Is our educational system aligned with Vision 2030?

March 14, 2019

Maha Al-Ghamdi

THE vast majority of young people are optimistic about the future of education in Saudi Arabia, as we have seen valuable initiatives, such as Misk that provide various programs, as well as the reform of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques foreign scholarship program. Furthermore, the government recently allocated SR193 billion  from the Kingdom’s 2019 budget for the education sector due to its important role in meeting the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman first announced Vision 2030 in 2016 with plans for the development of the education sector. The goals were to have at least five Saudi universities ranked among the top 200 universities internationally, and also to encourage students to achieve above average performance according to international standards.

These are ambitious goals considering the domestic educational system and the gap between the secondary and university educational systems. For example, students after graduating from high school spend from one to four semesters learning and enhancing their English language, mathematical and interpersonal skills in a preparation program. This is due to the gap between what students actually learn in high school and what universities require. This might be due to the fact that government schools, which represent 85.7 percent of the schools in Saudi Arabia, do not provide courses that are strong in English and other important skills.

As a college student, I have noticed that after bridging that gap, some students find themselves in an extremely unchallenging environment, myself included, while other students struggle with the system overall.

So I was curious about what students other than those that I know think and feel about their academic journey.

I compiled a survey aimed at finding out whether students feel they are challenged to be better or are living in an unchallenging academic environment. The survey consisted of six direct questions about their university educational system, do they feel challenged and what would they change. The survey was distributed to universities in the Eastern Province.

The most striking finding was that 72 percent of participants found their universities challenging, which was something that I did not expect. Around half of the participants found that their university educational system did not provide different learning styles. In addition, around 78 percent found that there was an overlap in curriculum items.

It is reasonable to speculate that the participants who found that their university was challenging was due to the educational system and the overlap in curriculum items which is considered to be time consuming. Although the sample size was smaller than usual, these results undoubtedly capture part of the picture.

“If it was not challenging then everybody would get an A+, but not everybody gets an A+. Maybe the students you have been talking to are really, really, really bright,” said Dr. Barbara L’Huillier the Associate Chair of the Department of Accounting and Finance at Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University in an interview. However, students who feel unchallenged could give something back to the community and start doing volunteering work, Dr. L’Huillier added.

The interview with Dr. L’Huillier and the findings did not support my speculations when I first started to research this dilemma. Students do not feel unchallenged, however the vast majority of the participants were unsatisfied with their educational systems, and they hoped that serious changes would be made.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what would happen if some serious changes were made to create a challenging academic environment where creativity was the main goal. What if students feel challenged because we suffer from a weak educational environment and we have a dependence on classical methodologies not because we have a strong educational system?

The youth of Saudi Arabia are the future of this country and are valuable resources  and the largest portion of the 2019 budget has been allocated for the education sector. We have already seen valuable initiatives and programs and hopefully we will see more improvements and more attention will be given to domestic universities and students.

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