TheFace: Norah Al-Faiz, the first Saudi female vice-minister at the Ministry of Education

Nora Alfayiz with her family. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Updated 21 December 2019

TheFace: Norah Al-Faiz, the first Saudi female vice-minister at the Ministry of Education

  • Al-Faiz: I believe in striking a balance for children excelling in their educational fields, and their personal growth is key to happy, successful lives.

Norah Al-Faiz: I believed in the powerful influence of early childhood education on one’s personal, social and professional life.

I was born in Shagra in 1954 at a time when education was still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia. As the first child of 10 — six boys and four girls — I was privileged be given my parent’s attention and care, as they were eager to instill cultural and moral values in their children along with encouraging them to learn and progress in education.

Growing up between Riyadh and the Eastern Province, I finished my early education in public schools, studied sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh in the mid-1970’s, and graduated in 1978 whilst pregnant with my first child.

University education for women back then did not require a lot of attendance at lectures, which did not match my ambitions for a busy life. I therefore found myself a job as a school controller at an intermediate school in Riyadh.  

During my early journey through motherhood, my husband received a scholarship to the US, and although I was just beginning my professional life in education I decided to leave my job and move.

I was still eager to pursue my higher education, so I immediately enrolled in an English language institute before starting my master’s degree at Utah State University where I studied instructional technology at the education department. Choosing this particular subject of study was a well-thought-out decision. At that time, 99.9 percent of job opportunities for women were in education, and I knew this major was needed in my country. And above all, education is my passion. 

Managing my family duties and studies was a unique experience as I was pregnant with my second child when graduating from my master’s. I stayed focused and decided to pursue my specialist degree right after.

Returning to the Kingdom in 1983, I was privileged to have my professional life prosper. I first joined the Institute of Public Administration as a manager and instructor; it had just opened its branch for female students. Between 1984 and 1988, I contributed in training women, preparing them for the labor market. 

With the help of my colleagues, we established the Education Technology Center at the Ministry of Education which focused particularly on the development of employees in the education sector.

After that I was invited to work as a supervisor for the Special Needs Center, but it was not challenging enough to keep me fully occupied, so I worked as a part time professor at King Saud University before returning to the Institute of Public Administration as the general director of the women’s branch. 

In 2009, I was honored and privileged to be the first Saudi woman to be appointed to the position of vice-minister of education, an honor bestowed on me by the late King Abdullah. The news was warmly and happily welcomed by my loved ones and I was honored to receive that trust. 

I was also determined from my first day in office to support, initiate and adopt projects and programs that would have a positive impact on the professional career pathway of Saudi women, particularly in education.

During my time in office between 2009 and 2015, I succeeded with my team in providing important leadership opportunities for women at the ministry along with improving working conditions and student learning outcomes. 

The seven key domains that I have primarily focused on supporting were professional career pathways for women, early childhood education, support for female students, the development of special education, adult education programs, supporting private education and complementary educational projects. 

Another important step I am proud of is permitting private schools to have female teachers, and letting them teach male students in primary grades. It was important not only from an educational perspective but also to create more job opportunities for women. Although I received huge opposition, it did not stop me from my goal to improve the education sector. Even after I left the ministry, I never stopped serving my country. It is in my blood. 

None of my achievements have ever been an individual effort: I worked with an amazing team to help to improve the education system, and I am certainly proud of the outcome. 

I received the Distinguished Arab Women Award in Education from the Arab Women Foundation in 2011, as well as the first prize at the 20th Global Summit for Countries Best Practices to Broaden Women Employability at the MOE in China in 2010. My alma mater, Utah State University, tracked my work and granted me an honorary doctorate in 2012 for my support of women’s and early childhood education.  

As a proud mother of five — three boys and two girls — as well as four grandchildren, my husband Sulaiman Al-Solai and I focused on raising our family to be independent and open to the world. Education was important in my household but I don’t believe in pressuring children to pursue anything other than what they want to pursue. I believe in striking a balance for children excelling in their educational fields, and their personal growth is key to happy, successful lives.


Guinness World Records has great expectations for Saudi titles milestone

Updated 25 September 2020

Guinness World Records has great expectations for Saudi titles milestone

  • In MENA region, KSA is second behind UAE for its record-breaking prowess, with 93 GWR titles

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s penchant for breaking world records looks set to see the Kingdom smash through the 100 titles mark in the not-too-distant future, officials have predicted.
Guinness World Records (GWR), which lists incredible human achievements and extremes of nature, has great expectations for the country over the coming months.
The Kingdom has been placed second behind the UAE in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for its record-breaking prowess, with 93 GWR titles under its belt.
GWR’s senior marketing manager in the MENA region, Shaddy Gaad, told Arab News: “We’re very impressed with Saudi record-breaking and we’re really excited — a lot of record-breaking happens on the National Day.
“Over the last few years and with the Saudi Seasons (activity festivals) we’ve seen a big rise in record-breaking in Saudi Arabia and we’re looking forward to seeing this continue.
“Saudi Arabia is on the up and it’s rising very quickly. There were a lot of records broken near the end of last year. We had Riyadh Season and we had AlUla. I think that number’s going to rise up very quickly,” he said.

Largest hot air balloon glow show: The largest hot air balloon glow show consisted of 100 hot air balloons and was achieved by the Royal Commission for AlUla on Jan. 6, 2019.

Gaad added that so far this year there had been a 15 percent increase in the number of new records set by MENA nations.
“This year we received 750 applications from the MENA region, compared to 649 in the first eight months of 2019. From Saudi Arabia, we received 79 applications and we expect it to go up to 100 by the end of the year,” he said.
One of the most notable titles achieved by Saudi Arabia was for the largest mirror building, the Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla. “If you see that building itself, it’s absolutely beautiful. It looks like something out of a movie,” added Gaad.
Jeddah can boast the world’s largest burger restaurant, with I’m Hungry covering 2,860 square meters, the equivalent of 11 tennis courts according to its marketing team.
The Red Sea port city also has the world’s tallest unsupported flagpole, while AlUla plays host to the largest hot air balloon glow show, and Saudi influencer Hussain Sallam (known as S7S) holds the record for the largest serving of sayadieh (1,334 kilograms of the seasoned fish and rice dish).

Largest human awareness ribbon: The largest human awareness ribbon consisted of 8,264 participants and was achieved by Saudi women at an event organized by 10KSA in Riyadh on Dec. 12, 2015.

Stunt driver Terry Grant completed the largest loop-the-loop in a car during Riyadh Season on Nov. 25, and the MDL Beast Festival in the Saudi capital on Dec. 21 won the tallest stage title.
However, similar to most organizations, WGR has had to adapt to working around safety restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We moved a lot of things online. To view the growth in the number of applications, we launched this online record-breaking; what happened is it’s a dedicated brand and content division, focused on helping brands and businesses break records as part of their marketing campaign, and all of it is done over the internet.
“It wasn’t difficult; record-breaking and evidence provision is generally done online. It wasn’t difficult for us; the only thing was that people just had to get used to it, but it was a seamless process,” said Gaad.

Largest burger restaurant: The largest burger restaurant covers an area of 2,860 square meters and the title was achieved by I’m Hungry in Jeddah on Dec. 12, 2019.

The new division runs over content such as live-streaming, online pledges, online albums, video relays, and video chains.
One of them happened in Saudi Arabia, with the most viewers for an Iftar YouTube live stream, when 183,544 people tuned in to enjoy popular YouTubers such as “The Saudi Reporters” and comedian Omar Hussein.
“These influencers got together on YouTube, live, and for an hour they were sharing their stories about Ramadan traditions and Saudi traditions. They broke their fast and shared this moment with their fans. That video ended up trending as No. 1 in Saudi and the region.
“If anything, this pandemic has taught us to adapt to situations. I think people are now more flexible with the idea of doing online records as much as they’re doing offline records,” Gaad added.
He pointed out that the online application process for the GWR was simple and that titles were granted based on whether the record was measurable (longest, largest, heaviest, etc.), breakable, standardizable, or verifiable, and if it was made up of one variable.

SOME OF THE RECORDS BROKEN IN SAUDI ARABIA

• Tallest flagpole: The tallest unsupported flagpole measures 171 meters (561 feet) and was erected by Jeddah Municipality and Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) in Jeddah on Sept. 23, 2014.

• Largest drinking water storage facility: The largest drinking water storage facility is the Briman Strategic Water Reservoir, in Jeddah, with a total capacity of 2,062,500 cubic meters, verified on Nov. 17, 2014. Fun fact: The volume of this facility could fill up six skyscrapers the size of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

• Largest burger restaurant: The largest burger restaurant covers an area of 2,860 square meters and the title was achieved by I’m Hungry in Jeddah on Dec. 12, 2019.

• Largest hot air balloon glow show: The largest hot air balloon glow show consisted of 100 hot air balloons and was achieved by the Royal Commission for AlUla on Jan. 6, 2019.

• The Largest Serving of sayadieh: The largest serving of sayadieh was 1,334 kg achieved by Hussain Sallam in Jeddah on Sept. 14, 2019.

• Darkest man-made substance: The darkest man-made substance is a black material made of gold nanoparticles and called dark chameleon dimers, which absorbs more than 99 percent of visible light over the whole visible range. The material was made by scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in a joint collaboration between Prof. Yu Han and Prof. Andrea Fratalocchi.

• Largest water desalination company: The largest water desalination company is Saline Water Conversion Corp. (Saudi Arabia) which produces 4,600,000 cubic meters a day as verified on June 4, 2016. •Largest Tele-ICU command center: The largest Tele-ICU command center consisted of 796 beds and was achieved by Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Group in Riyadh and verified on July 31, 2019.

• Tallest stage (temporary): The tallest stage (temporary) measured 38 meters in height and was achieved by MDL Beast Fest in Riyadh on Dec. 21, 2019.

• Most consecutive wins in AFC champions league: The most consecutive wins of the AFC champions league are two achieved by Al Ittihad FC (Saudi Arabia) in 2004-2005.

• Largest human awareness ribbon: The largest human awareness ribbon consisted of 8,264 participants and was achieved by Saudi women at an event organized by 10KSA in Riyadh on Dec. 12, 2015.