We had quite the opportunity today! We visited the King Faisal Educational Complex, a network of 3 government ran Saudi schools. Located on the campus of a local university, most of the attendees are sons of university employees. (The women in our group visited a female school some distance away.) We are the first international group that has been allowed to visit these 3 schools, and the first in the IIE's program to visit a non-private school. It was an amazing opportunity, and an enlightening one to learn about it from administrators, while also having opportunities to visit with students.
The complex is divided into three schools, elementary, intermediate, and secondary sections. While there were certainly differences between the sections, here are some generalizations that could be made for all:
(1) There were good resources for special education students. In all three levels, their were separate rooms/facilities particularly for blind students. Students with higher academic needs were also accommodated with one-on-one attention from teachers.
(2) At all levels, students sat in desks. While sometimes in groups, there seemed to be a focus on direct instruction from the teacher. With the exception of a math and English class we visited, there were no textbooks for students. In all cases, the teacher was standing at the front delivering a lesson while students listened. (I didn't notice them taking notes either.) Now, I can only share what I observed. Perhaps students are more engaged in writing or reading at other times. One of the guides informed me that in the science classes, students only observe experiments. By doing so, they are unable to do some of their own critical thinking that comes through experiencing the activity.
(3) The little social studies instruction they get is in geography and economics. What I found interesting was that the only maps I saw on walls were of either the Arab or Islamic world. The few world maps I saw were focused specifically on the Arab countries. It's worth noting that these maps were also strictly physical maps, or religion maps. Though we were told that they are taught about other world cultures, students' work reflected a focus on the physical geography. One member of our group commented that this could reflect the focus on training petroleum engineers at the college level.
(4) Nearly all of the students were excited and friendly towards us. I really enjoyed getting to interact with some of the kids! When asked what their favorite parts of school were, most said sports--soccer and basketball! (It felt like I was in the US :-)) One said English and another Math. I also met a few students who had been in schools in the US at some point. When asked if which school they liked better, they said the US schools.
(5) Maintaining the Islamic faith is an integral theme in the school. Islam is a pervasive theme in all classes, not just the ones they take on the Koran or the teachings of Mohamed. In the English class we visited, students were reciting religious historical facts in English. Also, the posters on the wall were Islamic in nature. At the end of our visit, it was prayer time. Prayer rugs were rolled out into the center plaza of the school. Hundreds of students gathered to say their recited prayers. Unfortunately, we were rushed out at that point. I think it would have been fascinating to see them pray, yet at the same time I respect their protection of their religion. (It did make me grateful that our schools in the US are not tied directly to any religion.)