The application of the information and communication technology (ICT) in the education system of Saudi Arabia is still in the formative stages. Almalki and Williams (2012) state that as the education system is important in socioeconomic development, Saudi Arabia has recently increased efforts to integrate and use ICT in education.
Although the use of ICT in education appears to be among the cherished agendas in the educational policy of the Saudi government, the implementation of the ideas expressed seems far from the anticipated targets (Almalki & Williams, 2012). Therefore, this essay analyses the application of ICT in the education system of Saudi Arabia by examining policy in terms of origin, current state, and issues that arise from the adoption and implementation of ICT.
ICT Policy Context: Background and Development
As ICT is important in national and corporate growth, the Saudi Arabian schools started to adopt and apply it in their curricula and programs in the 1990s (Bingimlas, 2009). This era saw the Saudi Arabian educational system embrace the teaching of computer applications, basic computer knowledge and skills, and computer engineering studies (Bingimlas, 2009).
Towards 2000, the Saudi government began planning on the manner in which technology would upgrade learning in schools by changing the curriculum structure. According to Mulhim (2014), the Saudi government remarkably developed an educational policy that guided learning from elementary schools through to higher learning institutions such as tertiary colleges and universities. Mulhim (2014) states that enshrined in the educational policy are the policies of integrating and using ICT in curriculum development, curriculum management, and learning processes.
The ICT policy in the Saudi Arabian education system entails three major approaches that educators aim to change as part of the learning procedures in classrooms and within school environments (Almalki & Williams, 2012). The phases of implementing the ICT policy exists in three main categories, namely, the basic ICT implementation policies, the intermediate implementation level, and the advanced ICT implementation policies.
According to Oyaid (2009), the Saudi education policy confines the use ICT in the basic implementation phases to the idea that all schools should integrate and use ICT in all the subjects taught within the educational curriculum. For instance, Oyaid (2009) states that the Saudi government requires its teachers to design exam questions using computer applications like Microsoft Office programs. The basic implementation phase requires teachers to use the available learning resource rooms at regular intervals.
Instructors and teachers should be at the forefront of supervising the use of computers and the Internet within schools (Oyaid, 2009). Also, under the educational policy, the basic approach towards embracing ICT in schools is the idea of allowing students with ICT learning resources to bring them to school. The intermediate phase of ICT implementation policy entails three important aspects that schools should adopt (Oyaid, 2009).
The intermediate phase required that teachers should have a minimum ICT level recognized by the Saudi educational sector (Almalki & Williams, 2012). With the ICT skills, the policy requires teachers to develop lesson plans for each lesson in the electronic format (Oyaid, 2009). Within the intermediate phase of policy implementation, the ICT policy also requires schools to design and develop new ICT labs with efficient networking.
The advanced phase of ICT educational policy and its integration has three other important requirements that schools should fulfil. The education policy dealing with the ICT stipulates that the use of ICT in Saudi schools should be mandatory in all schools recognized by the Saudi government (Oyaid, 2009). Importantly, in high schools and universities, instructors and tutors should ensure that students deliver their reports, assignments, worksheets, and other assigned tasks through their respective school websites.
The last requirement of the advanced ICT implementation policy indicates that schools should undertake all lessons electronically and through the school libraries (Oyaid, 2009). With the above policies, the government and schools are to cooperate in ensuring that the integration and use of ICT in schools are successful within the stipulated timeframe across the Saudi nation.
ICT policy context: Current state of ICT in Saudi education
The current situation of ICT in the Saudi education system remains a considerable issue in the Saudi government, given the meagre amount of finances allocated to the educational programs (Oyaid, 2009). Although the Saudi government has not relented in ensuring that the educational system receives considerable attention and financial support required to boost learning, many constraints affect ICT implementation in schools.
Oyaid (2009) notes that schools that already have the stable infrastructure and human resources necessary for the implementation ICT have at least managed to implement portions that deem essential within the ICT educational policy. Recent research by Mulhim (2014) on a few established Saudi schools with properly integrated ICT reveals that the urge for technology is increasing among learners and instructors. Although ICT aims to improve learning in all institutions, its adoption is rather slower than anticipated.
Saudi Arabia has a traditional curriculum that does not recognize the significance of technology in learning, although teachers are coming into terms with the technological changes in schools, as many limitations persist (Oyaid, 2009). Research identifies professional inadequacy in the application of ICT in education, negative attitudes among teachers, inappropriate ICT training, inaccessibility to ICT resources, financial constraints, and lack of technical ICT support as the major impediments to the adoption and implementation of ICT in schools (Almalki & Williams, 2012).
At the elementary level, teachers struggle to meet performance demands, have insufficient time to learn or use ICT in classrooms, and demonstrate low confidence in ICT usage due to poor ICT skills and knowledge (Oyaid, 2009). At the higher learning institutions, learners have embraced the use of ICT in learning in aspects such as virtual learning, but individual access to ICT resources is a critical issue.
Issues Surrounding the ICT Policy Implementation
Negative attitudes impede effective adoption and integration of ICT. Learning is a process that depends on the attitudes of learners and instructors. As the use of ICT involves virtual or distance learning in Saudi, teachers have different attitudes regarding the aspect of using ICT in education. Convincing evidence from the latest study conducted by Mulhim (2014) indicates that attitudes of teachers comprise a major problem that impedes the use of ICT in the Saudi educational programs. The study discovered that negative attitudes of teachers towards technology form a critical factor that impedes the effective integration and use of ICT in Saudi education. Mulhim (2014) reveals that teachers are constantly proving resistant to change in the education system of Saudi, an aspect that makes the use of ICT in education seem ineffective.
Unfamiliarity and poor ICT knowledge affect the integration of ICT in education. While unravelling major barriers affecting the adoption and the use of ICT in Saudi education, it is important to consider the problem associated with teacher knowledge and skills in ICT (Bingimlas, 2009). Inappropriate or poor knowledge and skills regarding the use of ICT among teachers is a critical issue that is affecting the effective implementation of ICT in Saudi education.
It is probable that old teachers in Saudi Arabia do not have basic skills of ICT, given the fact that education is still in its growing state in this nation (Mulhim, 2014). Due to the poor ICT skills and knowledge, teachers have persistently maintained their traditional teaching techniques that have little focus on ICT since they lack confidence in the new technology that the government is proposing.
Inappropriate training of teachers affects the adoption of ICT in education. Although the Saudi government seems to remain determined in supporting the integration of ICT into the Saudi educational programs, the skills and knowledge imparted to teachers and instructors seems not to meet the specific teaching needs. Mulhim (2014), in his recent investigation, notes that ICT training is given to teachers mainly focuses on the general knowledge and skills of ICT rather than providing solution-based approaches in the learning. Teachers interviewed in the study commented that in-service training is incompetent since it lacks appropriate approaches necessary for teaching ICT (Mulhim, 2014). This means that the knowledge provided is not meeting the specific learning needs, such as those required for effective instructional delivery.
Limited accessibility to the use of ICT affects the adoption and the application of ICT in education. The Saudi government has invested immense resources on ICT in education and developed policies towards effective integration of ICT, but access to ICT and its related infrastructure continues to hamper ICT learning in schools. In a study by Mulhim (2014) concerning the availability of supportive tools for ICT teaching and learning, students and teachers gave awful insights.
Mulhim (2014) reports that “participants highlighted the lack of a suitable place for ICT integration such as a resource room and a laboratory fully equipped with the latest technologies” (p. 488). ICT focuses more on practical skills rather than theoretical learning or practice, and thus, limited access to ICT resources and infrastructure limits effective ICT learning and teaching in institutions.
Time constraint among teachers affects the use of ICT. Although teachers and learners consider ICT in education as one of the most imperative learning approaches towards achieving modern learning, the time constraint is a problem among teachers (Oyaid, 2009). The Saudi government emphasises on integrating modern learning through ICT but failed to consider effective curriculum changes that allow effective use of ICT in education.
First, teachers are incapable of balancing the teaching roles and the training demands for ICT, given the limited time that the curriculum provides. Secondly, the use of ICT in the classroom is hectic because most teachers do not have ample time to learn and apply ICT in the current curriculum (Oyaid, 2009). Teachers fear that overemphasis on ICT affects their instructional planning, their teaching practices, and thus, influences the learning targets and learning outcomes that teachers often anticipate.
Insufficient ICT technical support makes its integration difficult among teachers. Most teachers in Saudi Arabia are a novice to technology, and the available training rarely makes them competent enough to meet the technical expertise that ICT needs. Without efficient technical support of skilled personnel, teachers can barely make any meaningful teaching using ICT (Oyaid, 2009).
This brings about the notion of a lack of competent technicians to offer technical support. Teachers are generally unfamiliar with hardware and software components that make up the computer systems, and lack of efficient technical support becomes a barrier to teaching (Oyaid, 2009). Teachers have no or limited access to ICT tools from their homes, and regular reliance on schools’ ICT resources makes them technically incompetent. Such incompetence makes them have low motivation in teaching ICT or using it in their respective classes.
Financial constraints cause challenges in the use of ICT in education. Insufficient finance is a great determinant of successful completion of most modern projects globally. According to Al-Fahad (2009), all public schools and learning institutions in Saudi Arabia rely on government funding to finance, adopt and implement learning projects. A critical problem affecting ICT integration and application is the insufficient funds required to manage the costly ICT learning projects.
According to Almalki and Williams (2012, p. 46), “government financing is a top prerequisite for the provision of appropriate software and hardware to the schools.” Given the rising demand for computer software and hardware within the corporate world, the prices of these technological facilities seem to inflate within short times in the market. The high cost of computer hardware and software becomes a challenge for the Saudi government and the education system.
A documented educational policy without proper implementation strategies or plans is merely a futile task. The Saudi government may continue spending millions of riyals to finance a program that is likely to collapse if proper approaches to ICT implementation in schools continue to lack. Efforts to equip schools with ICT resources and establish learning morale may remain hampered by the existing low ICT skills among instructors. Developing an enabling environment that includes professional teacher training, proper infrastructural development, and external technical support may improve ICT usage in Saudi schools. In higher learning institutions, equipping learners with state of the art technology such as laptops, and tablets is crucial.
Summary of the Highlighted Issues
The 2006 Saudi education policy is the latest one that sought to transform schools from traditional teaching and learning practices to modernized education through technology (Al-Fahad, 2009). Within the Saudi education policy, ICT stands out as a prioritized strategy, where the government and learning institutions collaborate in enabling the adoption and implementation of ICT in the education system.
ICT Policy context: background and development
The ICT education policy of Saudi Arabia targeted to change the learning curriculum and processes from traditional form to modern ICT-based learning. For basic ICT implementation, the ICT education policy requires teachers to use the established ICT resources at least once each term, supervise students’ use of the Internet, and allow students to bring their ICT tools to school (Al-Fahad, 2009).
The intermediate integration phase required teachers to possess minimum ICT skills, integrate ICT in all subjects, present lesson plans electronically, and embrace a modern ICT lab (Oyaid, 2009). The advanced phase required Saudi teachers to encourage learners to present worksheets, and assignments through the school website and teachers to deliver lessons technologically.
ICT Policy Context: Current State of ICT in Saudi Education
Currently, both teachers and learners have a quest for ICT in Saudi institutions. Despite considerable efforts by the government to support ICT implementation in schools from both elementary levels to higher learning institutions, the use of ICT in education experiences several setbacks (Al-Fahad, 2009). Factors hampering ICT integration and use in the education system of Saudi Arabia relate to teachers, schools, and government.
Issues Surrounding the ICT Policy Implementation
Teachers generally have negative attitudes towards ICT given their low ICT skills and knowledge, which makes them lack confidence in using ICT. According to Almalki and William (2012), teachers in the lower learning institutions consider the use of ICT in education as a challenge due to their incompetence and time constraints, which makes them unable to balance ICT learning within the prevailing curriculum.
In terms of time constraints, teachers are unable to balance the demanding curriculum roles and usage of ICT in classrooms. Deprived skills and knowledge of ICT among teachers affect teaching practices and learning processes. The ICT training institutions offer inappropriate ICT training, which does not focus on the specific curriculum requirements.
Saudi teachers possess traditional training, and implementation of ICT in Saudi education proves difficult. The lack of technical support makes teachers lose concentration and morale on the integrated ICT tools since they can barely manage to fix ICT technical hitches. Low professional development makes instructors to dwell in the traditional teaching techniques. Insufficient government funding makes the school unable to acquire relevant ICT tools (Oyaid, 2009).
Several reasons explain why the integration of ICT in the education system is challenging. Evidently, teachers and learning resources are influential in the integration and implementation of ICT in learning. By focusing on these two determining aspects is very important as teachers and learning resources are the main determinants of learning. Construction of ICT infrastructure and training of teachers are effective approaches that would enhance the integration and implementation of ICT in Saudi Arabia.
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Mulhim, E. (2014). The Barriers to the Use of ICT in Teaching in Saudi Arabia: A Review of Literature. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 2(6), 487-493.