RIYADH: Saudi experts have welcomed the Ministry of Education’s decision to introduce English to the elementary grade one curriculum.
The move was announced on Sunday and will come into effect in the next academic year.
Dr. Ayman Johargy, general supervisor of the strategy management office at Umm Al-Qura University, told Arab News that Vision 2030 focuses on quality and comprehensive education for all and enhances life-time learning opportunities.
He added that there is a special emphasis on the development of the curriculum, learning methods, and assessment and enhancement of student skills and values.
One of the Vision 2030 indicators is to rank among the top 10 in the Global Competitiveness Indicator.
Based on an analysis of the weaknesses, strengths, threats and opportunities of the education system in the Kingdom, one of the challenges facing the system is the poor skills of college graduates, which are not aligned to the demands and needs of the labor market, he said.
“English language proficiency is one of the requirements for most of the jobs. It is important for job applicants to be proficient in the language. That is why the Ministry of Education decided to introduce English in the first elementary grade starting next year. This decision will help develop the linguistic skills of students at an early age and help them acquire and learn the language faster,” said Johargy.
The English language gives speakers an opportunity to open up to different cultures around the world and broaden their minds, he added, which will help them learn new things and find lucrative job opportunities, and compete on the global level.
Encouraging children to learn English at the same time they learn Arabic will help them develop their skills and social intelligence.
Dr. Gareba Altawehir
Dr. Gareba Altawehir, supervisor of the women’s department at Arab East Colleges, told Arab News that the world has seen a major technological revolution and the Arab youth must keep up with it in order to lead a bright future.
She said that the technological revolution relies heavily on the English language. Age plays a critical role in acquiring a language, she added, noting that the best time for a child to learn a second language is when they learn their native language.
“Encouraging children to learn English at the same time they learn Arabic will help them develop their skills and social intelligence. Children will develop a strong personality and self-confidence, and open up to new global cultures. They will also improve their communication skills and creativity,” said Altawehir.
She added: “The chances of a child to learn a new language are better than when he or she grows up. Language acquisition has to be at an early age, as the child loses the ability to learn a new language when they grow up.”
English is a universal language spoken in 186 countries around the world. It is used in 85 percent of documents, websites and emails and 98 percent of content is written in English. The spoken percentage of other languages of the world is two percent, Altawehir said. “That is why speaking English is an indispensable skill and it is important that children must acquire it at an early age,” she added.
She also stressed that English is important for distance education, which is a growing trend amid the pandemic. As a language, English has a special culture and features, which children should be acquainted with, she added.
“Learning a new language enhances the opportunities of coexistence with other peoples and makes people more accepting of other cultures. The Ministry of Education’s decision is a step in the right direction to keep up with the expectations of the Vision 2030 and merge with the whole world on all levels, including religious, cultural and political,” Altawehir said.
Fadgham Al-Mokhaidish, a corporate communication and linguistics expert, said linguists and education experts are still debating whether a child should learn English at the same time he or she is learning their native language.
He said people should remember that English has become necessary to improve a student’s critical thinking and personal skills, as these are two of the most important traits in the information age.
“The pandemic and the use of distance education make learning English at an early age a necessity for all children, because English is the language of smart devices and advanced technology. That is why it is important to develop the school curriculum and introduce English for students at the elementary grade one. This decision will help students develop society in the future and achieve the objectives of education,” he said.
Rasheed Al-Hussan, owner and general director of Al-Hussan Education and Training Group, praised the ministry’s decision and said he supports it based on his long experience in education.
“At our schools we teach children English at an early age. This has brought about excellent results because we balance between Arabic and English classes,” he said. “Teaching English at grade one will improve the student language and prepare them for college life. Both languages, English and Arabic, should be given equal emphasis at this age,” he added.