Teaching Insanity in Arabia

All Gulf countries probably share similar or worse problems – this was written in Oman

King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

While cleaning my home, papers and computers, I found this about teaching. It shocked me. I am surprised I enjoyed the 11 years in Oman – but it was the culture, weather and people. Not teaching. It’s a sad reminder of reality in education around the world. I thought college degrees in the Gulf/Middle East were equivalent to American high school diplomas. Following is a letter I wrote to the Ministry of Education.

My first impression is that basic issues at the colleges have been ignored and must be addressed.

  1. TIME: A standard amount of time students actually spend in the classroom to achieve goals must be established and enforced.
    · Students recently transformed a two-week vacation into five weeks.
    · Classroom absences exceed any possible positive learning experience, yet students are not put on probation or dismissed from school. Other students learn that learning and rules are not important.
    · Students refuse to attend 2-4 p.m. classes and try to reschedule them while missing many classes.
  2. GRADES: The practice of not giving students grades usually only works for a minority of students who are well-motivated. For the majority, lack of grades encourage students:
    · from working hard,
    · to not take learning seriously,
    · to be careless about their studies, homework and all-round behavior, and
    · to ignore realities about learning, success and failure.
  3. STUDENT LEVELS/ABILITIES: Not all students are capable of completing a Foundation course at a level allowing them to proceed to an all-English curriculum.
    · When groups are streamed, and the Ministry still expects each group to pass the same test, this is unrealistic.
    · When groups are streamed, and all students are passed, and then expected to enter an all-English curriculum, the lower levels obviously are ill-prepared for such a curriculum.
    · Materials arrive late.
    · Materials do not fit students’ needs (usually being too difficult).
    · Materials are incomplete, such as no listening tapes.
    · Materials are inadequate for the curriculum outcomes (no materials for teaching writing).
    · Muscat expects teachers to actually ‘supplement’ an entire course.
    · Muscat reappointed English-hired language teachers to teach Communications. These teachers were also not provided with workable materials, and thus were forced to invent a syllabus and materials.
    · Muscat does not respond to problems in a timely fashion, thus allowing the problems to grow.
    · For the above reasons, the working environment at many colleges continues to be chaotic and unprofessional.

If these basic problems are being addressed by another committee, please ignore the above and continue onto the next for feedback pertaining to quality enhancement and quality assurance for feedback on proposed standards, policies and processes.

  1. Aim of the area – not all students are intellectually capable of participating in an all-English curriculum. Dumb-ing down the materials in the program to allow all students to continue hampers accreditation.

Learning Outcomes cannot be achieved with excessive student absences, lack of grades, and inadequate material (See all of the above).

Speaking – having students give a presentation with visual aids is not covered in the present syllabus, materials or time constraints. Many of the learning outcomes are not in the materials provided by Muscat.

Writing – paraphrasing and summarizing will be extremely difficult for the lower-ability groups.

Listening – previously, the listening test tested material (vowel sounds) that many teachers thought was inappropriate. By focusing on extremely precise skills, the testing ignored overall listening skills necessary for success in an all-English curriculum. Extended listening materials have not been provided.

Reading – Graded readers have not yet been placed in the LRC, Library Resource Centre. Rumor has it that only a few copies have arrived – not enough – to permit all students to have access. The provided materials for this semester do not even come close to fulfilling most of the reading outcomes.

Teaching reading in a culture that has not had easy access to a variety of books or has not set a high priority on reading for generations is especially difficult. This reality has not been clearly addressed.

Program Structure – see “Absences” and “Student Levels/Abilities” above. Many accreditation programs demand a specific number of hours/weeks in which students must be in attendance – not just time listed on an ideal syllabus or course description.

Often the official Ministry syllabi states that there are only 25 students in a class. This is rare. Most classes have about 30 students, except two unusual cases in this college which have less than 15 students.

Please explain with details what exactly is ‘a series of mini study skills courses’.

Program-specific Resource Standards – see “Teacher and Material Problems” above. Not all hired teachers appear to have a Masters degree or teaching certification, nor do the colleges appear to offer staff professional development programs.

Assessment – see “Grades” above. Placement tests have often been lax or otherwise seriously unable to adequately place students.

Teacher mark of a few grades would probably be counterproductive.
Student portfolios sound nice, but who will grade them?
Project? More details are necessary. One may wonder that the problems Year One teachers have had with the “Issue Log” may be imposed on Foundation teachers.
Out of class work and vocabulary logs – are they believable? Has this been successfully implemented in a college setting?

To ensure that learning outcomes are achieved, please see “Grades” above.

When students are given only one or two mass tests, in which cheating is easy, learning outcomes are not reliable.

Disregarding classroom-teacher grades hampers effective learning.

It seems up to this time, the external tests the Ministry provided have been inadequate. Their difficulty level, rather than actually testing learning, appears to simply make students feel it is impossible to learn English.

To ensure that a realistic standard has been met, more students should be officially tested with the IELTS, and students should come from each group. Previously, it is rumored, only higher-level ability groups were given the tests. This invalidates the entire program.

Feedback from Year One Teaches – It would be helpful to receive feedback from the Year One teachers on students’ abilities, especially non-English teachers. Some of the books students are expected to read seem impossibly demanding, especially for the lower level students. The two communication teachers found it necessary to make easier and easier material for the lower-ability students. If these students were actually given appropriate material, would they have been able to pass the course? This is the kind of situation that seriously hampers accreditation.

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