Note: SUSRIS is continuing to provide the extensive collection of transcripts, articles, interviews, and more from the 3rd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum. They will be posted and distributed through the SUSRIS e-newsletter (sign up on the home page) and added to the Forum Index (Link Here).
- Bassma Adnan AlSeyofi, Head of the Language Training Institutes Division, Private & International Education Administration, Ministry of Education
- Dr. Ali Alhakami, General Manager, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Public Education Development Project
- Dr. Khaled Al-Ghoneim, Chairman & CEO, Hadaf Holding Company, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF)
- Dr. Adel AlKeaid, Deputy Secretary General, King Abdulaziz & His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity
- Mimi Jett, Vice President, Business Development, Avant Assessment
- Carla Sanger, President and CEO, LA’s BEST
- Nada Saleh Abdulrahman Al Ismail, General Supervisor for Primary Stages, General Directorate of Educational Supervision, Ministry of Education
Verbatim Transcript by SUSRIS
[Bassma Adnan AlSeyofi] Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies, dignitaries, and business leaders, dear colleagues, honorable guests – [Arabic greeting]
Good afternoon to all. I’m pleased to be back again to the City of Angels. It has been exactly 17 years since my last visit to this part of the United States, and I confess I come back with nostalgia and open wings to embrace sweet memories.
Aristotle once said the roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Starting from the roots, the bittersweet process of education reformation, whether it’s a plan, a program, or a movement, it is supposed to bring about a systematic change in educational theory or practice across societies and countries. Our panel will discuss the K-12 reform initiatives in Saudi Arabia, international best practices for educational system, and opportunities for investment or ventures in the sector.
The Saudi government budgeted more than $50 billion for education and training in 2013, and a mixture of public and private ventures are receiving significant support to research and develop new programs to improve educational success and job preparedness. We will learn today in our session about the role of technology and the value of public/private partnership. We will learn also about functionality, usability, feasibility, and desirability, and how it can contribute in empowering generations and preparing youth for a better standard of life.
So first let me introduce our panel of educators, business development leaders, human resources experts, giftedness and creativity professionals.
We will start with Dr. Ali Alhakami, and allow me to introduce his biography. Dr. Ali Alhakami is a General Supervisor of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Public Education Development Project, Tatweer, and has also served as executive officer to Tatweer company for educational services. In his current role, Dr. Alhakami leads a development of the new K-12 strategy, and helps promote investment in the education sector. He also helped develop math and science curriculums in Saudi Arabia and other GCC educational ministries. He was in the Directorate of Measurement and Evaluation and executed a project related to assessment of educational reform and development. He also led Saudi Arabia’s participation in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science study. Dr. Ali also received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon.
Dr. Ali, the floor is yours.
[Dr. Ali Alhakami] Thank you very much. Good afternoon. [Arabic Greeting]
While the presentation is prepared, I can use the time to tell a story about my son. I was looking into an advertisement in the newspaper and I wanted to write a telephone number from the advertisement. So I was looking for a pen all over the place, and he asked what are you looking for? I told him I was looking for a pen to write with. He said why? Just take a photo with your mobile phone. So I realized that these young people are ahead of us by a long distance. And in this presentation I’ll show that if the educational system does not catch up with these young people I think we will not leverage their innovation and we will not utilize their creativity.
I will start with a quote from “A Whole New Mind,” an excellent book by Daniel Pink who said we have moved from an economy built on people’s back to an economy built on people’s left brains. The left brain is responsible for mathematics, for logic, for engineering kinds of work. What is emerging today is an economy and society built more on people’s right brain, what is innovation, what is creativity, where the education environment can play an important role. He highlights that design, innovation, and creativity capabilities are a major source for wealth of nations. So moving from procedural tasks and manual tasks and automated tasks to heuristic tasks where people do not have to go into logical order to solve problems but to move directly to more intuitive kinds of thinking. And this is what drives knowledge economy.
Harvard Professor Wagner also in his global achievement gap book lists some skills that are very important for today’s economy – critical thinking, collaboration, taking the initiative, agility, resilience – all these important skills are very important for young people to be able to contribute to a knowledge economy. The Saudi education system, we have realized a lot of achievement, a lot of access to school now at the high degree. We have enrollment in schools. You can find schools anywhere. But now the duty is to move into quality and to help students have 21st century skills.
I’ll give just a glimpse about Saudi Arabia as a networked society. You can see from the page all these social network sites. If you look at any of them you’ll find Saudi young people are very active in these areas. For example, in this slide is the percentage of Internet users. The rest is the Saudi population, and you can see it’s much higher than the Arab state average. This slide is the mobile phone per 100 inhabitants. It can reach in Saudi Arabia a little bit less than three hundred mobile for each 100 citizens. If you look at the presence in the social media, and Twitter for example, this is 2012. I’m sure the number has doubled for 2013. So you get approximately three million Saudi people registered on Twitter and this number grew 3000 percent from 2011. And the largest age group is between 23 and 35, and average number of Tweets, fifteen million Tweets daily from Saudi Arabia. Facebook, the same. And you can see the statistics about Facebook. YouTube, the viewership of YouTube in Saudi Arabia is the highest in the world.
Okay, the question now. You get this networked society, you get young people who are involved and who know about the use of technology more than what we know as adults. How can we leverage on this? What is the role of the educational system to leverage on this and to use these young people’s innovation to contribute to the economy?
I’ll give some examples today, seven examples, seven companies or businesses created by young people using the social media. I’ll start with this website. This is an online website to sell mango. It started with a Tweet. Somebody visited Jizan area in Saudi Arabia which is famous for its mango. He was an official in SAGIA, and he tweeted that why there is no good marketing for this product. Why somebody does not open an online store to sell mangos. And this guy picked the idea and now he has a flourishing business online. Actually he doesn’t see the mango. It’s shipped from the farm to the airport to the customer and he gets the benefit out of this creative idea.
Another example is “Faris Breakfast,” people from Jeddah know the name very well. It’s a hashtag on the internet. He helped people to find places to go for breakfast. And then he transformed it into a flourishing restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Jeddah just by a tweet or a hashtag.
These young ladies established Riyadh guides, if you want to find restaurants in Riyadh or bridal services or event management they can help. This started with an account on Facebook and on Twitter. Most of these businesses they did not know they’d become businesses. This online store established by this young man who is a computer engineer, and now it’s an online store that sells accessories for the iPhone and the iPad, iPhady. Hessa and Sara Al-Jalajel, I don’t know them but in my research for young entrepreneurs they established on Instagram. an online store to provide sweets and cakes, and now it’s a flourishing business.
Twelfth Cup Coffee, a coffee shop online that sells you breakfast coffee and now they moved to sell machines. All of these businesses started with a Tweet or a Facebook or an Instagram, but the idea is these young people have what it takes to move their business forward. And last I will, may be you know Muhannad. Muhannad established Isterlab, which is a company to train young Saudis on being innovative. And by the way Mohammed, now he lost his eyesight and his leg in a car accident, but that did not prevent him from being one of the best innovators not only in Saudi Arabia but in the world.
Okay, you have these young people. How can we help them to move forward? The idea is that innovation is there. You need to find it, nurture it, and reward it. And this is what is important also for American companies interested in investing in Saudi Arabia. The talent is there, it just needs to find you. And our strategic K-12 strategy we have put special emphasis on this area of bridging the gap between the education system and the job market, and you can see here some of our goals in our educational strategy to integrate 21st century into the curriculum, and to train students capacity in STEM, communication, Arabic language, English language, and also entrepreneurial skill, and also the link with the private sector to help young Saudis.
And just briefly I will explain some of the strategic programs that have been implemented. One of them is Bidar, which is a national project for employability and entrepreneurial skill. Bidar started last year, and is continuing, and this is just examples of some of the areas that we have concentrated on. Product development, and our students were creative. One of the students created a company, it’s called Arabian Camels, where he takes people to the desert and gives them the opportunity to go on trips with camels.
Marketing also was very important. Our students were better at product development more than marketing. That shows we need to put emphasis on communication skills and presentation skills. Also, the math and science project we are working on now in the fourth year emphasizes links to the job market and to life. Arabic language also is emphasized. If you ask any businessman in Saudi Arabia, any company, what do you want from Saudi young people they will say good communication in Arabic and English. IT is default now. By default you get people that are competent. So English language is another – programs also to develop schools, to improve schools. If the school environment does not promote invention, thinking, critical thinking, dialogue, communication skills, you cannot teach young people in the classroom the skills they’re required. So we have a national program called School Development Program to transform schools to be learning organization.
I will conclude with these remarks. First of all there is a need to reorient the educational system, and we are emphasizing that in Saudi Arabia. This is one of the business opportunities that exists for companies from around the world and for leading companies from the U.S.
Professional development for teachers. If teachers are not qualified and well-developed, well-trained to provide students with the skills, communication skills, creative skills, critical thinking, they cannot do their job right. So this is another area, very important area for emphasis now in Saudi Arabia, and we just launched a huge program to train teachers in math and science with one of the major U.S. educational companies.
The young entrepreneur. We have to engage them in the society, provide links to the private sector where they can take their ideas, and also incubators for those ideas, and the transformation of schools to be a place where ideas, new ideas emerge and new creativity is nurtured. This is a general overview. It highlights the emphasis we are putting in our education on soft skills along with math and science and other subjects. But this is an area where people pay attention more to the academic aspects and they forget this. This is an area where we think we will move the Saudi society and the Saudi economy to a knowledge economy.
Thank you very much.
[AlSeyofi] Thank you Dr. Ali. Our next speaker is Dr. Khaled Al-Ghoneim. He is the Chairman & CEO of Hadaf Holding Company. Dr. Khaled is a Chairman of Hadaf holding company at the organization. Dr. Al-Ghoneim is also at task with carrying out initiatives designed to change the Saudi labor market via facilitating public and private partnerships.
Prior to that he led Al-ELM Information Security Company for ten years. Dr. Al-Ghoneim has more than 23 years of experience in the information technology field. He has widespread experience in the information technology industry. He graduated with a Bachelor Degree in computer engineering from King Saud University, Riyadh, with first class honors. He then completed his Masters Degree and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Dr. Khaled, the floor is yours.
[Dr. Khaled Al-Ghoneim] [Greetings in Arabic] First I’d like to thank the organizers and my colleagues here for inviting me to this panel. I’d like to admit also that I was as surprised as you with being here with very good educators. I don’t have an education background. I taught a little bit in the university. But I was told that my job is to talk to you about employment and moving students from schools and university into jobs. So I choose to talk about how do you fix the education to employment journey.
I argue, and most of us in the labor sector argue, that the education to employment journey is broken not only in Saudi Arabia but around the world. So one way to fix that is to establish a company called TakaMol holding. This company is owned by the government, is owned by the labor sector agencies in Saudi Arabia. You’ll see the name Hadaf somewhere, it used to be called Hadaf and we changed that, so we don’t confuse it with the human resource development fund, which has a brand name of Hadaf.
So our purpose is to provide the services of the labor sector in partnership with the private sector. So we’d like to utilize public/private partnerships, which we expect from having a Public Private Partnership we always expect service improvement and doing that we are committed to transparency. And transparency here is at all levels of operation. So we have transparency when selecting the private partners we deal with. In fact, this is the only thing that distinguishes us from a private company.
In a private company, especially in a family-owned business, nobody asks the owner why did he partner with this company or that company, or why did he get into a joint venture with this company or that. However, we run TakaMol as a private business but the only thing or the only area the most critical area where we have to be fully transparent and follow rigorous processes like the government does in the area of selecting partners to do Public Private Partnerships with them. We expect increased efficiency of public services, we expect innovation, actually establishing TakaMol was an innovation in and of itself. Some sample initiatives we are developing now – I’d like to focus on the first one and the last one.
The first one is e-campus. E-campus is a platform to link all the training providers and students taking training. The agencies providing funding for training like the human resource development fund are funding vouchers to train Saudis to make them more suitable to the private sector, to work in the private sector. The last one is the colleges of excellence which is an innovative way to move the organization called TVTC, Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, from its current situation where they are teaching 110,000 students now into teaching more than 300,000 trainees by 2020, doing this partnership with private sector.
So what you are doing, we actually established two companies. One company is called Colleges of Excellence, another company is called Saudi Skills Standards. Those companies will move us actually from the lack of international standards and the lack of quality assurance into highest standards and independent regulator than by the Saudi skills standards.
The idea is that we provide the building, and then we go search for the best international training institute that will partner with us and will bring the faculty, will bring the management, will bring the curriculums, and train our students. We will pay for those students on a performance basis. So when the students are admitted we pay part of the payment per student. When they graduate we pay part of the payment. When they pass an independent test run by the Saudi skill standard we pay the third major payment and there is a small partial payment held until the trainee is employed.
So the college or the partner has an obligation to make sure this trainee is actually employable. The first wave was finished this year, and already ten colleges have started with five international operators, one from the U.S. – the Laureate – which is one of the best tourism training institutes – one from Canada, and three from Europe. The second wave is open now for bids and RFI has been issued. We are looking for 22 colleges actually to open next year, so if anybody is interested this is a great opportunity to participate.
I’d like to conclude actually by this slide, which is our vision is to move Saudi Arabia from black gold into human gold. And to do that we must invest heavily in the development and the training of our people, and we must innovate at all levels. Innovation not only in how do we train them, but innovation in how do we run our government also. The government needs to be able to have faster decision-making cycles. For example we don’t interfere at all in the management of the school. We were asked about how about Saudization? Are we forced to bring Saudi staff? And the way we structured it, although as a labor sector agency we are interested in having so many Saudization, we said it’s up to you. If you employ more Saudi staff you’ll get more points, you’ll get more money, but it’s not a requirement.
Public Private Partnership is a great way, and I’m glad that Dr. Ali, Dr. Hamad this morning talked about their direction of going through with the private sector in partnership.
The last thing is actually very important, which is building confidence. I realized a long ago that we have great talent. They are good, they can do the job, all they need is to have their self-confidence built in. And frankly speaking this is a job that our schools did a poor job in. The students I see here from the King Abdullah program, I think what they’ll get from the U.S. or from studying abroad, the most important thing is that they will realize that they are as good or even better than most of other students. So I think this is an asset that will come back to us in Saudi Arabia.
That’s all I have to say right now, and thank you very much.
[AlSeyofi] Thank you, Dr. Khaled. You gave us two minutes extra time. Dr. Khaled talked about establishing companies and he shed some light on public and private partnership. He elaborated also on some initiatives of Hadaf holding companies, and he emphasized on the role of investing in education and training. So thank you Dr. Khaled for your paper.
Our next speaker is Dr. Adel AlKeaid. Dr. Adel AlKeaid is Deputy Secretary General for the King Abdulaziz & His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, which we call Mawhiba. At Mawhiba he has developed programs like the Mawhiba school partnership, student selection initiatives, and communications and awareness initiatives and Mawhiba portal. Dr. Adel previously was the Vice Dean of the Prince Nayef Institute for Research and Consulting Services at Imam University. He led research and training projects in higher education. Dr. AlKeaid holds a Ph.D. in Education from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Adel, please present your paper.
[Dr. Adel AlKeaid] [Greeting in Arabic] Good afternoon everybody. I’m glad to be here to present the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, and our contribution to transform the country to a knowledge-based society. The foundation, shortname of the foundation called Mawhiba which means gifted, and I use the Mawhiba to represent the foundation. The foundation is a national cultural non profit organization which was established in 1999 to nurture giftedness and creativity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2006 with the direction of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin-Abdulaziz, who is the chairman of the organization, Mawhiba was developed a strategy, 15 year strategy to promoting creativity and giftedness and supporting innovation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This is the strategy, our vision, our vision to have a critical mass of gifted and talented young leaders who are innovative, highly educated, and well-trained to support the sustained growth and feasibility of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And we in Mawhiba developed a five major strategic goals to obtain this vision with these objectives are identifying gifted students across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, expanding our service to cover all the students in Saudi Arabia, also complementing and integrating with our national plans, and raising awareness of society of creativity and giftedness, and also reinforcing Mawhiba as a house of expertise in the field of gifted education. And as you can see this is the framework for our initiatives in order to obtain and achieve these goals we have implemented seven main initiatives. These initiatives cover the lifespan of the gifted students starting from early years elementary school to adulthood, with different initiatives and services provided by Mawhiba. I’ll explain these initiatives now.
First of all partnership is very important for us. We believe in partnership. Mawhiba philosophy of work enables coordinator, and most of our initiatives and programs done through partnership with local and international partners. We have our major partners in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education and other ministries, we have universities and schools, and private companies.
The one initiative that we always ask, in gifted education the most important question being raised – who is gifted? How do you select your gifted student in order to serve in your program? Mawhiba has the designated only one initiative for that in which we would like to build a scientific methodology to select these students across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These methodologies, which include tools tests available and valid to make sure that the students being served are really gifted. We partnered with National Center [for Assistance and Validation] in Saudi Arabia to develop this system of selection.
One important project has emerged from this initiative which is called National Project for Student Identification or Gifted Identification in partnership with the Ministry of Education, starting four years ago. It covers now all cities and small towns in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Last year 65,000 students been nominated from teachers and been tested, and 12,000 students have participated in Mawhiba enrichment programs and activities, plus Ministry of Education enrichment programs.
One other important partnership is with KAUST, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, where every year we nominate 250 to 300 high school graduates will be granted scholarship to study in the top university of United States as well as U.K. and this partnership which shows that really Mawhiba can bridge the gap and help equip these universities with high caliber student who can be succeeded in higher education and most of them in Ivy League university in the United States.
A school partnership initiative, basically we select the best school in Saudi Arabia based on academic standards and then we build the giftedness and creativity provision within the school by providing them training for the teachers, development advanced capability in math and science and IT and English, which targeted these gifted student and also engaging parents with education of their kids.
So all the development and activities within the initiative surrounds the student in the center playing a very active role for his education. And we have partnered with UK companies to develop that process. So after we that we place these student, we select these student and we place them in schools. In these schools we have almost more than 2,000 students across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are granted free scholarship, because most schools are private, the tuition and transportation and the food are fully funded by Mawhiba.
As you can see now from the graph there is a constant increase in the number of student as well as the schools. We have 64 schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia right now and we’ll expand in the future. And this is the first patch and second patch of the graduates. All of them are studying now in United States as well as top local universities in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Another very important project, the enrichment programs, this has come in parallel to give such a depth and width of knowledge in subject matter as well as social skills that we’d like to build in the student. Summer programs last four to six weeks – residential and non-residential. Hosted in the top university in Saudi Arabia and many universities in Saudi Arabia as well as companies like Aramco and research center.
Last year 52 programs has been hosted in this university. Other aspects, an international summer program. We send the student every year to United States, Canada, U.K., and Malaysia to spend four to six weeks also for pre-college courses or for research projects in these countries.
And this statistic shows a real increase in progress in terms of how many students we are serving in these programs. The other aspect is the competition. Gifted students really like competition. To make some excitement for creativity and education we organized a national Olympiad for research and also for innovation. At the national level Olympiad we serve 50,000 students. The final winners will participate in international affairs like Intel which is very important. Students really come to this event and really get good awards. They get medals. Saudi Arabia last year was hosted in Phoenix, Arizona. The Saudi team got third behind United States and Canada which shows that once we invest in them they are very capable to show their capabilities and their achievement. And also we have the international Olympiad where we select the best students in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in math ability science and chemistry, and we train them very well. They participate in an international Olympiad. We have good achievement with that. We got number 29 among the 100 countries that participated in this. We had two silver medals and three bronze medals, that’s in 2012. We have 2013 with medals being given in physics, chemistry, and math. That’s for general education from K-12.
For higher education we have a leadership program. We select the best student potential in leadership. We build their skills while they are studying at university with very intensive training programs. Also we have some internships. The modules for the leadership show students to lead yourself and lead others and lead change within the organization.
We encourage students to develop ideas and new ideas and we test the ideas through [unintelligible] where they electronically apply their ideas and send it to a specialist who can evaluate them and really could be make patents for this ideas in future and be added value to the economy of Saudi Arabia.
We organize every two year with partnership with Aramco Ibtikar exhibition, which is very important exhibition in the Middle East for innovation and communication. Very important we’d like to raise society awareness of creativity and giftedness in order for them to support Mawhiba and all initiatives in Saudi Arabia, not only Mawhiba initiative. Organize through social media and workshops hosted in the school or in the malls in order to encourage them to be more to education and more to creativity and giftedness.
Mawhiba e-portal very important for the Arab world in terms of scientific knowledge and also for dynamic content where they interact with each other. Four hundred thousand registered users in the portal right now with many services provided through the portal.
Last but not least, we encourage the research and policy. You push for that to maximize the benefits of our practices and also to benefit from the best practices around the world. We have translated many scientific books into Arabic, which is very important, books in the field of giftedness and creativity.
These are examples of our students. We are, in Mawhiba, so committed and determined and passionate to serve all gifted students in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to meet their needs and to fulfill their potential with the help of our local partners as well as international partners to transform the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to a knowledge-based society.
Thank you for your time.
[AlSeyofi] Thank you, Dr. Adel, for the briefing on Mawhiba initiative. You elaborated on Mawhiba and the partnership with other entities and how can we bridge the gap through targeting gifted students, so thank you for your information.
Our next speaker is Mimi Jett. Mimi Jett is the Vice President, Business Development in Avant Assessment. Mimi heads the company’s efforts to build government and international partnership especially in the Middle East and China to provide additional tools, services, and qualities content to language learners. Mimi was the founder and CEO of Electronic Technical Publishing, providing advanced technology solutions to higher education publishers in mathematics and engineering fields, and she is involved in other ways in the sector. She also was an elected delegate to the White House Conference on Small Businesses and served as a technology advisor committee chair for the U.S. Small Businesses Administration. Mimi, the floor is yours.
[Mimi Jett] Thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be here. Let me start by giving you a little bit of background on Avant Assessment. I’m sure very few of you have ever heard of us. We’re a small company, a small enterprise, located in Eugene, Oregon, just north of here.
Avant began in 2001 as a technology transfer partner with the University of Oregon. And what we do and all we do is language assessment. We’re very committed to that. We think language is the key to all creativity, to all innovation, to all thinking. So we have been in this business now for quite a while. We have been creating standards-based assessments for education. We created the very first online English test for the no child left behind laws in Oregon, the [ELPA] test. We have expertise in more than 45 critical languages, and to be honest most of our revenue comes from the U.S. government. We do a lot of language assessment for defense and intelligence as well as foreign service.
One of the interesting things about Avant is the partnership that we’ve developed with Qatar Foundation, and I’m going to talk about that a little bit today because it is a very innovative business model that’s bringing Arabic language assessment to the Middle East and around the world.
All right, let’s talk about the goal here today. I was asked to come and talk about technology and what kind of an impact technology has on education. However, we’ve heard that all day long. We’ve had great panels. We’ve had great speakers at this panel as well as earlier this morning. I can’t really add too much to that so I will just say that technology makes a difference.
Some of the areas that we’re involved with technology are on standards based curriculum and assessments. Computer adaptive testing is a great example of how technology really does make a huge impact because we’re able to give one test instrument to multiple students and wind through the technology, each student takes their own path and we’re able to give a very definite grade.
Technology also makes personalized learning possible. We’ve heard about personalized learning, about individualization – if you’re a teacher with 160 kids cycling through your classroom every day, it’s very hard to do personalized learning with each student, but with the right tools and technology you have a way to know where every student is along their continual path and skill development.
Evidence is a very big deal. Evidence and proficiency are sort of the new buzzwords that have replaced personalized learning and individualization. And the reason is that with evidence you really know where the students are, and the students know. They can see their own progress.
So technology changes the game, it’s true – but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. So this is my one technology slide. This is what happens in a computer adaptive test. Everyone starts with one block of items and then depending on how they do, they work their way through, and that’s how we’re able to give these scores that are so well defined from one test instrument. It’s really pretty cool. But really, mother tongue literacy is the key. We feel that very strongly because I work with a lot of linguists and because everything we do is around education and learning. We think that it’s really critical for the development of a knowledge-based society people have to have literacy in their first language.
Knowledge can be accessed. It can be used. It can be applied in a second language or a third language, but creativity happens in the first language. It’s really important that students and all of us have very strong literacy skills in our first language in order to be able to communicate and develop and thrive.
It is very difficult, like I said, to create knowledge in the second language. Literacy skills really begin in primary school, as you know, and then they’re developed through elementary school, but so many students that come into a situation. Here in the U.S. we have English as a second language issues, we have something called long-term English learners where students come to our schools, they’re born in America, they start in Kindergarten in our school systems, and in junior high and high school they still have the literacy skills of a second grader. That’s because they were not taught literacy in their first language. This is actually pretty new research, which is really shocking.
So my message to you today is that creativity, a knowledge-based economy, all of this is going to blossom when literacy skills in the first language and the mother tongue, whether its Arabic, or English, or any other language, those literacy skills are critical to creating a knowledge-based economy.
So what is a knowledge-based economy? What are the requirements? We’ve heard them already on this panel, but I’m going to review them anyway. Power lies with those who produce new ideas. This is actually a quote from about 600 years ago. But creativity is important, innovation is important, problem solving and critical thinking, all of those things happen in our heads in the first language, so it’s critical that powerful ideas happen and grow in the first language and that’s what I’m here to tell you today.
Here is my second technology slide. This was very high-tech in the year 1280. I’m really fond of all the innovation that has come out of the Arabic world and continues to, and I really hope that that is never lost. If the Arabic language is lost or skipped which is a big issue with our partners over in Qatar – they’re very worried about losing their culture, people losing their own identities as Arabs. So this is very important. This was high-tech back then. This is from a book called the “Wonders of Creation and Their Singularities.” This information was keenly sought by natural historians and doctors throughout Europe for centuries. So the Arabic knowledge and innovation really helped to civilize the world. This is something to be celebrated and never forgotten.
I’m going to tell you the story now about why I’m here and how I came to even be working with you on Arabic language assessments. About a year and a half ago Qatar Academy called us and asked if we would create Arabic language assessments for them, and I really thought it was a prank phone call.
Why would they call someone halfway around the world, a small company in Oregon, to work with them on Arabic, but they said they had done their research, they had actually hired a leading Arabist, one of the textbook authors for a series you all probably know very well, but he’s not an assessment expert, he’s an Arabic expert. And so he created an assessment for them, it took a couple of years, it was administered once. After that administration they all threw up their hands and said oh my goodness, this is a lot harder than it looks, especially getting it online and being able to do something with all that data and creating reports. So they came to us and asked us to do this. We agreed, and probably the most innovative business model I’ve been involved with in many years came out of that, and I want to explain that to you because it might open up some ideas for you in your businesses.
Because Avant Assessment is a small company, and Qatar Foundation wanted really millions of dollars worth of language assessment development, we came up with a model where we literally partnered together, so Avant Assessment owns the intellectual property, we own those tests, we deliver them now across the region. Qatar Foundation funded them, got test credits back for them, but then they also get a revenue stream, they get a royalty, which was kind of confusing because they weren’t used to having money come in, only having money go out. So Qatar Academy is collecting all of that money and using it for research and further development. Since then, since those tests were released we’ve now been approached to do seven more tests in Arabic. So it’s very exciting to see what’s happening. The most notable is the work we’re doing with Dr. Hanada Taha, many of you may know her. She is the acting dean now at Bahrain Teacher’s College. Just the most passionate person I’ve ever met about the Arabic language. And Dr. Taha has just created the world language initiative, Arabic language arts standards. This is brand new, they’ve never existed before, and her work with the WLI is now creating curriculum that is being used in Abu Dhabi and piloted in other emirates, and throughout Bahrain and Qatar. So I think that it’s very important that this work goes on not only for the preservation of the language and the culture, but as Dr. Taha said it’s for the identity. People don’t want to lose their Arabic identity.
So I guess I’ve already told you this story, and it’s good because I’m almost out of time. We worked with Qatar Foundation. They funded the development. We’ve learned also that having a local partner adds a lot of richness and a lot of quality to the final product, as well as creating a grassroots movement to market it. And the revenue goes on.
This is our new assessment suite that we’re working on right now. We have tests for workforce development, higher education, primary, elementary.
So I will close now just by reminding you please remember literacy is the key. Reading and writing is important. One of the best quotes I heard this morning was from His Excellency Dr. Hamad Al Sheikh said it very well. He said you cannot teach a child to write on an iPad. You must begin with a pencil and paper. So thank you. Thank you for that.
[AlSeyofi] Thank you very much Mimi. On your paper for Avant Assessment you talked about personalized learning with the right tools and technology. You talk about the four stages of adaptive model and how important literacy skills to create a knowledge-based economy. Also you elaborated on the experience of Avant Assessment in Qatar. So thank you for this information.
Our next speaker is Ms. Carla Sanger. Ms. Carla is the President and CEO of LA’s BEST, which means Better Educated Students for Tomorrow. After school enrichment programs since 1988, Carla, she holds a Master of Education, has been a specialist in children’s education policy and advocacy for more than forty years, masha’Allah, in the public and private sector. Over the course of her career she has been a public school teacher, curriculum writer, supervisor of daycare services for the State of New Jersey, also she was an Executive Director of LA Childcare and Development Council, President of the California Children’s Council, and Co-chair of the California State Department of Education Taskforce on School Readiness. Ms. Sanger has been honored by the World Hunger Year with its community action national award and has received numerous government commendations from federal, state, and local legislatures. The Wishing Well award from the Los Angeles Woman Police Officers. Ms. Sanger, please present your paper.
[Carla Sanger] Thank you. Esteemed panelists and guests, I am so delighted to be here just for the fact that the planners of this conference thought that an after school program was sufficiently significant to be included in a prestigious discussion about education in the world, because I believe that and I believe that passionately.
This started in 1988. Never before in the history of this country have so few adults been at home after school. Parents aren’t there, adults aren’t there, and children can’t raise themselves, and they don’t grow without adult supervision, and our vision and actually the vision of Tom Bradley, which we have inherited, who was mayor of the great City of Los Angeles. His vision was that every child should be privileged to have a safe place to be after school, something purposeful to do, and to have someone, an adult, to look up to. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. I’m not going to talk about the program. I’ve brought booklets about the program. You can take a look at it if you have it. Please do, I don’t want to take them back. So we have lots of them in the back. They look like this. But the bottom line is I want to talk about two pieces of our work. One has to do with public-private partnerships, one has to do with what does all this have to do with economic development and with workforce development, and as a businessman why should I care.
First and foremost, we started as a pilot – ten schools, a million dollars a year. Through public-private partnerships, because we knew early on government alone could not fit the bill to provide the services for all the children who are otherwise unsupervised after school. We had to bring the private sector in. We had to bring business and industry and philanthropy and corporations and foundations and everyone we could to this effort because it was important. We built that million dollar a year budget in 1988 today to 38 million and growing. We started with ten schools, ten programs. We’re at 194 schools and programs serving well over 28,000 children every single school day. And these are the children in Los Angeles with the greatest needs and the fewest resources.
I was so delighted to hear Daniel Pink quoted, the last person I thought would ever be quoted at this conference today, because the vision of our most creative educators is that education is personal, it’s always been person, it always will be personal, and this one size fits all model and this notion that all kids need is to be able to sit down, keep quite, and listen is never going to serve our businesses and our industries in the creative fields that we know are going to be a part of the global economy.
We know that children are smart, and I’ve heard it said we’ve spent too much attention in education talking about how smart are kids instead of how are they smart, because children are smart in so many different ways and they learn in so many different ways – they’re like onions, you keep peeling, and you peel until the enlightenment shines in their eyes. And that’s what we believe after school programs do because we are not forced by mandate to have a prescribed curriculum every single day. So we are in touch with what is of interest to the children.
And that takes time because many of our children have been through such traumatic experiences in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to drugs and gangs and crime that they’re not going to talk about things very easily. I’ve always felt the children of privilege feel entitled to their thoughts and feelings because they have grandmothers like me always ask them how they think and how they feel.
The children in many of our communities are not eager to disclose their thoughts and feelings. You have to probe them. You have to push to find what’s in their minds because their minds are going all the time, they’re learning all the time. No matter what their test scores may show you, they’re learning all the time, they’re thinking, they’re feeling, and when you connect what’s real to them to tools they need to be successful in school the results go out of the ballpark.
Tom Bradley in his wisdom wanted to be sure that we track these students to see not do we just feel good about the program, does it make a difference, does it make a difference to communities, does it make a difference to their lives. Children in LA’s BEST compared to children not in LA’s BEST in the same schools are thirty percent less involved in crime, twenty percent less likely to drop out of school. And those are very big numbers in social science, and they are across ethnicity and across geography.
So we feel that the work of programs like LA’s BEST, and there are many in many, many cities in the United States, that are about enrichment, education, recreation, but to connecting to what’s real to children, to visual arts, performing arts, to literacy, to fun games in a way that matters to them, makes a tremendous difference in helping children to be available to learn in the regular school day.
And our hope is as you’re thinking about how businesses get involved and what difference does it make to businesses, we can tell you in terms of economic development not only are we providing a way for parents to work feeling safe that their children are well cared for and learning, but we’re also preparing young people who otherwise may never have gone into youth development fields or teaching, many of whom would have been slinging hamburgers at McDonalds, are coming from the community to work in our programs and are so taken with their effect on children that they go to college and they get their degrees. It may take them seven, eight, nine years, but they’re getting their credentials and they’re becoming the best teachers in our system because they care about the community, they care about parents, they care about making education personal.
And what does that mean to businesses? It means that as these people have higher paying jobs, we employ about 2,300 people from the community every year. These people are staying in these communities where there was, prior to being involved in LA’s BEST, great transiency. We had a mayor who once said when you care about the street you live on you care about the city you live in.
And we see the economic development when there is fewer transiency in the apartments and we see the businesses flourishing in many of the communities that did not flourish before. There was vandalism. There were all kinds of actions that made businesses not terribly interested. We were not able to move to the $38 million that we’ve received this past year in revenues without the involvement of businesses. That partnership is so critical and if you choose to pick this up you’ll see the names of many, many of the corporations and foundations that have been involved in LA’s BEST. But I think the biggest lesson for all of us is that everybody agrees the children are our future, but it’s also the humanity and the building of empathy and the building of children in terms of their self-esteem as we heard about before that isn’t just going to happen by itself. It’s something that our after school programs can do because teachers have such a full plate of what they “must” cover, and more and more in the United States what was fun is starting to disappear from so many of our public schools. There’s not a lot of art, there’s not a lot of music, there’s not a lot of physical education, and we believe that the after school programs provide those kinds of activities that put these children in touch with their thoughts and feelings and make them more available to learn.
Thank you very much.
[AlSeyofi] Thank you very much, Ms. Carla Sanger, for your information. You talked about, let me call it the onion chip because it is new terminology I hear it now the onion chip of the process of learning in children, and that they learn all the time no matter what was their assessment. So thank you for this new terminology.
Our next speaker, last but not least, my colleague in education, Ms. Nada Saleh Abdulrahman Al Ismail. She is General Supervisor for Primary Stages, General Directorate of Educational Supervision, in the Ministry of Education. Previously Ms. Al Ismail served as an assistant supervisor of school affairs and as educational supervisor with the Ministry of Education. As an education supervisor she held positions including Acting Assistant Supervisor of School Affairs, Chief of Primary Stage Units and Literacy Schools Supervision. She worked as a teacher, participated in 44 papers, and has conducted more than 70 courses totaling 470 instruction hours on supervision. Mrs. Al Ismail also participated on several committees including the exams and educational assessment, committees in modern schools design standards committees, and in professional program identification committees among others. Ms. Al Ismail received a Masters of Education in Instructional Technology and a Bachelor of Science and Chemistry from King Saud. Mrs. Nada, we are ready to hear your presentation.
[Nada Saleh Abdulrahman Al Ismail] [Greeting in Arabic] It is a great honor and pleasure to participate in this special event. Good afternoon everyone.
A country’s most valuable resource is its people, and through education and development this resource will drive the country towards growth and success. In the mid-20s, the number of schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were only four schools, and the number of schools increased dramatically through the years, and now the number of our schools exceeds 34,700 schools throughout the country.
During this period, the Ministry of Education’s responsibility became more important, especially as it transitioned from quantitative goals to qualitative goals with an emphasis on improving the outcomes of education and increasing the success and achievement of its initiatives. This involved the focus on specific strategies that included transitioning from a classroom based on memorization to learning by sharing and understanding. Changing the role of the teacher from being the only source of learning to one of many learning resources. Therefore, the student was transformed from a recipient of information to an active participant in the center of the educational experience. In fact the student along with the teacher are the two most important elements in the Ministry of Education’s mission.
The teacher being an important player in the student’s learning process and has the responsibility to continue development through proper material selections, good preparations, continuous training, and motivation and evaluation. Hence, the Ministry has created initiatives to develop and prepare new teachers, one of which is collaborating with Saudi universities on placing specific acceptance criteria for students applying to programs geared towards graduating future teachers, also forming a committee with the Ministry of Higher Education to oversee the curricula offered at these universities.
Another initiative was the selection of new teachers through the national center of assessment in higher education. In addition a new orientation program for teachers has been implemented to train and prepare fresh graduates by seasoned and experienced fellow teachers. The program also offered ongoing training for continuous development. And to complete these efforts a teacher education excellency award was created to recognize and honor distinguished teachers.
As for the second element in our mission – the student. He and she are encouraged to play an active role in the educational process, and this is achieved through designing curricula that focuses on critical thinking, continuous learning, and the utilization of technology in various sources of learning. The Ministry of Education made sure that the updated curricula contains positive and modern traits of learning approaches such as critical thinking, problem solving, and self-learning, and by that we can build the confidence in our children. The development of student performance skills and focusing on the actual practice of activities, the interaction of subjects throughout the different stages, and finally give the students the opportunity to select the activities suitable for their capability and needs.
The Ministry focused on development and enrichment of educational curricula through several succeeding projects, first of which the math and science development project.
Saudi Arabia has given special attention to the development in both science and mathematic curricula in order to keep up with the rapid changes in the international standards in the modern education theories, and to provide encouraging learning environments to achieve high levels of quality, at the same time improve student’s achievement by employing technical development in communication and information.
And this project aims to prepare suitable textbooks and educational materials in science and mathematics through a partnership with the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States and the Obeikan Investment Group, translated books from an internationally recognized curricula such as McGraw/Hill Education were adapted to be more suitable to the Saudi society. The project started by preparation harmonization of the textbooks and educational materials followed by the design and publishing of the materials and finally the training of the teachers on the new curricula with the help of experts.
Educational materials include student’s books, student activity books, and teacher manuals, and we also had optional educational materials such as assessment manuals, videos, CD-Rs, posters, and educational websites were also available. As a result of these efforts during these few past years science and mathematics witnessed significant leaps in progress by Saudi students, which drew the attention of those interested both locally and internationally. These results achieved international recognition and acknowledgement. Dr. Adel spoke in the last presentation about our achievements, so I’ll pass those slides. And I’ll go to our second.
Our second stage was an English language development project. For more than 40 years the education policy of Saudi Arabia dictated that students are given the opportunity to learn a language other than their native language in order to compete and interact with the international community. This project aimed to develop the skills and the competency of students’ educational English language as a part of their curriculum in public schools by providing courses in educational materials geared towards non-English speakers and in accordance with international standards.
As such the project aimed to meet and achieve the English language requirement of institutions of higher education and the labor market by raising the efficiency and skills of graduates from secondary education. This was achieved through a partnership with a group of international companies, which are being tested in different regions of the country as an experiment. The Ministry of Education has also developed a special comprehensive project to develop general education curriculum for all educational subjects from first grade to ninth grade classes and there is also a number of projects for the development that are still under preparation – as such a special educational curriculum, kindergarten curriculum, secondary school curriculum, and we also are developing our computer science curriculum.
Finally, I wish to end with a quote by King Abdullah bin-Abdulaziz, “It has become imperative for us to face the challenges of the present and future, to establish an education project based on the concepts of quality and excellency. Shared vision and value the spirit of teamwork and work strengthen the capacity of our teachers and students towards the product of knowledge rather than just consuming it.“ With those words King Abdullah described the country’s goals to reach the highest level of education and success through its people.
In closing, thank you for your kind attention. Thank you.