A group of more than 70 Saudi Arabian educators are currently taking part in an immersion experience in schools across the Auckland region and learning just what it is that makes New Zealand schools and their leaders and teachers world-class.

The Saudi Arabian educators, in cohorts of English language teachers, subject teachers, leaders and principals, are here as part of the Khebrat School Immersion Project funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education.

Arriving in mid-January, their nine-month programme began at the University of Auckland English Language Academy. The school immersion component is led collaboratively by Team Solutions and the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership (UACEL) – both within the university’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. These Saudi Arabian educators are making the most of their school immersion and English-language experiences.

“The project provides new learning opportunities for the Saudi Arabian participants, which links research about effective teaching practice with practical observations in well-performing New Zealand schools and classrooms,” Team Solutions lead facilitator Martin Turner said. “The project aims to build the Saudi educators’ understanding of the values, skills, knowledge and attitudes contained within The New Zealand Curriculum in a way that exposes them to how they’re enacted in classroom practice.”

“The immersion experience is designed to provide the Saudi Arabian participants with the technical know-how, interpersonal capabilities and leadership skills to change not only their own practices, but also the practices of their school colleagues back home, and eventually make a broad impact on the Saudi education system in general. In short, the ultimate goal is for the participants to become effective change agents when they return to Saudi Arabia.”

A principal of a girls’ school, Kholoud Bukhari, says she appreciates the opportunity to represent the Saudi Arabian educational system and to bring back new ideas with the goal of improving outcomes in her homeland.

“For me, our mission is in the name ‘agents of change’,” she said. “It’s about taking the knowledge and making it applicable to our educational system.”

Secondary school English language teacher Hashim Alsaab says there are some immediately obvious differences between the New Zealand and Saudi Arabian educational systems, with New Zealand students seeming to show greater engagement in the classroom.

“I think the reason for that is that teachers assess the students’ abilities and give them more ways to discover what they want to be and give them the chance to choose their subjects and education,” Hashim said. “What I also like is the collaboration between the private sector and the community outside to help students choose their pathways into things like farming or commerce. This is a thing that we don’t have in our country.”

Primary maths teacher Yasir Alsharif says he has already observed several teaching strategies and techniques in action and is excited about the possibilities applying these in Saudi Arabian schools could create.

“I want to thank God for us being here, to thank our government for giving us this great opportunity to study abroad and bring what we learn back to our country, and to thank the ministry of education for allowing us to come here,” Yasir said.

“We have a good education system [in Saudi Arabia] and we want to improve it. We want to take all we can from the experience and from the NZ curriculum and find new strategies.”

Photo: Yasir Alsharif (left) and Hasim Alsaab.

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