Long Term Strategies Needed For Saudi Education System


Many oppose the idea of the merger, saying it would not bring about any change and would make things more complicated, especially after the opening of 11 new universities which will take the total to 19. There are thousands of schools under the Education Ministry encompassing nearly five million students.



“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Dr. Ihsan Buhulaiga, a Shoura member and chairman of Joatha Consulting, told Arab News, adding that the two ministries have different mandates. “The Ministry of Education provides basic education to our children while the Ministry of Higher Education provides specialized education, promotes research and prepares students for the job market and community service.”



However, he emphasized the need for coordination and integration between the two ministries in order to meet the country’s job market and development requirements.



“Development of human resources for the job market is the key issue. We need more than coordination between the two ministries. At present they do not work in tandem.”



Buhulaiga attended a workshop in Riyadh recently for developing a 25-year strategy for the Kingdom’s higher education system. He said the workshop was well represented by the Ministry of Education, adding that the two ministries were working on a strategy for integration.



During the workshop, Dr. Haya Abdul Aziz Al-Suwaid, a Saudi academic, called for the merger of the two ministries, saying in most countries education comes under a single ministry. The workshop, according to its director Muhammad Al-Ouhali, was aimed at developing a national vision on higher education.



Buhulaiga, who is an economist, said the Ministry of Education should do more to prepare students either to enter the job market or to pursue a university education. “This will help avoid one-year remedial programs given to secondary school graduates at universities and save billions of riyals in unnecessary expenditures. We should look at the ability of our students, either to enter the job market or pursue higher education. At present we don’t have a clear agenda in this respect,” he said.



Dr. Abdul Ilah Saaty of King Abdul Aziz University, also called for greater cooperation and coordination between the two ministries, but did not favor their merger. “The two ministries are now totally separated. There is lack of coordination. This is wrong. At the same time, I would say that merger is not the right solution.” Saaty said it would be difficult to manage 19 universities and thousands of schools under a single ministry. He emphasized the need for restructuring the whole education system in order to develop the skills of students and make them productive citizens. “Most students who come to the university are weak in English and we find it difficult to teach them. The private sector will provide jobs only for those Saudis who know English and have computer skills.”



He said the Kingdom’s education system should now focus more on science and technology. “Our children must be taught English from primary levels. Now, many Saudis send their children to international schools to make them proficient in English,” Saaty said.



He criticized the objections raised by some Shoura members allowing private schools to make English their medium of instruction. “They should have supported the move, because we are now in an age of globalization,” he added.



Dr. Mohamed Ramady, visiting associate professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, backed the merger proposal, citing its long-term national benefits. “The Higher Education sector is only as good as the student input it gets from the secondary schooling sector under the Education Ministry.



“The two have to have strong links and communication to ensure that the graduating students match the rapidly-changing requirements of the private sector in this era of globalization, competition and knowledge-based economy,” he explained.



“The merger will ensure that this message is not lost amongst competing bureaucrats and turf sensitivities,” Ramady said. “More advanced economies are moving toward models of lifelong learning processes whereby formal degrees are replaced by discrete modules of skill building,” he added.



“This will take time in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world in general since higher degrees still confer social and economic prestige. In the meantime, a unified ministry would be able to drive through necessary reforms in the secondary school curriculum and ensure that students entering colleges or universities have a clear career objective because of mandatory higher education college visits as well as university career officers visiting schools on a more regular basis,” he said.



He went on: “It is through a merged ministry focus that students at the secondary school level will be better informed of the wider range of opportunities in the market place, and make them think about entering careers they had not considered before. This will also benefit the private sector in the long term.”



Dr. Mohammed Abdussalam, associate professor at the department of chemical and materials engineering, at King Abdul Aziz University, also believes that the merger of the two ministries is essential for strengthening the Kingdom’s education system. “It is the right thing to do,” he said. He said the present system lacked homogeneity with both ministries having different strategies.



“We should have a master plan for education, considering it as one unit,” he told Arab News. “The load is very high for students at schools as they lack time to engage in extra-curricular activities and active learning,” said Abdussalam, who is very much involved in academic assessment programs at the university.



Edward Flood, an American English teacher who has been working in the Kingdom for more than 20 years, welcomed the merger idea but emphasized the need for improving the quality of education in the country.



“The authorities should formulate an education system to make sure that Saudi students can compete with students from all over the world. Real, in-depth changes need to be made in the current curriculum as well as in the way it is taught,” he said.


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