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A Partnership Between Business and Education: A Case Study

Dr. Nora M. Alarifi Pharaon
Presented at the Conference on School-based Reform in Arab Countries
American University of Beirut, Lebanon
November 10-12, 2000

A Partnership Between Business and Education: A Case Study

Economic Development in Saudi Arabia

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has witnessed a great surge in economic development during the last twenty-five years. This has resulted in significant changes in the web of the social and economic life in the country. A total of five five-year plans have been successfully executed. They resulted in the establishment of a vastly improved economic infrastructure in all sectors of the economy. This has laid the basis for the full economic development of the nation.

Development of its human resources has been considered a priority for the economic and social development of Saudi Arabia. Education has therefore, been identified as a key factor for the training of work force needed for the development and management of the country’s infrastructure. Accordingly, high priority has been given to educational expansion and its qualitative improvement in the successive development plans.

Partnership between Business and Education

The improvement in the quality of education to meet the challenges of the new millennium has become a political and social reality in Saudi Arabia. Standards and performance assessment are gradually becoming an integral part of teacher training programs offered by both the government as well as the private sector. The case of Idrak for Training and Human Development in Saudi Arabia is an example of a partnership between schools and the business sector utilizing school-based improvement strategy that fosters continual improvement in the schools and provides them with opportunities to get involved in the quality movement. It offers the framework and vehicle to raise concerns and identify interests about school quality, educators, parents, members of the community, and school administrators.

Idrak came into being in 1999 as a result of a prolonged national discussion over the past several years about the need to improve private and public education and how it should be done. The task was humongous given the large proliferation of the public school system across a vast land, the inadequacy and shortage of programs in education in colleges and universities across the nation combined with the urgent need to “saudize” the labor force that increasingly targeted schoolteachers. This pressing national need led to the formation of a partnership between Idrak and the school system that aims at developing the capacity of schools and teachers to set and help their students meet high standards and shape quality schools and outcomes.

Educational Change

Saudi society in the 21st century expects its citizens to be capable of proactively dealing with change throughout life both individually as well as collaboratively in a context of dynamic multicultural transformation. Of all the institutions in society, education is the only one that potentially has the promise of fundamentally contributing to this goal. Yet, education far from being a hotbed of teaching people to deal with change in basic ways is just the opposite. To break through this impasse, educators must see themselves and be seen as experts in the dynamics of change. To become expert in the dynamics of change, educators-administrators and teachers alike- must become skilled change agents. If they do become skilled change agents with moral purpose, educators will make a difference in the lives of students from all backgrounds, and by so doing help produce greater capacity in society to cope with change. However, the problem of productive change simply cannot be addressed unless we treat continuous teacher education-preservice and inservice as the major vehicle by producing teachers as moral change agents.

Research in the educational field has demonstrated that intensive work on inservice and staff development results in competence building on an ongoing basis. These may overlap with top-down regulatory efforts, otherwise known as restructuring, targeting school-based management, which enhances roles for principles and teachers, and other decentralized components. Senge (1990) reminds us that the Greek word metanoia means ‘a fundamental shift of mind’. This is what we need about the concept of educational change itself. Without such a shift of mind, the insurmountable basic problem is the juxtaposition of a continuous change theme with a continuous conservative system. On the one hand, we have the constant and ever expanding presence of educational innovation and reform. On the other hand, however, we have an educational system, which is fundamentally conservative. The way that teachers are trained, the way that schools are organized, the way that educational hierarchy operates and the way that education is treated by political decision-makers results in a system that is more likely to retain the status quo than to change. When change is attempted under such circumstances it results in defensiveness, superficiality, or at best short-lived pockets of success.

It has been known that skill and expertise are central to successful change, so it is surprising how little attention we pay to it beyond one-shot workshops and disconnected training. Mastery involves strong initial teacher education, and continuous staff development throughout the career, but it is more than this when we place it in the perspective of comprehensive change agentry.

Teachers as Change Agents

Michael Fullan (1993) in his book Change Forces states that change is too important to leave to the experts. There are two basic reasons why every person working in an enterprise committed to making continuous improvements must be a change agent with moral purpose. First, as we have seen, since no one person can possibly understand the complexities of change in dynamically complex systems, it follows that we cannot leave the responsibility to others. Second, and more fundamental, the conditions for the new paradigm of change cannot be established by formal leaders working by themselves. Put differently, each and every teacher has the responsibility to help create an organization capable of individual and collective inquiry and continuous renewal, or it will not happen.

It is only by individuals taking action to alter their own environments that there is any chance for deep change. The ’system’ will not, indeed cannot, do us any favors. If anything, the educational system is killing itself because it is more designed for the status quo while facing societal expectations of major reform. If teachers and other educators want to make a difference, and this is what drives the best of them, moral purpose by itself is not good enough. Moral purpose needs an engine, and that engine is individual, skilled change agents pushing for changes around them, intersecting with other like minded individuals and groups to form the critical mass necessary to bring about continuous improvements.

It is the responsibility of all of us to move this agenda forward. None of us should wait for the others to take the lead, but we should always invite them to join in. Businesses, labor and community organizations must work together to build stronger capacity for improvement in schools and on countless individual parents, teachers and citizens.

In reality, relationships between schools and the business world are already expanding. These take many forms such as business investment in new technologies within education, business support for new vocational initiatives, co-operative education (work experience) programs for students, schemes for teachers to have placements in industry (including shadowing people in industry to understand the skills the working world requires), business-sponsored development of curriculum materials, and broader sponsorship of general educational activities.

The report of a major study of the OECD (1994) concludes that business partnerships can be useful for expanding teachers’ knowledge of the modern workplace in business and industry. Teachers, in turn, can use these insights to design a more relevant curriculum. After all, learning is the business that schools are in, and all organizations are striving to become better learners in the knowledge society.

Educational Reform

There are two basic reasons why educational reform is failing. One is that the problems are complex and intractable. Workable, powerful solutions are hard to conceive and even harder to put into practice. The other reason is that strategies that are used do not focus on things that will really make a difference. They fail to address fundamental instructional reform and associated development of new collaborative cultures among educators.

Society has failed its teachers in two senses of the word. It gives teachers failing grades for not producing better results. At the same time, it does not help improve the conditions that would make success possible. A real catch 22.

Low morale, depressed, feeling unfairly blamed for the ills of society? You must be a teacher. An editorial accompanying this quote in the English Times Educational Supplement (January 10, 1977) notes that the “nation’s leaders claim to put [education] at the top of the agenda, but they leave teachers at the bottom.

Despite the rhetoric about teacher’s education in today’s society, there does not seem to be a real belief or confidence that investing in teacher education will yield results. Perhaps deep down many leaders believe that teaching is not all that difficult. They know that scores of unqualified teachers are placed in classrooms every year and required to learn on the job. In addition, investing in teacher education is not a short-term strategy. With all the problems facing us demanding immediate solution it is easy to overlook a preventative strategy that would take several years to have an impact.

The problem in other words is enormous. We do not have a learning profession. Teachers and teacher educators do not know enough about subject matter, they do not know enough about how to teach, and they do not know enough about how to understand and influence the conditions around them. Above all, teacher education-from initial preparation to the end of the career- is not geared towards continuous learning.

Barriers to Quality

It was also found that many schools lack the necessary organizational and structural characteristics necessary for continuous improvement. Idrak also identified the most serious barriers to quality: lack of commitment, lack of resources, and lack of training. Thus, Idrak has taken upon itself to advocate for meeting the needs of teachers and for enhancing teaching as a profession. It aims at providing teachers with hands on experience to improve their knowledge and skills. To accomplish this, it uses needs assessment surveys and research findings to organize around professional issues. It focuses on what the experts, i.e. educators, know about how to produce and sustain educational change that leads to quality schools. It also offers benchmark data about the conditions essential to school quality.

Teacher Preparation

We believe that the role played by teachers is vital to the future of society. Initial teacher preparation must provide prospective teachers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will form a strong foundation for effective teaching and for continuous learning and development throughout their careers. Teachers can make learning exciting and productive for students if their own learning is exciting and productive. Every teacher should become an agent of school and social improvement.

Teacher education, could, I believe, be much improved if those who sought entry could be brought to understand that learning to teach requires considerable investment of time and talent. Thus, it is in the interest of quality teacher education to create conditions in which talented individuals are willing to enter programs that require them to undergo a longer period of development than is commonly the case in present teacher education programs.

Focus on Personal, Social, and Moral Development

Furthermore, Idrak is committed to the total development of all children by fostering learning environments that support children’s physical, cognitive, psychological, language, social and ethical development. This is based on the belief that due to several cultural practices, many children come to school without the personal, social, and moral development necessary for academic success. To compound this problem, many school staff members, lacking adequate knowledge of human development and the student’s home culture, are unprepared to deal appropriately with these students and their families rendering them unable to help students reach high levels of learning.

Total involvement of all concerned in the educational system is not only encouraged but also warranted for the success of any school-based reform effort. This is based on the belief that any school restructuring effort can be difficult. Therefore, it is paramount as educators that we prepare not only our students, but also their parents, with the necessary knowledge about the crucial factors that shape quality schools to better support their children in achieving success. Thus, when education personnel along with all the stakeholders are actively involved from the outset, school restructuring can happen.

Idrak Program Offerings

This case of partnership between business and education to offer wide school-based reform is expressed throughout Idrak’s various consulting services and wide selection of program offerings. To meet the present needs and global challenges of Saudi Society, Idrak offers a wide range of training programs in the education field. These programs are developed in response to identified training needs in the public and private school system as well as in colleges and universities. The process includes follow-up services to assist in the implementation of learning objectives.

Idrak will also be offering a diploma in general education in the near future. It is believed that this will meet the needs of many schools in the public and private sectors. The lack of schools of education in the Eastern province and the scarcity of teacher training programs throughout the kingdom provides a unique opportunity for private businesses to actively participate in the quality improvement of the educational system.

Through these services, Idrak aspires to improve the level of knowledge, attitude, and skills of the teaching profession, thus maximizing their individual potential and job opportunities in the education sector. It is expected that this focus on assisting schools in the public and private sector to help them create and sustain excellent schools, in collaboration with their communities will have an impact on the whole educational system in Saudi Arabia in the years to come.

References

Fullan, M. (1993) Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform. London: The Falmer Press.

Hargreaves, A., Fullan, M. (1998) What’s Worth Fighting For Out There. New York: Teachers’ College, Columbia University.

Fullan, M. & Stiegelbauer, S. (1991) The Meaning of Educational Change. New York: Teachers’ College, Columbia University.

Fullan, M. (1997) Successful School Improvement. Buckingham: Open University Press.

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