RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has improved its ranking on the English proficiency index, a conference in the Kingdom heard on Wednesday.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) holds the highest ranking among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, ranking 71 globally and scoring 47.27.
EF Education First, a global education company focusing on language, academic, cultural exchange and educational travel programs, held its eighth edition of the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) Conference for the first time in the Kingdom here on Wednesday.
EF Education First released its annual global ranking of English proficiency, the EF EPI 2018, drawing on data from 1.3 million non-native English speakers in 88 countries and regions, at the conference.
Sweden topped the EF EPI, scoring 70.72 and knocking last year’s top-scorer the Netherlands into second place with a score of 70.31.
Speaking at the conference, David Bish, director of academic management, EF Education First, said that this year’s report was the biggest league table to date; the process included 1.3 million test-takers, recording a 30 percent increase over the past year.
There are 13 new entrants in the index this year: Afghanistan, Albania, Belarus, Bolivia, Croatia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Senegal and Uzbekistan.
Lebanon has been added to the index for the first time, and is the top performer in the Middle East, ranking 33 globally with its score of 55.79, which has helped to lift the overall average of the region slightly.
Scoring 43.65, Saudi Arabia is ranked 83rd in the world, ahead of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iraq and Libya.
Bish said that the English language is predicted to play a bigger role in the region with initiatives that aim to diversify the economy, investment in jobs and the education system.
Of Saudi Arabia, he said: “We have seen it improving over the last four years and making progress in the region’s index.”
Sharing some of the key findings, he said that Europe remains the global leader in English proficiency, with eight of the top 10 spots in the ranking. Africa had shown strong gains in English proficiency, with South Africa ranking sixth globally. Other rankings were: Nigeria (29), Senegal (39), Ethiopia (54), Egypt (62), Morocco (67), Tunisia (68), Algeria (81) and Libya (88).
Women continued to outsmart men in English skills worldwide, the index showed.
Bish told Arab News that the EF EPI was based on three tests. These are online tests using an EF scale of 1 to 80 in line with a common European frame of reference, and scores are put together to give an average score for each country.
“We need more than 3,000 people to take the tests before we prepare the index,” he said.
The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. Thousands of schools, companies, and governments worldwide use the EF SET for large-scale testing.
EF EPI research finds that countries and individuals continue to invest in English education, recognizing the importance of the language as a lever for competitiveness.
Speaking at the conference, Jan Knutsson, the Swedish ambassador, expressed happiness about his country returning to the top spot.
For a country wishing to do the best in education, economy, trade and commerce, proficiency in English is key, he said.
Abdulrahman S. Alfuraih, general supervisor of English language at the Ministry of Education, said knowing the methodology and how it is prepared was important in building better results.
“We are improving and working continuously to further improve,” he said, adding that English is linked with the job market and so it is important to gain proficiency in it.
The ministry is working on an “English for All” program, he said.
There is also “Khebrat,” a teacher professional development program provided by the ministry for teachers of all subjects that aims to qualify Saudi cadres to take leadership in public education through training abroad at the best learning centers.
The teachers are sent to the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand to join the academic program and improve their proficiency. When they return they share their experiences with students to help in teaching and assessment.