Transforming education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By

Erik Ketcherside

In July 2019, for the second consecutive year, educators from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came to ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College for English classes and professional development before starting the spring 2020 semester immersed in public schools in metropolitan Phoenix. Their visit was made possible by the KSA Ministry of Education and MLFTC’s Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education through an initiative titled “Building Leadership for Change Through School Immersion.” The program is an expression of the Saudi government’s 2030 Vision plan which calls for transforming teaching and learning, creating an education system that meets the needs of a sustainable economy that doesn’t rely on profits from petroleum production.

The 60 Saudi teachers and administrators selected for the program — an increase of 14 participants over the first year — began their stay in the U.S. with English language classes, professional development workshops and school immersion experiences that prepared them for their district placements. Throughout their visit, the teachers and principals from KSA collaborated with personnel in their districts to conduct research that might aid them in addressing education challenges at home.

At the conclusion of their placement, nine of the visiting educators were selected by CASGE to write about their experiences in the U.S. and how they may lead to a change in their approach to teaching and learning in their home schools. Their essays have been published in a special edition of Taboo: The journal of culture and education.

The introduction to the edition was written by MLFTC Associate Professor David Lee Carlson, and Ruhi Khan, a project director in CASGE. Carlson is editor of Taboo, which is hosted online by the University of Nevada–Las Vegas.

By investing in educational professionals in partnership with successful higher education institutions abroad, KSA aspires to strengthen the capacity of its educational leadership to function as agents of change.
Sara Alotaibi — Riyadh Education Department

"From her time in the U.S., the author saw the impact that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act had on education for students with disabilities. … The author proposes the development of a comprehensive training program in KSA that is similar to successful transition services plans observed in the U.S. public school system."

Hanan S. Alghamdi — Aisha Bink Bkir School

“I work in a small town in the southern part of Saudi Arabia, where everyone seems to know the other. Every morning, all teachers, principals and students rush to their schools expecting a more fruitful and better day than yesterday. I arrive at my small school on the top of a small hill at 6:30 a.m. A first-grade student hugs me as she sees me crossing the front gate and hands me a little white jasmine flower happily telling me that they are finally open in her garden at her home. I open my office window and take a deep breath enjoying the cold breeze and the smell of the trees. …"

Mathawi Alqahtani — High School 133
"Genius Hour is one effective differentiated strategy that teachers can use to meet students’ individual needs … allowing students to learn new things, experiment with ideas, and develop many required skills. … The teacher will implement the … strategy in her math classroom to support students in developing essential skills and discovering their passions in a self-directed and enthusiastic way."
Yousef Alsalem — Obaida Bin Al Harith
"This academic writing explores how using activities that build students’ critical thinking skills will improve students’ creativity, innovation and cooperation. One practice observed … was how the teacher asked higher-order questions that increased student learning and self-reflection. … Education always has space to discover."
Fahad Alshammari — Department of Education, Hail
"The author discusses his experience in a U.S. middle school, and especially how to improve the learning outcomes of students. Community involvement, class size and a curriculum that helps the students are discussed here. The U.S. education system is very different from what operates in the KSA. Here the author claims that the flexibility in American education should be considered in that of Saudi Arabia."
Norah Alshehri — General Directorate of Education, Eastern Province, Dammam
“Last year … I was a new principal who was anxious to work with teachers and kids but I faced a lot of hard times with students. Kids were misbehaving and sent to the counselor, but most of the time they kept misbehaving and causing problems for their teachers or to their friends. ... When I look at a student in class, I whisper to myself: ‘I want them to be successful. I want our school to set them up for success.’”
Using Growth Mindset Strategies in the Classroom
Amani Altaleb — Thara School Al Hanakiah, Medina
“Teachers with a growth mindset … can give students the ability to overcome difficult challenges. … The researcher found the importance of teachers focusing on academic growth rather than on proficiency in subject areas. This in turn encourages students to believe they can achieve at a higher rate. The principal plans to translate the action research project into Arabic in order to share with her staff and school district.”
Applying Flexible Seating in the Classroom to Enhance Learning
Amani Alzahrani — Forty-Ninth Elementary School
“Flexible seating gives students an opportunity to choose their workspace from different kinds of chairs within the classroom and this develops skills … such as critical thinking and decision-making. … To increase achievement and motivation in learning, the author will work with small groups of students in two classes and implement flexible seating. Achievement data will be compared between treatment and control groups.”
A Curriculum of Reflexivity: (Re)Imagining education through action research and Saudi Vision 2030
Boni Wozolek — Pennsylvania State University, Abington
What is presented in this special issue are beautifully composed essays that recognize a diversity of concerns and the multiplicity through which Saudi Vision 2030 might be applied to educational contexts. … These essays convey more than what the authors did and will do … they express something perhaps more exciting to the world of education — hope.
Salah S. Meemar — Taibah University, Medina
“It was my honor to supervise the program in the U.S., and to collaborate with Arizona State University. [ASU] responded pragmatically to one of our ideas and thoughts about how to benefit from the return on investment and the outcomes of this program as they have come up with a scientific journal that includes the best initiatives and research that came out of the program’s graduates.”