Experts gather in Jeddah to discuss key role of English language teaching

Updated 17 May 2018
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Experts gather in Jeddah to discuss key role of English language teaching

JEDDAH: More than 900 educators attended a two-day conference dedicated to the latest ideas and developments in the teaching of English.

King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) President Abdulrahman Al-Youbi opened the English Language Institute (ELI) symposium, titled “New Perspectives in English Language Teaching” (ELT), at the King Faisal Convention Center in Jeddah.

Al-Youbi emphasized that the developmental theme of the symposium places ELI’s teaching and methodological procedures on the threshold of the latest theories of teaching in general and ELT in particular, which will help contribute to the achievement of the goals of the institute and the university, and in turn to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. AN Jeddah

Al-Youbi then received from ELI Dean Abdullah Al-Bargi a certificate granted to the institute this year by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) for 10-year full accreditation. The CEA had in 2013 granted ELI five-year academic accreditation.

Al-Bargi pointed out that the symposium aimed to help develop English-language learning through the exchange of international and local expertise, skills and knowledge to cope with fast-paced global changes, to achieve ambitions, and to bridge any gaps in research and knowledge.

“These major changes necessarily require continuous and sustainable development for the foundations and practices of ELT and learning,” Al-Bargi added.

The symposium featured 32 sessions, eight of which were main events led by invited speakers. In addition, there were 16 concurrent sessions and eight workshops. 

The event concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Al-Bargi, who said it was incumbent on everyone present to play their part in supporting the aims and achievement of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which he described as being “very ambitious, yet achievable.”

The panel agreed that English-language proficiency in the workforce will be pivotal in achieving the aim of a thriving economy, and that many Saudi ELT programs were indifferent to local labor-market needs and should be aligned with their requirements to provide upward economic momentum.

They agreed that research and teaching practices need to be localized and rely more heavily on “blended learning” and the use of technology to increase the positive effects. More training for teachers and increased opportunities for continuing professional development were also considered important. 


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”