Gulf states committed to curriculum reform, says ABEGS chief

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Ghazanfar Ali Khan | Arab News

Published — Friday 20 February 2009

Last Update 20 February 2009 3:00 am

RIYADH: Education officials in the Gulf countries are committed to developing their curriculums, according to Ali Al-Karni, director-general of the Riyadh-based Arab Bureau for Education in the Gulf States (ABEGS).

Al-Karni made his comments about curriculum development while announcing that the Almarai Award for Scientific Innovation would be given to “six students from each GCC member state, including Saudi Arabia” at a ceremony in Kuwait on Sunday.

Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, director general of Almarai Dairy Company, said his company instituted the award in 2006 with a total prize money of SR360,000. The award is administered by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, which has set up a prize committee consisting of technical experts and representatives from the private sector.

A report by ABEGS addressed a recent US study showing that the Gulf states lagged behind in primary school mathematics and science. “Poor showings on the most recent global standardized mathematics and science tests, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), served as a wake-up call for GCC policymakers,” said the report.

The TIMSS is a periodic global survey by the US Department of Education whose primary focus is to compare mathematics and science achievements by fourth- and eighth-grade US students with students in the same grade levels in other countries.

While the principle aim of the survey is to compare the performance of US grade-schoolers with their peers abroad, it also serves as an inter-country comparison. The report, which is available in PDF format from the US National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/), shows Arab states lagging behind industrialized countries in the teaching of math and science to young student.

For example, Saudi Arabia ranked near the bottom for eighth-grade mathematics. Among Arab states, only Qatar ranked lower; Egypt, Syria and Lebanon all ranked considerably higher. A similar pattern is seen in science (such as biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences) scores.

With the aim of addressing these academic public-school deficiencies, Al-Karni said that ABEGS has signed a contract with an international company for developing the syllabi of science and mathematics. He did not name the company, but said this move would help to achieve better returns in terms of the skills of the Gulf students on whom GCC invests up to five percent of GDP.

Referring to the ongoing curriculum development program, Al-Karni said that the Gulf states still faced a challenge as how to raise the quality of education having largely achieved the once-distant goal of providing free access to primary and secondary education for all nationals.

“To make further progress, they must shift their focus above all to improving the skills of teachers and managing the overall performance of their school systems,” said an ABEGS report obtained by Arab News.

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