By Arab News
Highlighting a need for change in the way the Kingdom approaches education, Khalid Al-Falih, president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, announced the company’s launching of a youth enrichment program that will see two million young Saudis receive critical training by 2020 and encourage young people to create a bright future.
“It is my firm belief that education is the only way,” Al-Falih said.
The CEO noted past and current achievements regarding education in the Kingdom, including a significant improvement in literacy over the past four decades and the investment of billions of riyals in scholarships and infrastructure. That, however, is not enough to secure success in the future.
With more than 35 percent of the Kingdom’s population 15 years and younger, the challenge today is greater than it has ever been, and the need for a different kind of education is just as great.
“In recent decades, the world has undergone structural changes that in the past took centuries to achieve,” Al-Falih said. “The currency of this new realm is knowledge.” He added that the dynamics of this changing world would “require us to radically rethink what we know about education, how we manage it and with whom we partner.”
Al-Falih pointed to countries such as South Korea and Singapore as models of how to create an education model that masters complex knowledge and constantly reinvents its competitive advantages. It is this kind of education model the Kingdom must follow to be successful in the future.
“Speaking today as a father, an employer and a citizen committed to our nation’s future, I want to emphasize that the rote style of education — stuffing young minds with information — won’t create a capable, adaptive work force,” he said.
Instead, education must become less of an end product and more of an engine that is interdisciplinary, adaptable and engages students in real-life problems and applications. To do that, Al-Falih pointed to three keys for the Kingdom to transform into a knowledge-based economy.
“Today, the most successful countries employ a learning system that focuses heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To do that successfully, children must be exposed to these core disciplines at an early age.”
Al-Falih shared several Saudi Aramco success stories in these areas, such as the company’s involvement in the Saudi Research Science Institute, a partnership with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Mawhiba Foundation and the Center for Excellence in Education in the United States that mentors gifted Saudi 11th-graders in areas such as nanotechnology and computational math.
Saudi Aramco’s support of BLOSSOMS, the Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies program, a collaborate effort with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the company’s efforts to support Mathletics, a Web-based program that uses fun and competition to engage students, are other examples of success stories.
Lifelong learning is intrinsic to successful organizations, including Saudi Aramco, Al-Falih said. He noted that the company had ingrained analytical thinking and continuing education into its culture. For economies in transition to be successful, they also must make lifelong learning a process as much as a value. “In a knowledge economy, learning is not static,” he said. “It doesn’t end with a certificate.”
To instill this value, Al-Falih said the company is launching Ithra Youth, a new program targeting Saudi youths throughout the Kingdom. The company-sponsored national initiative will help teach young people the principles of science, math, engineering and technology skills, as well as special skills to build personal, lifelong learning skills. Beginning in June, the program will provide 500,000 hours of training in 2012 alone.
“And that’s just the beginning,” he said. The program will see two million Saudis trained by 2020.
The company will also be helping teachers’ transition from “teaching to the test” to a more holistic approach, using summer workshops to give teachers an opportunity to explore new ways to connect science and math to real life.
The construction of the King Abdul Aziz Center for Culture is also a key component of instilling this new kind of education in the Kingdom’s youth, working to transform into a knowledge society.
Everyone has a role to play in building a knowledge economy, and the need to form partnerships to bolster the Kingdom’s efforts should not stop at the border. Education must deliver the talent industry needs; likewise, industry must invest in education to ensure a quality work force.
Al-Falih noted that Saudi Aramco had long worked with learning institutions worldwide, whether through its sponsorship of thousands of students in degree programs in Saudi Arabia or around the world. It also has supported research and teaching through 13 chaired professorships, working with institutions on forming curricula that fit today’s needs. The company also helps Saudi universities reach out to academic institutions in North America, Europe, Australia and the Far East to form international partnerships in research, technology, lifelong learning and cultural exchange.
Having more than a third of all Saudis being younger than 15 can be taken either as a challenge or an opportunity.
“Without quality education and work, a young demographic becomes a burden, so educating our young people is only half the task,” Al-Falih said. “They also need good jobs.”
The road map set out in the speech can make the Kingdom’s young people not job seekers, but the job creators of tomorrow, he added. With the support of all stakeholders, it may become the Kingdom’s greatest competitive advantage.
The responsibility lies with companies, such as Saudi Aramco, not only to invest in education excellence but also help create jobs that will stimulate and entice bright young workers to enter the work force.
The responsibility also lies with institutions of higher learning to raise the ceiling, so students gain not only knowledge but also a passion for science, innovation and continuing education.
Equally, the responsibility lies with parents, whose roles are as important as those of institutions of higher learning and the business sector in fostering a culture of learning and family values in the bright minds of our children.
Al-Falih concluded with a challenge to the young people to create a future greater than can yet be imagined. “Throughout history, young people have been eager to change the world. Today, dear young people, in light of your interest and support from those around you, do it more than ever before.”