Overcrowded Saudi classrooms ‘hampering learning process’

Updated 15 October 2014

Overcrowded Saudi classrooms ‘hampering learning process’

Overcrowded classrooms are affecting the performance of teachers and students, according to several educationists.
Saudi education regulations stipulate that there must be a maximum of 30 students in classes in government school buildings and 20 students in rented buildings. There are now over 40 students in many of these classes, teachers say.
This has created an untenable situation where it becomes difficult for them to teach, and students to learn, because there is not enough time for in-depth discussion on schoolwork in 45 to 50 minutes, they say.
Budgets have been allocated to resolve this issue at big schools in densely populated neighborhoods. However, the situation persists. This indicates that there are not enough schools in certain areas now to cater for the demands of the growing population, they argue.
Ali Al-Zahrani, a teacher, said: “The problem started two years ago, forcing several schools to establish additional classrooms to resolve it. I believe this is not a radical solution.”
“The Ministry of Education is silent and not helping to find solutions. Establishing additional classes requires a budget for special equipment and salaries for new teachers. The ministry has not been successful in doing this, even though there are unemployed graduates sitting at home waiting for jobs.”
Al-Zahrani said that resolving the problem includes controlling admissions based on the academic performance of students. In addition, the ministry should transfer some expatriate students, especially those who are not Arab-speakers to private schools.
He said the ministry should pay teachers overtime to teach students in densely populated cities.
“Overcrowded classes have affected the results and the outputs of students negatively and increased the number of unemployed high school graduates.”
Awadh Al-Shehri, student affairs deputy at a public school here, said: “Overcrowded classrooms do not provide an appropriate learning environment for teachers and students because classes that exceed 25 students are hard to control and monitor. Students cannot focus or understand the information in such an environment. A lot of teachers and students are frustrated because of this.”
“Teachers with classes of more than 40 students face several problems including delays in starting because they are busy adjusting and preparing students for the lesson, and the inability to follow up with students. They are also unable to help slow-learning students or ones who have problems inside or outside school.”
Al-Shehri said schools have become less attractive for good students. “Good students cannot comprehend the lessons, or focus on or discuss issues with teachers. It weakens motivation and creativity among students. In addition, some students are distracted because they are often sitting close to bad students.”
Abdulghani Al-Amri, a school principal, said overflowing classrooms allow less interaction between teachers and students, resulting in lower grades. There are also health issues that have to be considered, with students likely to fall ill more quickly from infectious diseases in a packed classroom.
“The ill-prepared meals served at schools make the problem even worse,” he said.

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”