SOME 1,700 male and female teachers and school administrators, representing 50 secondary schools Kingdom-wide ended their 15-day training course this week in preparation for launching Saudi Arabia’s most important educational revamp. The training course took place in three different cities: Taif, Abha and Jeddah.
The Kingdom has allocated around SR9 billion for the Tatweer project and is planning to take education to new horizons to cope with transformations around the world.
At the Al-Hada Bahadir Resort in Taif, Ali Sambo, director of Educational Training Department at the Taif General Directorate of Education, who is acting as the general supervisor for the Tatweer training workshop in Taif, is busy moving from one hall to another to make sure everything is running smoothly and properly.
Sambo told Saudi Gazette that their workshop is part of two other workshops in Jeddah and Abha for training teachers and school principals, from all over the Kingdom, on the coming unprecedented public education development program: The King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Project for Developing Public Education (Tatweer).
According to Sambo, the training program concluded this week, and the beneficiaries of the course were more than 1,700 male and female teachers, students’ advisors and school managers, who came from 50 schools around the country.
“We are involved in monitoring and training teachers, advisors and school principals,” Sambo told the Saudi Gazette. He added that preparations for the project started two years ago, which will be implemented next year in 50 boys’ and girls’ schools.
“In Taif itself, some 40 teachers were trained last year to use the latest teaching technologies to replace the old teaching methods with the use of Internet and computer applications. That program is part of a bigger project that targets developing public education,” he added. Sambo admitted that the current teaching methodology was supposed to continue until the end of the next academic year, so that they could have a chance to train all teachers on new teaching strategies.
“Officials in the Ministry of Education might have preferred that we would go faster as everything has been made available. From my own point of view, we should have first worked on preparing teachers for teaching methods and strategies before we could start implementing the program in any school,” he said.
Teachers, students’ advisors and school principals take different courses that can enable them to deal with their students from different angles to help them succeed at all levels.
“School principals are given courses on the art of administration and leadership while teachers take courses on development of thinking skills. These teachers were previously given an Intel course in computers in their schools,” he added.
Sambo also said that school principals have attended a three-day symposium in Riyadh where they were given a full idea about the project. “The Ministry of Education has chosen a school in each governorate to try the project. We have received some 333 teachers from around the Kingdom in the first week, 25 of whom are school principals. We also have some 330 female teachers. They are attending the training course in a separate place,” he said.
According to Abdul-Wahhab Al-Mikaimzi, chief of Public Relations in the ministry, the project consists of four axes: developing teachers’ skills, developing curricula, enhancing school activities, and improving school environment.
“Four separate committees are working on these sides,” Mikaimzi told Saudi Gazette.
He pointed out that the government has done its best to spread knowledge and science everywhere in the Kingdom.
“This leadership is trying to develop education and is employing the latest possible technology to help build Saudi citizens at all levels. If education is a never-ending process, we believe that developing that education is a necessity,” Mikaimzi added.
One of the challenges that the training committee encountered was that some teachers had difficulties using computers. Sambo noticed that from the very beginning and immediately started a training program for them.
He also confessed that as with any new program, there would be some weak points and obstacles.
“It’s normal to face obstacles and make some errors, but these barriers and mistakes should be managed and solved at once.”
New methods and roles
Old teaching methods used to focus on the traditional concept of teaching in which a student’s role was to listen and memorize.
“The new project aims to make students analyze and think to come up with solutions. A teacher’s role will be to just monitor the class and distribute roles among learners,” Sambo clarified.
He added that teachers would now provide students with information sources either in libraries or online to make students carry on their own research. Sambo explained what new classrooms and school environment would look like: “Imagine that students are searching for a certain piece of information. The modernized classroom is divided into three groups. Group A is using computers to find that information, group B is reading books for the same purpose, and group C is writing what conclusions the two groups have found. This is what we want our students to do in their classrooms,” he explained.
Explaining why the project was starting at the secondary school level, he said, “We preferred to start with secondary schools because the number of students in this level is more manageable than the ones in primary or intermediate schools. Besides, secondary school students are aware enough of various computer applications that can lead to effective results,” he said.
Sambo pointed out that professional proficiency exams will be held for teachers. Teachers who pass this exam can continue, others who fail will be given courses to re-qualify them.
Mosleh Khoshi, assistant supervisor for the training workshop, said that new teachers have begun sitting for such an exam.
“Every new teacher should now take this exam to make sure that he or she is suitable for this profession, which forms the basis of future generations,” he added.
Khoshi pointed out that even though the training program came during the summer holiday, teachers and trainees have participated enthusiastically. “We talked about this issue with teachers who came from different parts of the Kingdom and convinced them that this leading project deserved a sacrifice. They were responsible enough to understand the situation,” he said.
Other committees are working on making model schools ready for hosting this project.
“We want to have a very strong start since this will affect the whole project. We don’t want teachers and students to simply admire the project from afar, but we want students’ guardians to interact with them closely on the project, which will change the face of education in Saudi Arabia,” Khoshi added.
Dr. Naif Al-Roomi, head of the Tatweer project, stressed that the new 50 schools will reflect how our schools ought to be “Principals in these schools have no other choice but to succeed,” Al-Roomi said, adding that collective work is the secret for success.