Revamping Saudi education |
Saudi Gazette - 28 August, 2012
Author: Khalid Al-Seghayer
The 40-year-old Saudi public educational system faces various challenges. The most important is the urgent need to restructure and overhaul it, from top to bottom, with the aim of properly training young Saudis for the job market and to better prepare them for the economic and political impacts of global changes.
It is unfortunate that the Saudi educational system is steadily deteriorating in quality and economic relevance. It has failed to prepare adequately both male and female students for jobs in the labor market, including the digital marketplace.
The educational system has not met the current requirements of the economy and the challenges of globalization.
Currently, 1.15 million students are enrolled in higher education, with 5 percent in private institutions. Females make up 60 percent of the student population. Analysts say that only 17 percent of the 600,000 Saudis entering the labor force annually have college degrees. Of this, only 20,000 new engineering graduates are entering a market that needs 100,000 yearly, compared with 70,000 in social sciences and literature.
Another figure indicates that the Saudi market needs 60,000 pharmacists but our universities graduate only 100 every year.
From these figures, it is obvious that far too few students are trained to enter business or the technical, specialized areas needed by the government and private sectors. Sadly, our educational system foregoes standards and depth in job-oriented fields of study, especially in technical and vocational education. It gives a high degree of emphasis on rote learning at the expense of teaching problem-solving and critical thinking skills (like analysis, inference and interpretation), as well as technical skills, language proficiency and better ways to adapt to global changes.
The system’s assumed insufficiency is aggravated by multiple factors, including Saudi prejudices against many types of jobs, lack of work ethic, and lack of experience in globally competitiveness and merit-based hiring and promotion. Add to this is the failure of young Saudis to show firm commitment to their jobs and to behave professional.
Often they take off from work in favor of unplanned social engagements.
Efforts must been undertaken to refocus the Saudi educational system, not only to give greater emphasis to technical and vocational education, but also to constantly update educational programs and curricula in line with the needs of the labor market and the economy as a whole.
This requires developing research programs oriented to meet the needs of the private sector. It also entails ensuring private-sector participation in the continuous review of the curricula and adopting new academic trends to meet the changing needs of the market and job providers.
We need to reexamine, urgently and seriously, various areas: curricula, teacher qualifications and performance, teaching methods, management styles, educational policies, extra-curricular activities as well as psychological, moral support and guidance.
We need also to increase the amount spent on public and higher education, which is estimated at about 26 percent of the budget designated for education and training alone.
More coordination is needed among education authorities in the academic, technical and vocational fields as they are links in the same chain and are essential in developing our education.
We are willing to wait and see the results of such educational reforms as we acknowledge that it would take time and tremendous efforts.
As one educator said, “The education process takes 10 to 20 years. It’s not something like boiling an egg.” But we need to act now before our educational system deteriorates further.
— The writer is a Saudi academic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org