Education that knows no boundaries


Meghan Krein

The Ministry of Education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ambitions of restructuring the country’s educational landscape and has sought educational reform ideas from foreign countries. Building Leadership for Change through School Immersion — a professional development and leadership project — is one example of those efforts. Already in its second year, the program aims to transform the country’s educational system, starting with its teachers. 

In February 2018 — through the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College — the project began. 

“ASU has made education a priority and has made educators and educating educators a priority. We want to support our international community and we want to learn from our international community. We think there are some ideas we can develop better together than we can by ourselves,” Carole Basile, dean of MLFTC says. 

Ruhi Khan

Last month, 60 Saudi educators — 43 content teachers and 17 school leaders — arrived to Phoenix for a week-long orientation, followed by English language training. In the spring of 2020, they will be dispersed throughout area districts and schools, including Phoenix Elementary, Phoenix Union High School, Balsz Elementary and ASU Preparatory Academy. 

The participants are here to experience how they can become leaders and change-agents in their country, says Ruhi Khan, project director. “This international experience promotes reflection, critical thinking and different approaches to teaching and learning that they can apply in Saudi Arabia,” she says. 

“There are things going on outside of the United States and we need to understand how we connect to that,” Khan says. When Saudi scholars come into American classrooms, conversations are had, experiences shared and positive changes are made, she says. “When we have guest teachers, we can undoubtedly affect the future of a country at a level we weren’t conscientious about before.”

Last year’s cohort of 46 left Phoenix in February. Phoenix Elementary hosted nine of those scholars. Tom Lind, assistant to superintendent of Phoenix Elementary, says the project was a successful one — to which he credits the strong relationships and sense of support between the teachers and scholars. 

Hassan Alhadab, a Saudi scholar in last year’s cohort says, “When we first came here we expected to have workshops, courses, English classes. But the program went beyond just English language teaching strategies.” 

Lind says in addition to the essentials Alhadab mentions, the scholars were involved in every aspect of a teacher’s role, including attending back-to-school professional development workshops and school meetings, participating in curriculum planning, delivery of instruction and assessment, and conducting small group work. 

The students benefited from the experience, too. “The Saudi scholars provided students with an opportunity to experience customs from their country. Students learned about Saudi Arabian culture and eating techniques,” says Lind. One scholar cooked an Arabian meal and taught students how to eat it properly — with their hands. “This was an opportunity for the students to learn new skills, in addition to gaining a lifelong learning experience,” he says.

This exchange of cultural appreciation was felt on both sides. “The program helped all participants personalize one another and understand that no matter where we are from, we have many similarities,” says Lind. Many of the students have not traveled beyond Phoenix or Arizona so “this program brought the world to them in a way to help deepen the understanding of the global community,” he says.

After the program, the scholars are required to create an action research project based on what they learned and will implement them in their classrooms and schools upon returning home. Amir Asiri, who was a scholar in last year’s cohort, says, “I want to change the way of teaching in Saudi Arabia. Instead of a traditional lecturing style, to be more personalized for the students to focus on the classroom and enhance the student’s achievement.” 

Adel Mari, a scholar in last year’s cohort, described the value of the experience and improvements to education that can result: “Education is the new oil. We need to improve education because oil is not going to last forever and we need to diversify.” 

Learn more about MLFTC’s Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education.