Commentary | Forum Highlights US-Saudi Business, Education Opportunities – Fatany

Published: October 7, 2013

Editor’s Note:

SUSRIS periodically shares perspectives from columnists in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. For your consideration here is a recent column by Samar Fatany who contributes regularly for Saudi Gazette.

Ms. Fatany attended the 3rd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Los Angeles last month. In her column she provided a snapshot of one of the several education sessions at the Forum geared to opportunities in education. She outlined the “innovative solutions” being put forward to build a “knowledge-based society” and issued a challenge for her countrymen. She said, “I hope this will be a wake-up call for those of us who seem to think that there is no need to rush things and that we can continue to rest on our laurels and talk about our great achievements every day.” That sentiment echoes the remarks of distinguished businessman Amr Khashoggi who spoke with SUSRIS in January about challenges in the field of education:

“Sadly, we are playing catch up with regards to our education. Our international ranking in critical subjects such as math, science, computer skills, and languages is shamefully at or near the bottom. You cannot have graduates with skills that meet the job requirements if they are not at acceptable levels in the above subjects.”

The US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Los Angeles, as with previous iterations in Atlanta (2011) and Chicago (2010) reflected the Kingdom’s emphasis on education with its high level official participation and many expansive conversations on the topic. The attention to partnering with international educators was consistent with Khashoggi’s comments to SUSRIS, “Education is not a static industry, but dynamic and requires constant upgrading and updating. We need to learn best practices from countries that have excelled in education.. ..I call it an industry because it produces the job seekers of today and tomorrow, and they must be of top quality in order to succeed in the real world.”

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Forum Highlights US-Saudi Business, Education Opportunities
Samar Fatany

People Samar FatanyThe US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum was held in Los Angeles between September 16-18 under the patronage of the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and organized by the Riyadh-based Committee for International Trade (CIT), the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council and the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG). The Forum, which aimed to boost US-Saudi commercial and international relations, attracted about 1,200 attendees including over 250 business people and officials from Saudi Arabia.

Among the most interesting sessions held during the Forum was the “Saudi K-12 Education Reform: Building the Foundation for a Knowledge-Based Society.” Academics and officials of the Saudi Ministry of Education met with American experts in the field of education to discuss innovative solutions to reach the national objective of creating a knowledge-based economy. The discussions were very fruitful and inspiring.

The moderator was Basma Al-Sioufi, head of the language training institute division in the Saudi Ministry of Education. The Saudi panelists included Dr. Ali Al-Hakami, General Manager of King Abdullah Public Education Development Project, Dr. Khaled Al-Ghoneim, Chairman and CEO of the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, and Dr. Adel Al-Keaid, Deputy Secretary General of King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity. They eloquently outlined the development of Saudi education and spoke about their strategies for transforming Saudi Arabia into a knowledge-based economy.

People USSBOF Breakout Panel Room US-Saudi Forum

The American speakers provided a view of the American experience and expert advice to upgrade the quality of education and ensure academic excellence within educational institutions. Mimi Jett, Vice President of Business Development for Avant Assessment, spoke about the importance of developing the language skills of young students. She highlighted the importance of the mother tongue and how it can develop the intelligence of children at an early age which is why it is necessary to enhance the language curriculum in elementary schools.

I sincerely hope that our educators will benefit from the American experts and work toward upgrading the teaching of the Arabic language that has been neglected in our schools. It is unfortunate that most of our graduates are unable to write official letters in Arabic and lack eloquence when they speak their own language.

Carla Sanger, President and Chief Executive Officer of LA’s BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow), presented her expert advice on after-school classes that should be encouraged to give children more confidence and build their character. The academic expert highlighted the importance of extracurricular classes that enrich the creativity and innovative skills of children.

The Saudi Ministry of Education should consider allowing schools to open their doors to students in the afternoons to offer extracurricular classes like art, sports and drama, which are important subjects that are not given great attention in our schools, depriving our children of the opportunity to develop a well-rounded personality and the chance to be creative at an early age.

Another equally inspiring discussion was about teaching methods. Jay Bhatt, President and CEO of Blackboard Inc., an enterprising technology company that develops educational software to promote interactive educational experience, stressed the urgency to adopt new methods of education to keep pace with our children’s high-tech abilities and advanced speed in absorbing knowledge and acquiring information today.

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The Saudi K-12 Education Reform: Building the Foundation for a Knowledge-Based Economy from U.S.-Saudi Forum – Los Angeles on Vimeo.

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Educational experts warn us that we cannot continue to teach our students in the traditional way. They are the Internet and Facebook generation who have easy access to knowledge and immediate communication with the whole world. They have the experience of online interaction at an early age and educators will not be able to offer them the knowledge they need through traditional textbooks or notebooks.

The younger generation today is more tech-savvy using iPhones and iPads and they have easy access to information through their mobile devices. Technology today offers tools that can provide smarter and better education faster than ever before. Our schools and educators need to enhance their teaching abilities by learning to adopt new technologies in their classrooms and engage in interactive online educational experience.

The American experts concluded that these strategies, methods and tools are necessary requirements today to enhance the innovative talent of children. Our educators must realize that neglecting to implement them will deprive our graduates of the opportunity to contribute to the building of a knowledge-based economy.

The challenges to upgrade our education system seem overwhelming. The government has allocated a large budget to education. However, the issue is not only about the resources available, it is about the need for better strategies and better qualified teachers to implement our ambitious educational reforms. Educators need to do their homework and acquire the skills of the new age; they cannot afford to be complacent and continue to proceed at the same pace. The world is advancing fast and the members of our younger generation are in a hurry to reach their goals and realize their aspirations. We must not disappoint them and lag behind the rest of the world.

The Saudi Committee for International Trade (CIT) continues to play a significant role in attracting foreign investment and creating economic and employment opportunities for our youth today. The board members of CIT are prominent Saudi business leaders, both men and women, who continue to present a progressive and bright image of Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world. The Secretary General of this prestigious organization, Omar Bahlaiwa, has shown remarkable leadership skills in organizing many major international trade forums to introduce the vast development of the Kingdom to the global business community and to foster better relations between the people of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. Indeed, the CIT is one of the Kingdom’s most progressive organizations, and it continues to highlight the great potential of Saudi business and people to the global community.

The US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum provided Saudi delegates with a golden opportunity to have a glimpse of the advancements and developments in the world of business, education and innovation. We have a lot of catching up to do. There is no substitute for hard work. I hope this will be a wake-up call for those of us who seem to think that there is no need to rush things and that we can continue to rest on our laurels and talk about our great achievements every day.

Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and columnist based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Published in the Saudi Gazette on October 5, 2013 and reprinted with permission of the author.

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