Funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education as a contract with Auckland Uniservices Ltd, the Khebrat School Immersion Project has involved more than 1000 Saudi Arabian principals and teachers travelling all over the world to develop their understanding of international education systems. The goal is for them to then return to Saudi Arabia, bringing with them new ideas, perspectives and knowledge.

The New Zealand cohort arrived in January, working to improve their English language skills at the University of Auckland’s English Language Academy, and then with Faculty of Education and Social Work’s professional development providers, Team Solutions and University of Auckland Centre of Educational Leadership (UACEL) to develop their theoretical knowledge. Each week they also worked with schools across the Auckland region to get an on-the-ground understanding of New Zealand’s education system in action.

Reem Saad Alshammari, a principal at Saudi Arabia’s 13 Intermediate Najran school, was hosted by Selwyn College. She says one of the main differences she noticed between New Zealand and Saudi Arabia’s education systems was the level of independence each school has in setting its own curriculum.

“The most beautiful thing about the education system here is that it is prospective. There is a framework for each principal and teacher where they have the space to achieve the goals of their school. In Saudi Arabia it is more prescriptive.”

Nasser Alsubaie, an English-language teacher from Riyadh, who was also based at Selwyn School, agrees.

“In Saudi Arabia the students learn a fixed curriculum, but here they can talk about the curriculum and what they need. In Saudi Arabia there is a set curriculum and the principal is there to make sure everything is going fine and the rules are being followed, but here they actually work with teachers to create the curriculum and make their own vision for their students. It’s remarkable and really interesting.”

“The role of students should be more than sitting in a chair and taking notes,” Nasser said. “Our education system needs to be more flexible and the authority of the principal should be greater. The parents and community must be a part of the learning process.”

Math teacher Hussain Almasmoom says he has enjoyed his time here but is looking forward to being home.

“I miss my father and mother, nine months is a long time. I don’t miss the weather from home though, it gets up to 50 degrees!”

Hussain has been based at Takapuna Grammar School, and says he was impressed by the level of trust and cooperation he witnessed in New Zealand schools, with teachers, parents and communities working collaboratively to create good educational outcomes. He is interested in applying those principles at his own Abu Obaidah Intermediate School in Saudi Arabia.

“One thing that surprised me is that there’s no fence surrounding the school,” Hussain says. “You can see right away there’s a high level of trust and good relationships between staff. People here are so friendly and trustworthy, I can ask anyone and people are happy to help me.”

Team Solutions lead facilitator Martin Turner has been involved as a co-director alongside Colin Donald from UACEL in organising the Khebrat School Immersion Project. He says it has been “a real pleasure having the Saudi educators at the Epsom campus and in local schools”.

He described feedback from schools as very positive in terms of how the Saudi educators have been focused on observing teacher practice in schools and making sense of the new approaches to teaching and learning they have seen and experienced.

“For two days each week the Saudi educators have been involved in learning theory, which they then see in action at their host schools, and the level of focused involvement in new learning has been high,” Martin says.

All three Saudis wanted to say thanks to New Zealand for hosting them and to thank their government and king for giving them such an opportunity, with Reem adding “It was our luck to be here, allowing us to think and see out of the box.”

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