Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done
As dyslexia does not have clear medical criteria, there is no specific, definitive test to diagnose it. (GettyImages)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

MAKKAH: Dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty with reading, is common but for many years there was a widespread lack of awareness about it in Saudi Arabia. As a result people with the condition often did not get the help they needed.
This has changed significantly in recent years thanks to community-awareness campaigns, through which Saudis have learned more about the condition. This is helping with early recognition and intervention but challenges remain.
This month is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion advocates and campaign groups in the Kingdom are stepping up their efforts to educate the community and show how knowledge is key to changing the narrative about people with learning difficulties.
According to specialists and people with dyslexia, media awareness campaigns in the past few years and the decision by Saudi authorities last September to officially classify it as a learning disorder have helped to improve the rights of people with the condition. They also said that modern diagnostic techniques mean that official figures for dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are much more accurate than they once were.
The condition was identified in 1881 by Dr. Rudolf Berlin, a German ophthalmologist in Stuttgart. A pioneer in his field, he was the first to describe it, and give it a name, in his paper Eine Besondere Art der Wortblindheit: Dyslexie (A Special Type of Word Blindness: Dyslexia), which was published in 1887. This formed the basis for all subsequent research, thanks to his systematic description of the condition.
Dr. Muhannad Al-Ali, a neurologist at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, said that dyslexia is a newly prevalent disorder in the Kingdom, meaning that until recently it was not classified as a condition. The amount of research carried out since the 1990s globally remains modest, he added.
Many people with dyslexia are unaware they have condition, he said, since the amount of time we spend on traditional forms of reading has declined. As a result, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose.
“Dyslexics find it difficult to comprehend what they read,” Al-Ali told Arab News. “They can read the first line but get tired and lose focus when reading the next.
“It is possible for a dyslexic to be able to read WhatsApp messages, for example, but unable to read a book or articles.” He further explained that because dyslexia does not have clear, consistent medical criteria associated with it, there is no specific, definitive test to diagnose it.
This can result in years of suffering by patients who later in life finally discover they have dyslexia, Al-Ali added.
“It arises with the child’s upbringing and often has roots in the area of the brain that handles comprehension, reading and cognition, and there are studies showing genetic and hereditary factors, but there is no clear and direct reason as to why a person has dyslexia,” he said.
Recent studies have clarified the significant role of functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity in determining the nature of the condition, Al-Ali explained.
This could be promising since cognitive behavioral therapy — in which a therapist provides a model for an appropriate behavioral response to a situation and the patient tries to copy that, receiving feedback on their attempt — has had significant benefits for some people with dyslexia.
Ibtisam Al-Samali, who is dyslexic and works as an engineer, said that community awareness is still at an early stage, but the situation is improving thanks to the good work of campaigners.
But she added that accurate figures for the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are not available as the country lacks a unified, accredited body to identify and monitor people with the condition.
Al-Samali said she only learned about dyslexia when she was at university. Describing it as an invisible disability, she praised the efforts of civil society institutions and businesses to make a difference to people with the condition. She highlighted in particular the efforts of STC Pay which, as part of a community partnership, is helping to raise awareness of the condition through messages posted on social media.
“The road ahead is still long, as support is needed to establish the Saudi Dyslexia Society in preparation for setting up specialized schools for future dyslexic students, especially since dyslexics can pass this hereditary disability down to their children,” she told Arab News.
Dr. Yahya Al-Qahtani, an expert in special education and learning difficulties at Sultan bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City said: “Dyslexia includes stuttering, difficulty and boredom in reading and following numbers and letters, and difficulty in focusing on, listening to and understanding the question. It is a disability that can be overcome through innovative educational strategies and methods.”
He added that although it has been identified widely since the 19th century, the disorder is still not clearly defined and not enough attention has been paid to a number of aspects of it, including medical questions concerning the nerves and behavioral effects.
Al-Qahtani added that Saudi Arabia lags some other nations in identifying people with dyslexia and that diagnosis and evaluation differs between schools, which often rely on older testing methods are not always effective.
A response-to-intervention assessment tool is already in use in some schools in Saudi Arabia and comprises three levels, Al-Qahtani said. The first level includes intensive teaching, to which 80 percent of students respond. The second level employs alternative teaching strategies and methods, which helps 15 percent of students. The third level is the provision of special education services, to which the remaining 5 percent of students respond.
He also highlighted the lack of accurate figures on the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia. About 400,000 students in the country have learning difficulties, he noted, and dyslexia affects about 40 percent of them.
Mohammad Bahareth, who is dyslexic and the founder of the Saudi-based Dyslexia Initiative, thanked the Human Rights Commission and its president, Awad Al-Awwad, who he credited for the official classification of dyslexia as a learning disorder and obtaining the Ministry of Information’s endorsement of the website www.dyslexia.sa as a source of information for people who want to learn more about the condition.
He also said that Arab News was one of the first newspapers to support the initiative.


Saudi artist paints elderly back into the social picture

Fawaz Binkolaib. (Supplied)
Fawaz Binkolaib. (Supplied)
Updated 34 sec ago

Saudi artist paints elderly back into the social picture

Fawaz Binkolaib. (Supplied)
  • Fawaz Binkolaib says remaining integrated in society is vital to the well-being of older people

JEDDAH: Art presents us with an opportunity to fight social stigmas and promote inclusion through the positive representation and empowerment of marginalized groups.

In a world where younger generations are celebrated and adulated, the elderly can sometimes feel like they have lost their place and succumb to loneliness due to social exclusion and ageist stigma. But according to a local artist, one way in which older people can remain full and active members of society is through art.
Ageism is a global phenomenon that affects senior citizens across all cultures. In the Saudi context, culture plays a vital role in socially including the elderly, where family solidarity equates to ensuring the well-being of senior members.

FASTFACT

In a world where younger generations are celebrated and adulated, the elderly can sometimes feel like they have lost their place and succumb to loneliness due to social exclusion and ageist stigma. But according to a local artist, one way in which older people can remain full and active members of society is through art.

Fawaz Binkolaib, a Jeddah-based artist with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Art Institute of Houston in Texas, said older members of society were all too often left on the sidelines.
“As we grow older, time leaves its marks on our skin, the stages of our lives telling stories of pain and laughter,” the 29-year-old told Arab News.
“We sometimes unintentionally exclude our seniors from daily social activities, treating them as unfit to take part.”
It was while studying in the US that Binkolaib realized how art could be used as a medium for conversation.
“My passion for art was sparked in a general education class I had to take in my first year called art appreciation,” he said. “My mind was woken by the subjective and various art forms and how that can provide different ways of communicating for us as a species.”
In his latest collection, titled “See In My Eyes,” Binkolaib showcases the beauty of a group of elderly subjects through the intricacies of every fold and wrinkle on their faces.
He said that creating the digital images, which he did using an electronic pen and pad, enabled him to really connect with his subjects.
“Speaking to the elderly was peaceful and easy,” he said. “They were excited to be voiced and heard. As we were speaking, other people passed by and joined the conversation, helping them to get across their stories.
“After talking with my senior muses, I became aware that a sense of community can enhance their overall psychological and emotional well-being,” he added.
“For that, I believe that promoting community-engaged art programs can empower and uplift senior citizens. I also think that their absence from social media has made it difficult for them to represent their image and how the younger generation perceives them.”
Binkolaib also said that facilitating and accommodating elderly people’s inclusion in community activities, like art, and familiarizing them with current trends was a good way to reintegrate them into society.
Art serves as a channel of untraditional communication for those unable to find the words to express their feelings, he added. Therefore, creating artistic outlets for senior citizens can help bridge the generation gap and energize their souls, providing solidarity and social cohesion.
Binkolaib says the elderly were us years before our time, leaving their thumbprint on all the places we are yet to experience for ourselves, carrying with them the wisdom of life gained through trials and tribulations.
“Because one day all we are going to have are the marks on our faces that relay our stories better than our words ever can,” he said.
Examples of the artist’s work can be found on his Instagram page, @Fawaz_designs.


Online platform for research chairs hailed as key development for Saudi universities

Saudi universities have made progress at the international level. (AFP/File)
Saudi universities have made progress at the international level. (AFP/File)
Updated 22 min 5 sec ago

Online platform for research chairs hailed as key development for Saudi universities

Saudi universities have made progress at the international level. (AFP/File)
  • Remarkable progress has been made in recent years in improving the standards of research in Saudi Arabia

MAKKAH: The recent launch of an online platform for research chairs at universities in Saudi Arabia is an innovative step, experts said, that aims to enhance the management of research and innovation at Saudi universities and encourage the development of innovative solutions, so that the nation can more effectively benefit from the progress they bring.
Research chair positions, reserved by educational institutions for top researchers whose work can advance the frontiers of knowledge, are relatively new in Saudi Arabia. But they are already having a positive effect on the research community in terms of fostering talent, encouraging innovative research and helping to develop the leaders of the future in a number of academic fields. This in turn is benefiting the wider education system and culture in the Kingdom.
Last week, Mohammed Al-Sudairi, the deputy minister of education for universities, research and innovation, officially launched the Research Chairs Forum during an event at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University. Experts and researchers from 40 universities and colleges joined 70 research chairs from Saudi universities and other guests at the launch of the platform.
The participants discussed the development of a model for efficient funding strategies for research chairs at universities and reviewed the role they can play in addressing important national development issues.
“The organization of the Research Chairs Forum comes in the context of the Ministry of Education’s constant interest in maximizing the role of universities and developing their research facilities, through research chairs,” Al-Sudairi said during the launch.

HIGHLIGHT

The participants discussed the development of a model for efficient funding strategies for research chairs at universities and reviewed the role they can play in addressing important national development issues.

“They are a bridge with the community to keep pace with its (the community’s) requirements and meet its developmental needs, thus achieving the aspirations of the leadership, in line with the priorities of Saudi Vision 2030”.
Remarkable progress has been made in recent years in improving the standards of research in Saudi Arabia. This is reflected in the fact that in January, the Kingdom ranked first in the Arab world and 14th globally in terms of publishing research about COVID-19, according to the Web of Science website. More generally, 65 percent of all scientific papers published by universities in Arab countries were from institutions in Saudi Arabia.
In addition, Saudi universities have made progress at the international level in the field of innovation. Three state universities ranked among the top 50 on the list of universities granted patents in 2020, in terms of the number of patents registered in the US, according to annual figures compiled by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals ranked 14th globally last year, according to data released by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which highlights the vital role of patents in university research and innovation.
King Abdulaziz University ranked 33rd, an improvement of 50 positions in just one year. King Saud University was in 45th place.
Ahmed Al-Thobaity, supervisor of the Office of Scientific and Academic Chairs at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam, told Arab News that Saudi universities have made great strides in recent years in the area of scientific research, in keeping with the aims of Saudi Vision 2030, and that the significant progress made by several universities in global rankings is testimony to their successes.
He said the launch of an online platform for research chairs reflects the interest of the country’s leaders in supporting science and scientists. He added that he hopes it will be provide a starting point for enhanced cooperation among researchers from all the country’s universities to help build effective scientific partnerships between institutions to improve the quality of scientific research.
Al-Thobaity said that the platform is particularly important for promoting the sharing of expertise between well-established universities and those founded more recently, thereby reducing gaps in the quality of scientific study that can exist between older and newer institutions.
“This platform is also important in establishing a comprehensive database for research chairs that helps researchers in the country and acts, for media platforms, like a source to promote the Kingdom’s great advances in science, in accordance with numbers, data and accurate statistics,” he added.
“Another benefit is establishing lines of communication between the private sector and universities, to channel financial support to the most modern findings of science in various fields.”
Manal Abdul Aziz Al-Shadde, a former dean of scientific research at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, predicted that the new platform will indeed help to enhance cooperation between researchers and universities.
“Universities take private initiatives to promote scientific research between researchers from different universities,” she told Arab News. “However, this platform is the culmination of these initiatives, with the Ministry of Education’s systematic work, with all its technical and human potential.”
Al-Shadde said the language of science has no boundaries or borders and aims to serve all people.
“We aspire to make this platform a pioneer in enhancing cooperation, sharing expertise and optimizing human and financial resources and equipment,” she added. “We will soon see the great impact of this platform in supporting our research efforts at our universities, institutions and research centers.”


Who’s Who: Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem, secretary-general of the International Camel Organization

Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem. (Supplied)
Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem. (Supplied)
Updated 36 min 38 sec ago

Who’s Who: Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem, secretary-general of the International Camel Organization

Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem. (Supplied)

Dr. Mubarak Al-Suwailem is the secretary-general of the International Camel Organization, a position he has held since March 2019.
Al-Suwailem supervised the establishment of the European Camel Ranch Owners’ Association in Zurich in 2019, and of the North American Camel Ranch Owners’ Association in North Carolina in 2020.
He organized an international symposium titled “The Camel in Ancient Art, History and Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the first of its kind. He organized with UNESCO the first ICO International Experts Congress in June 2021.
He is a former officer of the Saudi Armed Forces, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general. He served as an adviser to the governor of Makkah region for 14 years and as an adviser to the governor of Riyadh.
He is an expert on sport, politics, security and administration. He has written two books on parachuting and published academic papers in the field of education.
Al-Suwailem is the president of both the Air Sports Federation of Asia and the Saudi and Arab Federations, and has been the Saudi representative in the International Parachute Commission for 13 years. He is an arbitrator at the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center.
He received a skydiving D license in the US in 1992 and joined several American clubs. He was the first Arab to skydive over the North Pole in 2004 and has participated in international competitions.
He received a Mohammad bin Rashed Al-Maktoum Award for Creative Sport.
Al-Suwailem took his bachelor’s degree in Security Sciences at King Fahd Security College. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in educational management and planning from Umm Al-Qura University.


Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy
Updated 30 November 2021

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy
  • The decision stems from the Kingdom’s keenness to provide all consular services to the Afghan people

RIYADH:  Saudi Arabia reopened the consular section of its embassy in Kabul on Tuesday.

The decision stems from the Kingdom’s keenness to provide all consular services to the Afghan people, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Kingdom has previously called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to urgently convene an extraordinary ministerial meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and pathways for a humanitarian response.

Pakistan has offered to host this meeting in Islamabad on Dec. 17.


In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2021

In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
  • World Week of Italian Cuisine in Saudi Arabia concludes with feast in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The celebrations in Saudi Arabia for the sixth annual World Week of Italian Cuisine concluded with a showcase of Italian gastronomic delights, accompanied by authentic Italian music, at the country’s consulate general in Jeddah.
A number of Italian food brands, restaurants and catering companies took part in the event on Sunday, which celebrated Italian culinary arts by serving up traditional dishes to representatives of the Italian and Saudi communities.
“It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before,” said Abdulrahman Rammal, one of the Saudi guests. “Our previous knowledge of Italian food was limited to certain meals, such as pizza and pasta, but the Italian Cuisine Week created more-knowledgeable awareness of the world of food.”
He said that a number of Italian sweets companies also presented their latest products, and added that such cultural events encourage Saudis to learn more about other nations and their peoples.
Stefano Stucci, the consul general of Italy in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The event is a worldwide initiative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with the support of Italian embassies and consulates around the world, aimed at promoting the quality and heritage of Italian cuisine, as distinctive signs of our identity and culture.”
The consulate general in Jeddah said it organizes, with selected partners, a number of events designed to promote Italian cuisine culture, and the uniqueness and diversity of authentic Italian ingredients and products.

Food exports play a vital role in the Italian economy. With an annual turnover of more than $163.4 billion, they represent the second-highest-ranking Italian manufacturing sector and account for 8 percent of national gross domestic product, according to Federalimentare, which protects and promotes the Italian food and beverage industry.