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Q140 - Saudi Arabia’s Educational Language Acquisition

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Question

Language Acquisition

An attempt to find out why there is a failure of Saudi Arabia’s students in achieving a near-native fluency in the English language

Solution

Introduction

Saudi Arabian students’ unaptness to achieve communicative aims using English to the devices of language teaching and the learning surroundings have been an important issue among the researchers of this area. Al-Hazmi (2003) explains that most of them “are not well trained, nor do they receive in-service education upon assuming their posts at schools” (p. 342). There is an Arabic letter issued by the Minister of Education and printed on the second page of all the grade course books, which stresses the importance of English learning in Saudi Arabia, and is a discourse to the teachers of English language. This rethinking started, as some Western as well as some Eastern authors think, after the incident of 9/11 (Rugh, 2002; Karmani, 2005, Pennycook, 2007; Elyas, 2008). According to these authors, the after effects of 9/11 was a catalyst to start the educational tinkering and amendments in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) educational system and local scholars singled it out to investigate its features which were bound to impact the overall educational system in Saudi Arabia.  It was also due to the Western media, especially the English language print and electronic media started a campaign which was meant to malign Saudi Arabia. To respond to such allegations, it was deemed fit to boost the English language educational policies and enhance the English proficiency of young Saudi citizens.

Just like any other country, especially Asian countries, there are distinguishing features in the Saudi Arabian educational system that are unlike the West, one such being the tertiary education is free in KSA for all students and in some cases, even for the members of the expat families (Alankary, 1998). Fees in private colleges in KSA are subsidised, unlike in Western colleges, and the government pays students’ monthly allowance so that they feel motivated. There are segregated classes for male and female students by means of separate campuses. The government has started separate classes so that both men and women can get educated. There is a culture of women not facing the other men which keep them away from public education. Not to avoid the academic education, the women of the country are being provided separate schools and colleges so that they can go there and study without any hesitation. At the same time, it also serves the religious purposes as women are still not open and mixed to the male community by getting a separate educational system. What is noteworthy here is the government’s effort to educate the women despite all strong religious practices. This is also noted at most colleges and high schools in India, where due to the non-availability of separate campuses, they have two different timings, the morning and the afternoon sections, one for the boys and another for girls, in Bangladesh and Pakistan they have exclusive male and female colleges. In KSA the only exception is one recently opened university, King Abdullah Science Co-ed University, which is co-educational and it started in the year 2009. This college is an outcome of the modern Western ideas which are prevalent throughout the world. Nonetheless, it is the only college by which Saudi Arabia can show a tinge of modernism and effect of globalisation as it still continues to be religiously strong and believes in the separate education of man and women (Karmani, 2005). It may seem strange to the world that in the twenty-first century where modernism has gone far ahead, and words like post-modernism and ultra-modernism have been coined, Saudi Arabia has undergone no change as an effect of these words. The country is still treating its people in the same way. The gender issue and differences are being sustained with the same old ideas. Critics, mostly Western, have put the blame on the religious education system as they were of the opinion that the incident of 9/11 was due to the fact that the terrorists were not only of Saudi origin but also taught in such religious educational system and hence these brought criticism (Prokop, 2003a).

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Others have made similar criticisms of the Saudi education system, citing the inordinate amount of the set of courses devoted the study of religion (Aarts & Nonneman, 2005 and Elyas, 2008). These elements are cited as impediments to creativity and independent thinking which is important for the economic prosperity of the country. This latter aspect is of serious concern as the lack of necessary skills and training in Saudi students fails to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding workforce sector, in both qualitative and quantitative terms (Al-Hazmi, 2003). Citing unemployment and the needs of industry for Language Acquisition as a rationale for reforms are also important to bring improvement in English education. Many researchers, therefore, agreed to the investigation of strategy instruction for the English language learning in Saudi Arabia (Al-Abdan, 1993a; Al-Alkobi, 2001; Alhammadi, 2004; Almandil, 1999; Alwahibee, 2000; AlOtaibi, 2004). Indeed, Al-Abdan’s (1993a) pioneering study on strategies in the early nineties recommended that language learning strategies should be taught with an emphasis and students should be instructed and trained on using these strategies. In addition, he focused on raising awareness among students of their use and importance, especially female students.

Educational Polices in Saudi Arabia Language Acquisition

From the Saudi perceptive, educational policy is defined by Al-Mengash (2006) as the set of rudiments and approaches which are put in place through the state to direct education in its diverse types of levels to realize the aims of the public in the light of the current circumstances and available capabilities to serve the general aims of the state and its national advantage. According to Al-Maydani (1992), educational policy is the constitutional articles of Education which explain the general principles that planning is based on and state the aims and objectives of the educational procedure. Whether these articles are written and visibly published in the form of decrees or unwritten and unpublished, supervisors and managers of educational institutions are aware of them.

Policies are first formulated, adopted and then implemented, educational policies, before being practised have to be defined, then formulated and then any educational policy should be implemented. Prior to implementation, the policy is analysed for any necessary modification and improvement (Al-Kadhi, 1980). To make a policy operational, administrative procedures are developed so as to implement them. For the success in implementing the educational policies, it is important to effectively formulate it in a well-articulated manner, it should be very clear as a policy which is unclear and is unstable is a waste of labour and time (Al-Mengash, 2006).

It was emphasised by Al-Romy (2002), that moving from formulation of policy and adoption to the implementation phase is of great importance, as without proper implementation practices, such policies will be of no use. Besides this, these educational policies are but like a guideline for the policy makers at different levels of management and should be clearly written as a step to make sure its aims are achieved, if not, then the policies would not work at all.

Educational policy should consist of various conditions in order to make its implementation a success, like availability of satisfactory funding, data availability and ease of access with an information system that makes the planning and implementation an easy process. Any policy should be suitable enough to be achievable and should also be appropriate for the society’s socio-political status, it should be available for scrutiny to educationalists and stakeholders, hence the need to publish the policy (Al-Kadhi, 1980).

ICT is now conjoined with all educational policies & Language Acquisition, the British Minister for Schools and Learners has stated that technology in learning is no longer optional. This view of Language Acquisition was also shared by Dale et.al, (2004) and he also showed this association between management and policies to be a process which has teaching and learning and ICT in the center (figure). It is evident from this figure that for an effective ICT implementation in teaching and learning for Language Acquisition, a balanced approach including the interaction between policy at its various levels, ICT and management is crucial including all its different aspects.  What do all the initialisms/acronyms in the first box refer to? How are they relevant to your topic? What does ICT have to do with English language acquisition??

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