsistent changes in Saudi schools. This confusion can result in a complete failure of the reform, and the educational system will remain outdated and inefficient. In its turn, the reform failure will have a significant adverse impact on the development of the kingdom in the long run. As for the economic implications, the country’s economy will fail to innovate due to the lack of skilled workforce and high-profile employees who are prepared to innovate. The social sphere will also be negatively affected as people will not have decent jobs, and there will be no adequate services (including but not confined to educational and healthcare services). The level of people’s economic and social well-being will decrease.
The cultural development of the kingdom can also be jeopardized as the Saudis may fail to adjust to the challenges of the new globalized world, and will be unprepared to the interaction with other cultures, which is inevitable due to the globalization.
As has been mentioned above, many schools have already adopted the strategies employed in some Western countries. At that, these strategies are modified to fit the Saudi context. The rationale for this dissertation is to examine the peculiarities of the implementation of such strategies in one of the Saudi schools. The dissertation will include evaluation of such aspects as curriculum, students’ performance and satisfaction, educators’ performance as well as the impact on the community.
The study will attempt to address the following research questions.
- What are educators’ perspectives on various teaching techniques employed, assessment criteria, curriculum, and standards?
- What are parents’ perspectives on the teaching techniques used at the school, curriculum, standards set and assessment criteria?
The school in question is one of the Dhahran Ahliyya Schools. The mission of the schools is to “empower each student to be a compassionate, thinking, lifelong bi-lingual learner, who makes a positive difference locally and globally” as well. Contribute to the “development of education in the Arab World” (Our mission 2016). The schools are equipped properly, which allows the faculty and students to obtain the most recent knowledge on various topics in many areas. The students are encouraged to develop their critical thinking skills and be life-long learners. These schools can be regarded as an illustration of a successful combination of Saudi traditions and values and the most recent innovations in the sphere of education.
Importantly, the schools pay a lot of attention to teachers’ training and empowerment. Educators are well-trained and eager to self-develop. They are leaders who inspire students to pursue their academic goals in higher educational establishments and contribute to the development of the Saudi economy. The faculty includes high-profile professionals who are committed to inspiring young people to go the extra mile. This approach positively affects the students’ performance as 98% of the school’s graduates enter universities (Educational development center 2016). Importantly, young people are prepared for the challenges of the contemporary world. They can analyze information and make critical decisions.
Another strategic framework used is the focus on ongoing development and innovation. According to the school’s website, the school is constantly developing and evaluating its programs, standards and so on as well as implements the necessary change. It is also noteworthy that the schools promulgate the ideas of equality and equal opportunities for all. The girls’ school provides females with the necessary knowledge and skills that enable them to contribute to the development of Saudi society (Intermediate and secondary school 2016). Dhahran Ahliyya Schools have acknowledged the benefits of diversity and are committed to making a difference.
Apart from the claims on the school’s websites and the overall opinion about the school that exists in the community, I am committed to focusing on this educational establishment as I have had an opportunity to witness some approaches used. My passion for innovation in the educational sphere is well-known to all people I know. My niece invited me to acknowledge what innovation means and how it is manifested in teachers’ performance and strategies as well as students’ performance at the DAS schools. I visited the schools three times. Each of my visits was an eye-opening experience. One of the things I enjoyed was the teachers’ attitude towards students.
Teachers supported and encouraged their students making sure that they feel an important and valuable individual. It was clear that the teachers were proud of their students who tried their best to be worth the praise and encouragement. Unfortunately, such teaching strategies are not common for Saudi schools. The performance of DAS students is also remarkable, which is clear from the students’ grades and their performance during school events.
The school mentioned is chosen as it is an illustration of the existing opportunities. The Dhahran Ahliyya Schools reveal the path that can be employed by other educational establishments. Thus, the school meets educational goals, uses strategies consistent with the governmental paradigms, contributes to the development of the educational system. The experience and innovative approach of the school will be evaluated and generalized.
The schools’ results (students’ and teachers’ performance) show that the Saudi educational system can be effective and can help the nation develop. The faculty and students’ parents can be seen as two groups of stakeholders whose ideas matter and can help identify primary educational strategies that have the most positive impact. Thus, the study will evaluate the perspectives of the stakeholders mentioned and will outline some major features of educational programs and techniques that can be used nationwide.
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