Is studying abroad a necessity for a first class education?
In Saudi Arabia, we take pride in our education system with a particular emphasis on the fact that our youth spend more years in school than their counterparts in most of the world.
As a result, people claim a highly educated class is fast emerging. That is very true that our current generation is very educated. It is, however, unfortunate and a subject warranting our attention that most of this higher level education takes place outside the Kingdom.
Parents who have the means send their children abroad for higher education thinking (perhaps correctly) that this is necessary to give them the competitive edge when it comes to establishing themselves in a career.
This is not to say that study abroad isn’t a valuable experience; in fact, having done so myself, I would say that the experience of living abroad broadens one’s perspective and one always learns things that could not be learned at home. As a choice, it is worth its while. The problem is that it has come to be viewed as a necessity. Not all students want to study abroad; not all families can afford it.
But things have come to such a pass that without a foreign degree one’s qualifications are not considered important. That is problematic because it implies that our own educational system is not doing a good job. Currently 44,566 Saudi students are enrolled at US colleges; this might not seem huge, but it is a 30 percent increase from the previous year. A decade ago, on an average the number of Saudis enrolled in US colleges remained around 3,250.
The emphasis on studying abroad is clearly on the rise, and ironically, it comes at a time when the number of Saudi universities is also on the rise. The question is as to why many Saudi students do not wish to finish their schooling at home? We must look carefully at our own system before putting on the blame elsewhere. Specifically, we have to take a look at our education programs. How well are we training our teachers? A close examination of our teachers’ training programs reveals that there is a lot to be desired. Because we live in a rapidly evolving world, it is imperative that our children be able to survive and thrive within the shifting cultural and economic circumstances. Traditional education has its merits, but in addition, we have to be teaching students how to think creatively and how to increase problem solving skills. Business worldwide — in fact, practically all work settings — require a team-based approach that lay emphasis on collaboration and excellent communication. If our school system fails to reflect on these issues, there is a danger that it will become too rigid to impart the necessary skills to the students.
It is because of this very reason most Saudis opt to go abroad to hone their skills.
In many ways, Saudi education is among the most thorough in the world. We have an ancient tradition of knowledge and enlightenment. These benefits will be obscured, however, if they are not coupled with the modern approach toward communication and team building skills.
Teachers must have excellent grasp of their respective subjects and must be aware of a student’s psychological needs. Teachers must learn as to what motivates a student and what to cater to each student’s individual needs.
Our educational system must be revamped in order to prepare students for life in this new era. Only then will studying abroad become, once again, a free choice rather than a perceived necessity for students, and we will fulfill our mandate to build within them the skills and competencies that they truly need.
By DrAlaa Ghamdi