Educators see 'Renaissance' potential for Middle East schools

As Middle Eastern states begin pivoting away from oil and turning toward modern economic strategies, educators say they see a huge potential for improvements in educational opportunities for Arab youth.

For example, a recent report by the Atlantic Council suggests that education reforms can be a key component in stemming some of the violence that has torn apart countries like Syria and Iraq.

At the same time, citizens in relatively stable gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for new and improved systems of education to promote more vibrant economic gains for citizens. This has opened the door to outside consulting and curriculum companies, which are stepping in to help Middle East educators benefit from a greater array of choices.

The Gulf News Journal recently spoke with Harry Keller, who runs Smart Science Education Inc., a family business that in 1999 turned its educational focus to the world outside the United States.

Around the turn of the millennium, his company was offering the first cloud-based online education system of its kind, Keller said. Now, with hundreds of contracts with New York State schools, a pilot program in place in Florida, and some other recent expansions, Smart Science Education is looking at moving into a more global role.

He said marketing efforts in the gulf are aimed at promoting a state-of-the-art, vibrant education to today’s generation of students.

“From what I have read, the gulf states have entered a Renaissance period where education, and especially education in science and engineering, has become a driving force in some countries,” Keller said. “The world moves toward an information economy wherein the most important characteristics of people will be, according to a recent survey, the ability to solve complex problems, critical thinking skills, and creativity. These are precisely the skills that typical schools do not teach. If anything, they squelch and squash any efforts in this direction.”

Keller argued that time constraints have made software key to a modern education.

"You can go right to the heart of the experimental experience without the problems of set up, clean up, and so many more time-consuming lab activities," Keller said. “Our goal here at Smart Science Education is to marry the best of traditional labs with the best of ordinary, simulated, online labs. The former provide true science learning. The latter solve time, money, space and safety issues. We uniquely do both and add on a full-lesson scaffold so that the experimental part really means something.”