Boosting education leadership

A joint initiative between Victoria University of Wellington and its commercialisation office Viclink is helping teachers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia drive change in their education system.

In order to diversify its economy away from oil and create more high-skill jobs, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education is sending hundreds of teachers around the world to engage in long-term, real-life experiences in other cultures. By exposing teachers to different ways of teaching and learning, the Ministry hopes to hone their teaching and English language skills and create global-thinking citizens who can share their new knowledge with Saudi students when they return home.

The international teaching programme—known as Khebrat, meaning ‘experience’—is part of a major initiative to transform the country’s education system. Eighteen Saudi Arabian teachers are participating in a one-year programme in Wellington aimed at building their leadership capabilities.

“The Kingdom recognises that in order to prepare their youth for a post-oil job market—one where they will need their own scientists, engineers, economists, and lawyers—they need to nurture critical, independent thinkers—and that starts with teachers,” says Jeff Howe, Viclink’s general manager, international development.

The University’s English Language Institute, in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, is providing an English proficiency programme leading into a 10-week school immersion programme organised and supported by the Faculty of Education. The school immersion has the Saudi Arabians working alongside Wellington-based primary and secondary school teachers so they can study the New Zealand curriculum and observe classroom practice in action.

Dr Carolyn Tait, head of school in the Faculty of Education, is quick to point out that the programme is not simply about transferring New Zealand practice. “It’s more about promoting deep, critical thinking about their own teaching practice,” she says.

Despite some significant cultural differences to navigate, Carolyn says the learning is reciprocal.

“Not only are we improving our own intercultural skills, the experience is also giving us new eyes to look at our own curriculum, and ask questions about our own practices.”