Saudization: Are Saudi students adequately prepared for university?

In the face of high local unemployment and an overdependence on foreign labor, the Saudi Arabian government is facing pressure to greatly increase the participation of locals in the labor market. To that end, Saudi officials have pursued the policy of Saudization, which can be described as the substitution of foreign workers with locals in the private sector.

Saudization has been met with varying degrees of success, especially in the higher education sector. But now many worry if Saudi students are adequately prepared for university. Analysts often point out the cultural rift between the local public educational system, with its emphasis on rote memorization and neglect of critical thinking skills, and the strongly Western-influenced university system.

“Students are simply not well enough prepared in fundamental areas like writing, quantitative and analytical skills to be able to succeed in an undergraduate course,” wrote Manail Anis Ahmed in a piece published in University World News.

Poor proficiency in English is also common among Saudi youth, presenting itself as another barrier to effective learning at the university level.

“[S]tudents often score less than 3 when they need at least 6.5 to 7.5 on English skills tests — known by the acronyms IELTS and TOEFL — to qualify for admis­sion to Western universities,” wrote Rob L. Wagner in The Arab Weekly.

Wagner paints a dismal picture of English education within the Saudi schooling system, quoting local academics who point to unmotivated students and ill-prepared teachers. Weakness in English may have profound consequences for a student’s entire university experience, especially when it comes to the study of the natural sciences.

“The issue of studying in English is significant because physics, chemistry and biology traditionally use English as the basic language that directs approach, methodology and analysis. Although Saudi students may receive Arabic versions of the English text, some concepts do not translate well and the student can fall behind quite quickly,” wrote Theodore Karasik in The National.

Saudi Arabia’s conservatism and religiosity may also present challenges to a flourishing academic culture.

“The principles of education in Saudi Arabia are strongly rooted in the teachings and values of Islam and sharia law. At the K-12 level, there is a greater emphasis placed on learning about the religion, culture and history of the country as opposed to subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” wrote Khadija Mosaad in the Fair Observer.

To contend with all these issues, experts urge the Saudi government to initiate a more comprehensive overhaul of the education system.

“[A]cademic preparation at all levels – from college preparatory years to university curricula themselves – must be made more rigorous,” wrote Manail.

Image via Pixabay.

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