Education — A new strategy?

By : Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

• “How do you see the 80-billion-riyals education project?,” asked a foreign journalist.

— “It is unprecedented. However, it is not the figure that amazed me, but rather the strategy itself,” I answered and explained: For decades, we have followed a dead-end road. Our kids are given too many books to memorize and follow to the letter — over twenty books in high school, mostly theoretical.

Young minds were overwhelmed with fat text books — some is written in ancient Arabic, some about non-relevant issues.

In general, the curriculum represents those who have an issue with modern scientific research; those who believe that everything we need could be found in ancient books; those who believe there is only one truth and one true path; those who believe in exclusion and confrontation with the different other. Now, all the above seems to have changed with the new strategy, led by our new Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal.

• Why it took you so long to realize you were following a dead-end road?

— Not all of us. Many, including Prince Khaled, have voiced their concerns for a long time. Former education ministers tried to fix it.

Things improved, but not the overall strategy. We needed to rethink the whole strategy not to just to add more science classes and labs or update few books.

This was like what Microsoft did with DOS system, when it gave it a facelift and called it Windows. The result was an unstable system. Later, they rewrote the whole code from the ground up and came up with a totally new, solid system they called Windows 2000.

Now, that is what we need to do. To rewrite a brand-new curriculum based on a brand-new strategy — a strategy that lives in our world and age, responds to our development needs and satisfies our job-market demands.

• And that needs 80 billion riyals ($21,000 billion)?

— I guess. The strategy calls for training of 25,000 teachers around the world. It calls for smart school buildings with modern classrooms, high-speed Net connection and sophisticated PC, chemistry and physics labs and workshops. It also calls for totally new curriculum with strong focus on science and technology, academic research, and e-learning. The plan includes public kindergarten and special schools for the talented.

A quick look into our backward public schools today will help you understand the challenge we are facing. All of that has to go and change. All these requirements need tons of money, you know. I hope they are going to be spent wisely and honestly for the purpose specified in the strategy.

• Do you think this is possible? After all, you did say many ministers tried their hands before and failed.

— That is because there was no strategy — a real comprehensive, brand-new strategy. In the past it was about fixing the curriculum. Now, it is about replacing it. Besides, I trust the new minister. He has always been an advocate of such change.

• Don’t you expect strong resistance from the old-guards and enemies of change?

— I do. They have already started their fight. However, I do believe this time the leadership has made its decision — and there will be no turning back.

What do you think, dear readers, let’s share our thoughts on this issue. Here’s your comments on last Tuesday’s article, “Startup businesses and the role of universities.”

Talents need grooming

“I have seen such facilities in various universities in and around Sydney-Australia, especially in CSIRO — Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization. It has been a great success as young minds and brains have benefitted a lot from this project conceived way back in the late 80s. I think Saudi young men and women have great talents and such scheme shall work to bring out talents from them and hence create inventors and discoverers in them. All these needs money.” — Faiz Al-Najdi

Incubator awareness

“I have been trying to start an incubator here in Saudi Arabia, specifically an information technology incubator. I mean why not begin here with something the majority of Saudi’s are in-tune with: Social media, and all of its components. This country is primed to create the next social media or digital technology startup. And I have for us to utilize the main resource that is the rarest here, the human talent to guide these young minds to create a successful idea. Not just any human talent, the highest caliber of talent that have founded and established multibillion dollar startups and managed Fortune 500 companies. And the best part is…they want to get involved in Saudi Arabia.

“However, it is tough here to explain exactly what an incubator is. People that finance these sort of operations really do not grasp the understanding of how or what the incubator’s objective is and how it will meet its goals. Most people would like to see traction in an idea before standing behind it.” —#WishingForSaudiSuccess

– Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @kbatarfi





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