Essay: Improving English Language Learning in Saudi Arabia

An Action Plan for Change

English language has become the most important tool of both informal and formal communication in our current world. With the advancements in digital and cyber technology and connectivity, it is obvious that having English language skills will give a person an added advantage with regard to communication especially if that person comes from a region where English language is not the native language. One of the most important reasons why English has become a global language is because it appears that it has been accepted as the standard language of communication by professionals from all fields of study. For example, it is easier for scientists to communicate through English in explaining issues that would be difficult explaining in different native languages. Nonetheless, English language in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not been adequately adopted by the citizens since most of them speak in Arabic, which is the dominant language. The government of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of former King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz (1st August 1924-23rd January 2015) made numerous initiatives to help improve English language in this Kingdom.
The king became interested in putting the school going children in a position where they would be able to learn English speaking and writing. Obviously, in Saudi Arabia, the primary language of communication is Arabic and it was previously very hard for one to meet a Saudi Arabian Citizen who could speak in English fluently. Although initiatives in promoting English language had been put in place more than a decade ago, the language had not yet been properly mastered. In fact, although teaching and learning English was still taking place in middle school and high schools, most students were still not able to write and speak various simple English words or sentences. It is a requirement that all the students who are in the age bracket of 13-18 years must take English classes in school. In other words, this means that as the students learn, they must spend six years of their school life learning English Language. However, despite this big effort by the ministry of Education, the students who graduate from high school are normally not able to speak in English.
There are many reasons why English Language in Saudi Arabia has become a bit hard to be mastered properly by the citizens. According to a research study that was conducted by Professor Liao & Nakasone on the inter-lingual error, it was concluded that most students normally face varied levels of difficulty in learning the English language due to consequences of the degree to which their native/first language differs from English (Liao & Nakasone, 2013). It has been keenly noted that most English learners ends up committing the linguistic mistakes of pronunciation due to the interference by their native accent and the bilingual interference. It is for such reasons that King Abdullah saw it fit for the most promising Saudi Arabian students to go to the United States to learn English from the best universities and schools and also further learn through their interactions with native English speakers in the US. From this idea, the King Abdullah Scholarship program was born. It started by sending few students to the US but after being declared a major success, the program was extended for 5 more years and also the number of students going abroad for studies was increased to approximately 10,000 students per year.
A huge influx of Saudi government sponsored students has been evident in most universities in the US. Nowadays students from Saudi Arabia students are nearly 200,000 thousands (Ministry of Education 2015). This is a huge number of students. Therefore, it would be better to consider other avenues that can be adopted for long term solution on improving the ability of our students in learning English language. For how long will it be sustainable to be sending Saudi Arabian students to foreign counties so as to learn English and other courses? And why do our students tend to fail in English achievements? For instance, I have provided a simplified line graph that shows how the students and teachers of Nab Alaloom school has been benefiting from the program by showing the number of both students and teachers who have travelled abroad to learn English for the past seven years. The line graph evidently shows that the rate of both students and teachers going to the US and other foreign countries to study English has been gradually increasing each years.

Figure 1. A Line graph showing the number of students going abroad to learn English from Nab Alaloom
Figure 2. A Line graph showing the number of English teachers going abroad to learn English from Naba
Alaloom School
Unfortunately, even after five English teachers were brought in the year 2007 to teach students of this school, the students who graduated in the year 2008-2009 could barely speak English. Through the ministry of Education, Nab Alaloom was able to acquire to extra English teachers from a school known as Al-Khobar international School with the intentional that they will help in improving the state of learning English but unfortunately it did not work. The student still remained very poor in both spoken and written English (Ministry of Education 2015). Nonetheless, the Nab Alaloom School is a renowned institution in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, especially in producing alumni that have excelled very well in different fields of study. In 2013, a total of 270 students from this school managed to secure scholarships to learn English in United States. Some of the most notable recent alumni are the likes of Summa Cum Laude who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Accountancy from the American State University. In addition, there are also numerous alumni of this school who graduated recently from different parts of the world such as the Philippines and United Kingdom with different disciplines.
The issue of sending Saudi Arabia students to the US in such huge numbers also comes with a big problem that might be the root reason why the students are still not able to perform well in English language. According to Deborah Healey, the director of the Institute of English Language at Oregon University said that while the English language proficiency amongst students from Saudi Arabia has been poor, they were not able to effectively handle this problem. She says that this challenge was caused by the fact that many students in 2003-2014 have been joining her school in tons and therefore they are not able to offer personalized tutoring to the students due to their large numbers. She reported that within just one year from the beginning of the scholarship program, the number of the Saudi students increased from only 20% to 49% (Redden, 2007). I concur with Deborah Healey that indeed the sudden increase of Saudi students had caught them off-guard and were not able to give their best in preparing the students in learning English language. It is for this reason that I am of the opinion that we should bring back our Saudi students since we have all it takes to prepare and nurture them at home.
Numerous research studies claim that high-school and middle-school curriculum for teaching English in Saudi Arabia has not been the best despite being in use for more than a decade. In addition, the research also shows that it is not only the students in middle school and high school who fail in English learning but also the teachers too (Ministry of Education). One of the respondents in the research, Dr. Hussein Sindi, who is also a member of Faculty at the University of King Abdul Aziz confirmed the sad state of English at this campus. Dr. Sindi said that he had been teaching Computer science at this institution for the past 20 years and in those two decades, he says that his students are extremely weak in speaking simple phrases let alone writing in computer coding language. He pinpointed out that there are also some of his faculty members who have acquired their doctorates but are not able to speak good English (Razek & Coyner, 2013). He suggests that the English Curriculum in Saudi Arabia has been the major obstacle to learning English effectively. He claims that the curriculum lacks clear objectives and the required content that fits the set goals. In addition, Sindi feels that the teaching content and the methods of evaluation in the English learning curriculum appears to lack coherence (Razek & Coyner, 2013).
Section 1
Based on the above extensive introduction and literature review on the issues affecting teaching English language in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I feel that it is now important for me to explain my action plan that would assist in improving teaching and learning English language in this country and thus reduce the number of government sponsored students who are sent annually to the US and other countries to learn. This action will be applied for the academic year 2015/2016.
The academic year 2015/2016 will be a transformative year. My action plan intends to focus on curriculum improvement, adding a teacher’s trainer, and introduce regular assessment exams to be part of learning tools. My ideal type of a curriculum would be made up of a totally social and not an authoritarian teacher. The students will be able to comfortably ask their teacher any type of questions without fear of victimization as it was the case of the old curriculum. I believe that, from the efforts of my action plan, the ministry of education might be compelled to consider changing the curriculum to a friendlier one for the sake of our students. Obviously, when the teaching curriculum changes, many issues are usually addressed. Nonetheless, in most cases a change in a curriculum would be the first step in the right education for the education system in Saudi Arabia. I will not deny that this will be the hardest part in my action plan since it is something that requires a lot of effort from all the stakeholders of our education system. Additionally, it will need to be financed by a budget that would come from the ministry of education. The ministry of Education of the kingdom has the mandate of improving both the teacher’s skills and also the technique and content that is being taught in our schools so that everything in the education sector can flow smoothly.
While having a talk with the teachers, parents, and students of Naba Alaloom school, I came up with a possible list of the concerns and challenges that may be considered in helping improve learning English in Saudi Arabia.
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if we will be sending our students to the US 20 years to come so that they can learn English?
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if teachers do not possess the prerequisite education on English learning and skills to teach our children?
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if the Ministry of Education refuses to provide new and more improved curriculum for teaching English?
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if the students still cannot write nor speak English?
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if the number of students being sent to study abroad still increase?
‘ Wouldn’t it be awful if the students do not prefer staying in our country and learn English from there?
On the other hand, I also found interesting opportunity queries for the improvement of learning English in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
‘ Wouldn’t it be good to have well trained teachers that would be teaching our students English?
‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if the Ministry of Education become part of the process of improving English Learning?
‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if the ministry would see the need of adopting a new curriculum on teaching English?
‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if the new curriculum for teaching English will be of importance in improving the student’s language?
‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if the number of students who are sponsored to go abroad to study be reduced?
‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if both the students and the teachers can speak fluent English?
As stated earlier, indeed changing the curriculum will not be an easy task as it may sound. Many people do not like change and therefore may openly oppose this initiative. Some of the people who would resist this plan would be very important people in the ministry of education therefore making it almost impossible for a change of curriculum to occur since they are the people who make such critical decisions. Consequently, I have also come up with a few points that needs to be taken into concern before we start the process of change so that the process should experience minimal or no resistance at all for the action to be considered a success. Some of the points are:
‘ The education system badly needs a change of curriculum due to the many ways that the current curriculum is centered on. It focuses on a charismatic teacher who is highly authoritarian in nature and thus carrying a lot of alienation and stereotypes. The English curriculum simply needs a change
‘ We need to introduce new styles of teaching English since the olds ones seems not work
‘ We need to write a detailed letter to the ministry of Education to request them to approve the change of a curriculum
‘ We need to ask the government to consider paying for the teachers training so that all the teachers can get the opportunity of improving their skills in teaching English.
‘ We need to make our students and teachers understand that it is still possible to learn English while still in Saudi Arabia and not necessary to travel abroad.
‘ We need to make it clear that English language is in bad condition in our country and needs a lot of support for it to improve.
Section 2
This section will greatly assist in helping generate the ideas required for the intended plan/project. I will provide various questions that would be directed to the teachers (T), Ministry of Education (M), students (S) and the School board (SB)
1. How much will be the budget for changing the curriculum? T, M, SB
2. How much time will the change process take? M, T
3. Will the ministry be ready to assist? M
4. When will there be a meeting to deliberate on this issue? T, M, S, P, SB
5. What is the English Curriculum that we need? M, T, SB, S, P
6. Does the Ministry of Education consider asking native English teachers to come and teach in Saudi Arabia instead of our children going abroad? M, T, SB, P
7. Will the students be ready to accept the change? S
8. Will the teachers be ready to accept the planned changes? T
9. Will the problem of English be over after making these changes? M, T, SB, S, P
10. Will there be moral support to the students? T, P
11. How can parents be included into this process? M, T, SB, P
12. Will there be any financial assistance for teachers in form of sponsorship? M
13. Will the students speak good English? S
14. How is their Arabic language a hindrance? S, T, P
15. Will the ministry offer workshops for teachers? M
16. Will they support teachers? M, T
17. Do the teachers have an experience in teaching English? T, SB
18. How can we assist the parents to also improve their English language? M, T, SB, P
19. What curriculum for English will we need? T, P, M
20. Will the Ministry of Education keep the old curriculum? T, M
21. Will the teachers will be able to speak good English? T
22. If not, how can we find new teachers? T, M, M
23. Who will finance the whole project? M, T, SB, P
24. What will be the role of the school board in pushing for the required change? SB
25. What would be some of the unplanned risks that we might face while implementing this project? M, T, SB, P,S
Section 3
Many questions have been asked in the previous section, but the most prominent question that is seen all over is definitely that of curriculum change. New curriculum will bring new life in our education system especially with regard to teaching English. I would emphasis on the issue of curriculum as well as improving the skills of the teachers who are supposed to teach English. However, the idea of developing a new curriculum should not become very important to the point that we forget about it implementation and evaluation since they are equally important.
For this project, we will first create a detailed assessment document that will be taken to Nab Alaloom School. This assessment document will be used to assess both the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching English at the school. It should be able to analyze all the internal and external factors that affect teaching and learning English in this environment. This process must be undertaken with a lot of openness and credibility so that the information collected can reflect the true state of events at Nab Alaloom. Additionally, it has also been reported that the children who try learning English might be facing problems due to lack of parental support. Most parents believes that the students who are unable to fluently speak English is because they were not taught at an early stage such as the kindergarten or the first grade. This might not be the reason behind it but unfortunately most students tend to believe this theory and therefore lack the motivation to learn English at middle or high school. Undeniably, other overlapping and interrelated factors such as the education of the parents sometimes plays a major role in the enthusiasm of the student in learning English.

Secondly, surveys in form of questionnaires can be sent to both the students and the parents. They will asked about the changes that they would want so that the student can achieve academic excellence in the English language. There will also be questions directed to the Nab Alaloom teachers with regard to their attitude towards teaching English and also the curriculum in general. This is because, the teacher’s attitude can change all the efforts that have been made either in the good way or the bad way. The pedagogical attitude of the English teacher has also to be improved when it comes to improving the curriculum. The new curriculum needs to change both the vocational and cognitive abilities of the teacher so that they can be able to gradually transfer their old ways of thinking and behavior from the old curriculum to the new one. Initially, the old curriculum requires a teacher to maintain an authoritarian and centrality in the classroom thus giving no say to the students. However, with the adoption of a new curriculum, there will be mutual consultation in the classroom that is built on open communication and mutual respect.
Below is a Gant Chart that I have created so as to show the timeline of my project and all the activities that I would be doing.

Figure 3: Shows a Gantt chart for the action plan timescale
Finally, it is also imperative for the students to be motivated. Therefore, it is my opinion that as we prepare the curriculum changes, we should also create a course that is specifically intended to motivate the student to learn English language. The students may be involved in this phase so that they can give out their opinion of the things that they prefer.
Conclusively, I believe that this action plan will help improve the level of acceptance and ability to learn English language. Nonetheless, the whole project lies heavily on the mercy of the ministry of education to approve the change of the curriculum. If the project ultimately becomes a success, more professional teachers of English will be made available and also the increased rate of students going abroad to study English-related courses will greatly go down.

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