By Bander Al-Somani, Special to Arab News
Thursday 17 October 2002
Last Update 17 October 2002 12:00 am
JEDDAH, 17 October — There is overwhelming support for English to be taught from the early stages at school, an Arab News survey of Saudi parents reveals.
However, their opinions differ when it comes to the questions of how and why.
Most parents think it is useful to "catch ’em young", but others feel children should wait until they reach the intermediate level before they are introduced to a foreign language.
Seventy-three percent of the 300 parents surveyed were in favor of their children learning English from the elementary stage, while 15 percent said children should wait till they get to the intermediate level.
Twelve percent said they did not have an opinion.
Ali Amri, a parent in Jeddah, said that he thought it more important for his children to learn their mother tongue properly, before they tried to master English.
"Many Saudi kids don’t even know how to write proper Arabic," he complained, "so if they have to focus on English to pass exams it could mean the end of any hope that they’ll learn their own language properly."
"But English is essential nowadays because it is the basis of knowledge in so many fields, like computing," countered Khaled Obaid, another parent. "It should be introduced in a such a way that it ensures maximum benefit to children, but shouldn’t be taught as a ‘must pass’ subject. The emphasis should be on improving children’s command of communicative English, and on reading and speaking in the early stages."
The Ministry of Education earlier this year approved the teaching of English at the primary school level, but the proposal was subsequently postponed until further notice.
The ministry hired 700 new teachers to teach English as a second language in schools. However, after the teachers arrived in the Kingdom the decision to teach English from the earliest stages was put on hold. Sources have told Arab News that these new teachers have since been reassigned to secondary and intermediate schools.
"Lack of adequate studies" and "conflict with other subjects" were cited as the main reasons for the postponement.
"I don’t like English because we don’t use it in our daily life," student Mohamed Jibreel told Arab News. "And it’s a very difficult language to learn if you can’t practice it."
It is understood that English classes will be introduced to fourth graders from the next academic year, although no formal announcement has yet been made. The courses will comprise two classes a week.
According to the proposals, which are still under review, fifth graders will be taught English in 2004 and sixth graders in 2005.
The ministry has asserted that English will not be taught at the expense of other subjects, especially religion and the Arabic language.
Authorities have made it clear that the experiment will be evaluated as the project progresses and if it is not deemed useful, the ministry will not hesitate in canceling English classes altogether.