Interview: Azzam Al Dakhil
What initiatives are helping ensure that high school graduates have the skills to enter local universities and thus minimise the need for a preparatory year?
AZZAM AL DAKHIL: The Ministry of Education is implementing many programmes aimed at helping students enrol in universities. For example, it has prepared vocational guidance to help high school students choose their field of university study and organised a series of self- development training programmes and it trains students in taking general aptitude tests administered by the National Centre for Assessment in Higher Education. These programmes include language skills development, which are key for university preparation. The ministry has also developed new high school programmes in order to shift from the traditional annual system to the regular course and semester system, a move that allows students to embark seamlessly on university programmes. In addition, the ministry recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Labour to ensure high school students receive training in specific skills, which will help with career guidance and in choosing their major at university.
How can technology and training help minimise the education gap between urban and rural areas?
AL DAKHIL: The Ministry of Education monitors the educational gap between cities and rural areas through field trips and by following up on periodic reports. A number of challenges that contribute to this gap have been observed. However, the ministry is working hard to overcome these obstacles through many programmes. The ministry recently established a professional centre to help train teachers and leaders, in addition to the National Centre for e-learning and Distance Learning. It has provided high-speed internet service to many regional directorates and schools in rural areas, and launched a major e-learning and TV-mediated programme series to serve students and teachers, including 12 educational TV channels. Many electronic platforms for education have been launched as well, providing virtual classes, webinars like “Ein” and “Enma” for K-12 students, and specialised support centres.
What steps are being taken to improve teaching techniques and methods?
AL DAKHIL: The ministry carries out an annual plan via a specialised training and scholarship department. This plan offers training initiatives and programmes for teachers, educational supervisors and school leaders to develop methods and procedures. For instance, the department has offered 22 teacher and supervisor training programmes, such as a professional development project for teachers of science and mathematics; a science and technology project; professional development for teachers of the comprehensive curriculum; a professional development project for teachers in the semester system; a similar project for teachers of computer science; and another such project for English language teachers. The ministry has also put forward an initiative that refines basic teaching skills and enables teachers in the Kingdom to teach more efficiently and effectively. This is achieved through the training centres mentioned earlier.
In what areas is there cooperation between universities and the private sector?
AL DAKHIL: The higher education strategy “PROSPECTS” included a theme on the contact between the private sector and universities. It states that Saudi universities should supply the labour market with specialisations as dictated by the Kingdom’s development needs. It recommends that universities tailor their programmes according to changes in the corporate sector. Thus, the ministry and the universities have focused on innovation in the programmes and curricula linked to the needs of the labour market. They have been working to foster general skills through extra curricula and activities linked to career guidance and backed by the establishment of alumni offices. Thousands of students also do their practical training in the corporate sector.
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