The rest of the world is now getting the message about vocational learning.

Saudi- Education coupled with vocational training will boost competitiveness

(MENAFN – Arab News) Saudi Arabia’s education system came under a critical spotlight at the opening session of day two of the Jeddah Economic Forum on Monday.

The panelists in a lively and at times outspoken analysis of the structure and output of the system both criticized it for teaching theoretical and impractical skills that had little relevance to the real-world jobs market and the needs of the private sector.

Hamad Al-Sheikh, deputy education minister for boys at the Ministry of Education, countered with a comprehensive description of the plans and projects under development within the ministry that indicated that there was reform in hand.

The minister reviewed the history and structure of the current education system in the Kingdom and stressed the intention to build a knowledge-based society that was “a contributor to human wealth.”

He said that globalization had eliminated barriers between people and barriers to world knowledge. “It has forced states into competitiveness – Saudi needs to be competitive, and we need to match the educational skills of the international market.” he added.

For the future, he said, he sought major strategies for the development of education.

“Our schools lack administrative structure – there is isolation around teachers, no incentives for teachers or students. The school we seek will encourage students and teachers to seek a high level of community participation,” he said.

He presented future programs including development of English language skills, the establishment of an independent assessment organization – and initiatives for private sector input to public education, an initiative for the improvement of teachers qualified from Saudi universities and an organization for the promotion of teachers through assessment.

Abdullah Dahlan, chairman of the board of trustees, CBA (College of Business Administration, Jeddah), said education did not measure up to the market’s need for skilled labor. “Many students go in for a year of foundation course before they get accepted in universities and their graduates in turn are not able to get jobs because their education does not meet the market needs.”

“I was a student 40 years ago. I went into investment business and then came back to education through teaching at the university only to find that the curriculums have not changed,” he pointed out.

Dahlan said that 82 percent of graduates have studied theoretical programs, while only the remaining 18 percent graduated in scientific majors that are of interest to the job market. This has resulted in unemployment, he said. “The solution does not lie in sending these graduates for teaching,” he said commenting on the large number of teachers that the Kingdom has compared to other professionals.

He stressed that there is need for providing education with training to meet the labor market requirements. “Many (employers) do not want to employ Saudis because they lack the required skills.”

According to him, the serious problem facing the Arab region is educational and not political. “45 percent of the Arab population is illiterate,” he said, adding that a vast number of people in the region study only for 5 years while in other regions the number is as high as 15 years.

Dahlan said the private sector also has to shoulder the responsibility for the low level of education. “Investors tend to go for businesses that give immediate returns, and do not plan for long term projects with employment potential,” he said.

Dahlan believed that the education authorities were only concerned with certificates and degrees. “They are not concerned with public education – the students, teachers and kids are just means to achieve certain ends,” he said. “If we have a good education system, we would be good at everything including planning and the economy, building humans and even the survival of leaderships and nations.”

He added that his researches had revealed that there was an education crisis in the Arab World where 45 percent of people above 15 years old were illiterate and those under 25 years old had on average only five years of education whereas elsewhere it was 13. “Average expenditure is only eight percent of GDP, although Saudi Arabia has the highest. I have a total belief that we have a problem with education and this has had its impact on employment.”

This, he said, had contributed to the belief in the private sector that Saudis did not have the skills they needed for the private sector.

The leadership has deployed billions to support employment but the private sector is the prime suspect at not employing Saudi graduates. Their prime excuse is that Saudis are not qualified, and did not have the skills we need in the private sector.

“The main reason for the failure of Saudi university graduate students is the mainstream public education system which depends on learning by rote and does not develop the curriculum, concentrates on theoretical not practical. We now have high-school graduates who do not have the ability to study at university,” he said.

Malaysia, said Noor Hashim, special advisor on education at Khazanah National, has a holistic approach to education and has found that the child develops faster if the teacher is good. While the educational structure is highly ordered and bureaucratic, the approach to teaching is flexible and focused on making children thinkers, not simply rote learners and absorbers of fact. “That is no good for the jobs market,” she said.

“We have brought in people to change the methods of teaching to make sure that we deliver the goods, she said.” The most important thing in teaching and learning is to engage the child – not just feeding.

The high flying graduates of the system have been encouraged to return to teaching after working for some time in the private sector perhaps as lawyers, doctors and other professionals.

“They train for two years to become teachers and have changed the nature of teaching,” she noted. She cited one experiment that saw a group taught by these returnees as improving their English skills by 15 percent and math skills by more that 35 percent in just one month. “We cannot be conclusive yet, but the results look positive,” she said.

Jari Lavonen, professor of physics and chemistry education at the University of Helsinki, avowed that the most important part of the education system were the teachers.

The Finnish example devolved power within the system to the lowest levels – classroom and individual school. “Trust between teachers and of teachers is a very important element in the system,” he said.

Paul ChampionStrategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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