Cyber Saber Hackathon boosts skills of Saudi students

Time: August 07, 2019  

The hackathon, sponsored by Integrated Telecom Co., will be held in September.

Cyber Saber Hackathon will continue to support Saudi talent in achieving new heights in the cybersecurity industry through hands-on application of several cyber-attack and defense tactics, said Samer Omar, CEO of VirtuPort’s 7th MENA Information Security Conference 2019.

He added that the hackathon, sponsored by Integrated Telecom Company (ITC), will be held on Sept. 9-10.

Ghassan Itani, CEO of ITC, said: “Cybersecurity remains one of the critical elements in ensuring a successful digital economy. ITC’s sponsorship of the Cyber Saber Hackathon is one of our initiatives to invest in corporate social responsibility in line with Vision 2030, where our youth will play a critical role in the future of defending and protecting our company and the overall digital asset.”

The hackathon is characterized by its ability to provide a holistic simulation environment that will allow contestants to experience real-world hacking and breach scenarios of vital sectors including financial sectors, airports, oil and gas industry among others. The students will get to interact with it through their computers.

What distinguishes the hackathon’s model smart city is that the students will experience and witness the implications of cyberattacks and the importance of equipping themselves with the right knowledge to face the attackers.

The organizers of the hackathon said the competition has been designed to prepare the contestants for the challenges they will face in protecting the organizations they will work for.

The third edition of the hackathon is considered to be one of the most important competitions in the region. In the last two editions, more than 20 Saudi private and public universities participated.

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Saudi scholarships: An investment in the nation’s future

Time: July 22, 2019  

Saudi Scholarship students with Saudi officials during an event at the Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C. (SPA file photo)
  • Kingdom provides financial assistance and fully paid tuition to all who qualify for scholarship
  • Many of the current recipients of scholarships are third-generation beneficiaries of the policy

JEDDAH: In an age when it is regarded as both essential and expensive, Saudi Arabia’s scholarship program provides a world-class education, ensuring financial assistance and paid tuition to all those who qualify.

Beneficiaries of the program study abroad, returning with degrees and skills needed for the Kingdom’s development into a modern society.

In 1928, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud ordered the first batch of students to be sent on scholarships to Egypt. A total of 14 went to complete their education in medicine, agriculture, engineering and law.

It was a crucial time for the young Kingdom, and the students contributed towards building the formative nation. Many became ministers, councillors, ambassadors and engineers in top positions, helping establish ministries and forming Saudi government entities.

The early Kingdom understood the importance of education as a vehicle for national development. Today, Saudi Arabia is among the leading countries measured by annual expenditure on education, with an impressive SR193 billion ($51.4 billion) allocated for Vision 2030 initiatives, as well as projects across the Kingdom, in 2019.

Success stories abound: Abdullah Tariki, the first Saudi oil minister appointed by King Saud and a co-founder of OPEC, graduated from Cairo University and later obtained his master’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas.

The first Saudi woman to obtain a government scholarship was Dr. Thoraya Obaid in 1963, who served as executive director of the United Nations Population Fund and undersecretary-general of the UN from 2000-2010. Success stories like these paved the way for other Saudi women to pursue higher education in the US, UK, Egypt and Lebanon and become prominent names in their fields, both within the Kingdom and abroad.

Many of the latest recipients of Saudi scholarships are third-generation beneficiaries, following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.

With the launch of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program in 2005, droves of Saudi students began to explore new avenues of education beyond just the West and Middle East. As of 2018, more than 90,000 Saudi students study abroad. Of these, 850 are at the world’s top 10 universities, and 1,600 are medical residents and fellows.

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‘Quality education’ key to boosting Saudi women’s workforce participation

Time: July 12, 2019  

The Saudi delegation hosted the symposium at the UN’s headquarters. (SPA)
  • ‘Increasing number of women in workforce is central objective of Vision 2030’

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia, represented by its permanent mission to the UN, held a symposium on Wednesday to discuss the importance of quality education in increasing women’s participation in the labor force.

The delegation hosted the symposium at the UN’s headquarters in New York, during the UN’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dr. Khalid Manzlawiy, stressed that one of the most important factors for the empowerment of women in various fields and sectors is sustainable quality education.

FASTFACT

According to the Pew Research Center, the Kingdom’s labor force comprised of 23 percent female in 2018, an increase of 7 percent from 1998 figures.

Princess Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Economic and Financial Committee of the delegation, participated in a panel discussion on the Kingdom’s efforts to increase women’s participation in the workforce — describing it as one of Saudi Vision 2030’s most important objectives — and explored attitudes toward women in the workplace, and the percentage of Saudi women currently employed in the Kingdom.

Yasmine Ali, a member of Singapore’s delegation, highlighted her country’s history of implementing education policies which have enhanced women’s long-term economic and social benefits, and how it has affected the empowerment of women in the labor market there, adding that Singapore is one of the world’s most advanced countries in when it comes to education.

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Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman, chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission

Time: June 16, 2019  

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman was appointed chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission on June 13.

He said the commission strives to achieve the educational objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

Zaman said the commission will continue its independent work and in partnership with the Education Ministry and universities across the Kingdom and other government departments to achieve national goals.

He vowed to take effective measures for the development of the education sector in the Kingdom and to devise a training evaluation system under a unified institutional framework.

He was the director of Al-Taif University between 2016 and 2019. He also served as director-general of the Regional Center for Quality and Excellence in Education.

Zaman was campus president of the Saudi Electronic University between 2013 and 2014. He held several positions at Taibah University between 2008 and 2013, including deputy vice president for development and quality, and dean of the law faculty.

He received the Prince Bandar bin Sultan Award for Scientific Excellence, and the Rashid bin Hamid Award for Culture and Science.

Zaman holds a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies from Imam Muhammad bin Saudi University in Riyadh.

He received his master’s and Ph.D. in administration and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

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Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry pumps $500m into public school projects

Time: May 22, 2019  

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SR500 million will be spent on building education “complexes.” (Photos/ Supplied)
  • 30 institutions for students in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh will be built

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is spending more than $500 million on building education “complexes” that will serve 90,000 students in major urban centers.

The Education Ministry, represented by the government-owned Tatweer Buildings Co., on Tuesday, signed an agreement with Al-Mabani Real Estate Co. to build 30 institutions for students in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh.

The agreements include a short-term plan to establish 10 complexes across the three cities with a combined intake of 30,000 students. These will cost around SR800 million ($213 million) and are expected to be completed in 2022. There is also a long-term plan to set up 20 complexes for 60,000 students costing SR600 million. The complexes will be at locations approved by local authorities.

FASTFACT

•The education complexes will serve the needs of 90,000 students in the Kingdom.

•Initially, 10 complexes will be built in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh at a cost of SR800 million.

•The first phase will be completed in 2022.

•In the later phase, 20 more complexes are planned at a cost of SR600 million.

Tatweer CEO Fahd Al-Hammad said the agreement represented opportunities for investors interested in building and operating high-quality education infrastructure with “state-of-the-art designs.”

Al-Mabani’s managing director, Abdulrahman Al-Ahmed, said the agreement supported the ministry’s strategy to develop the public sector schools environment through the establishment of complexes.

The agreement was signed under the patronage of Undersecretary of the Minister of Education Dr. Saad Al-Fuhaid and in the presence of Mohammed bin Eid Al-Otaibi, director general of education at the ministry.

Earlier this year, Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh said Saudi Arabia was making efforts to improve the quality of its education sector’s infrastructure by encouraging public-private partnerships.

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Misk Schools introduce artificial intelligence into Saudi classrooms

 Time: April 18, 2019  

Misk Schools will revolutionize learning with the aid of the world’s most pioneering classroom technology, while empowering teachers to deliver an even stronger education. (Misk Schools photo)
  • Misk Schools is the first school in Saudi Arabia to adopt AI
  • It seems that we will reap the fruits of Saudi Vision earlier than expected: Saleh Al-Ghamdi

JEDDAH: Saudi students will soon be learning with the aid of artificial intelligence, as Riyadh’s leading Misk Schools become the first in the country to introduce AI into the classroom.

From this September, students at Misk Schools will learn through and be assessed by artificial intelligence, providing a personalized education for each child and giving teachers greater insights into their performance. The school will use CENTURY, an award-winning teaching and learning platform that uses AI to adapt learning to each student’s individual strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and habits.

Founded by Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, Misk Schools is a state-of-the-art day school in Riyadh offering a new paradigm in education based on the best practices of international and progressive education.

Misk Schools says that the move will ensure that students are learning with the aid of the world’s most pioneering classroom technology, while empowering teachers to deliver an even stronger education.

Artificial intelligence — where machines are programmed to perform tasks traditionally associated with humans — is transforming education across the world. It is used to tailor learning to each student, while freeing teachers’ time to teach by automating admin tasks such as marking and planning. It also provides them with extensive data on each child’s performance, allowing for more effective targeted interventions to support or stretch students.

While Misk Schools is the first school in Saudi Arabia to adopt AI, the Middle East is leading the way internationally in using AI and technology to improve education.

Director General of Misk Schools Peter Hamilton said that they were excited to be partnering with CENTURY as its breaks new ground in ways to embed technology to transform the learning experience for students. “We seek to both support and challenge our learners, and by partnering with CENTURY we will empower our students to take ownership of their learning. Moreover, CENTURY will allow our teachers to have better insight into the daily work of each student, and to better plan future work in the classroom.” Hamilton said.

Founder and CEO of CENTURY Tech Priya Lakhani said: “AI is transforming schools across the world by providing a more personalized education to students, while simultaneously empowering teachers with precise data so that they can perform even better as educators.

“AI is the only way we can move from the failed, outdated ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to ‘one-size-fits-one.’ It allows each student to learn at their own pace, with lessons and tests tailored to maximize their strengths and rapidly address their weaknesses,” she said.

“I am delighted to welcome Misk Schools to the CENTURY family. From children in leading independent schools to Syrian refugees in the Middle East, CENTURY is being used across the world to improve the lives of children and young adults from all backgrounds.”

Saleh Al-Ghamdi, an English language teacher, told Arab News that introducing AI into classrooms was a major leap forward in the Saudi education system.

“It seems that we will earlier than expected reap the fruits of the promising Saudi Vision before 2030 falls. It is an important step that will entirely change education in Saudi Arabia. I see the step as a road map to a bright education future,” Al-Ghamdi said.

He added that Saudi Arabia is looking forward to putting its citizens on the path toward first-world countries. “Introducing AI in our schools is one of the ways that can significantly help in achieving our Vision 2030 goals. It is true that this process may require big efforts, but with determination nothing is impossible,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Introducing AI in schools would greatly help students to feel successful and educators more productive. “It will also assist in promoting active learning and deeper engagement. What is more, it will make educators’ jobs more focused and much easier,” he said.

Al-Ghamdi said that some teachers might fear that the introduction of AI in education would threaten their jobs, but “the truth is that this revolution in education will hopefully make robots and computer programs and technology, in general, a supporting element to their indispensable profession,” he said.

Research involving more than 11,000 students using CENTURY showed that the platform improves understanding of a topic by an average of 30 percent. It also frees teachers from admin tasks such as marking and planning — saving an average of six hours a week and allowing them to focus on teaching itself.

Last month CENTURY Tech agreed a landmark agreement with the Belgium government. As a leading teaching and learning platform that uses artificial intelligence in its design, CENTURY Tech is rapidly spreading across the world, from English independent schools to schools in Lebanon educating large numbers of Syrian refugees.

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Saudi minister talks of new education strategy to promote excellence

Time: April 12, 2019  

Saudi Education Ministry signs a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the UAE Ministry of Education to cooperate on the development of digital education systems in the two Gulf states. ( Saudi Education Ministry via Twitter)
  • 372 universities from 33 countries participate in Riyadh exhibition & conference

RIYADH: The Saudi minister of education, Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh, opened the 8th session of the International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE 2019) in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The conference, titled “Transforming Saudi Universities in an Era of Change,” will host representatives of 372 universities from 33 countries, and last four days.

Al-Asheikh said: “This conference will focus on important topics central to our changing world. Therefore, the title of this conference was chosen to mark a new direction, through which we can see the future and its prospects, and adapt.

“The aims of this conference align clearly with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program, which has posed challenges to our universities to strive to achieve positions of global leadership,” he added, stating that the ambition of the program was to have at least five universities become part of the top 200 global education institutions by 2030.

The minister touched upon the aspirations of young Saudis, pointing to their digital literacy in everyday life, and indicating that the changes in higher education would have to revolve around a more technologically progressive curriculum.

He explained that the needs of the labor market would require a different approach from the traditional university educations of old, and that universities would need to adapt their degrees in order to remain relevant and to provide the required skills needed in rapidly changing industries. He called on all Saudi universities to reconsider their programs and strategies in order to keep pace with the changes, both those in the local economy and those of the neighboring Gulf states, and in the wider global economy.

Al-Asheikh also confirmed that a new university system would be announced soon, in an effort to reinvigorate and refocus the leadership at the top of Saudi higher education. The new system, he added, would look at the allocation of funding for various departments and projects, and how it might be redirected to help transform Saudi universities to become an integral part of the global educational elite.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Education of the UAE on the sidelines of the conference, to cooperate on the development of digital education systems in the two Gulf states. Several Saudi universities also signed twinning agreements with their Emirati counterparts.

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Misk program gives a boost to young Saudis who mean business

Time: March 19, 2019

Misk Innovation and 500 Startups help accelerate innovation and entrepreneurism by bringing Silicon Valley growth techniques to young regional companies, helping them scale and fundraise by imparting knowledge. (Supplied photo)
  • The first batch includes 19 start-ups from across the region, specializing in various fields
  • The platform allows businesses to access quality candidates through a matching algorithm

DUBAI: Young Arabs are taking the region’s offline markets online, from fitness and recruitment to car repairs and chalet hire.

Nineteen start-ups have been chosen so far to take part in the Misk 500 MENA Accelerator Program.

Anwaar Alrefae, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti, is one of them, with her Project 5 Miles (P5M) health and fitness app.

Anwaar Alrefae of P5M

“We help people get fit and support them in staying fit,” she said.

“What’s important for the community in the region is family, friends and work, and because fitness isn’t an integral part of these pillars in people’s lives, when things get stressful, the first thing to drop is a healthy lifestyle because it’s not an integral part of their lives.”

Launched last year, the app’s name stems from pushing through the hardest first 5 miles.

“In those first 5 miles, it’s a new experience and you’re trying to discover what works for you and what doesn’t,” Alrefae said.

“Once you push through them, you know what works for you and how to fit it into your life, and it’s easier for you to get active.”

Her objective is to combine fitness and socializing, as her app allows members to book classes in multiple gyms with friends and family.

“It allows people to be social in an active way, and it’s less likely for them to drop being active because they can be social with friends and family while being active, which brings in the element of entertainment,” she said.

“The practice of anything is finding a routine without boredom, so by being able to find that flexibility in such activities, people won’t get bored.

“It’s human nature, and we want to keep people on their toes and engaged.”

Having grown up in Kuwait and studied in Boston, Alrefae hopes to dispel the misconception that the region is generally “lazy,” being extremely active herself.

“By adding this physical component to people’s lives, they’ll really be able to have a sense of independence and confidence, and set a goal and achieve it … Besides the health aspect, it will also have a huge mental effect.”

Mohamed Ibrahim, a Sudanese who was raised in Riyadh, is one of Alrefae’s classmates in the Misk program.

Mohamed Ibrahim of Sabbar

He created Sabbar earlier this year as a recruitment solution that focuses on jobs in the retail and service industry.

It provides businesses in Saudi Arabia with a platform that automates their recruitment process, halving their recruitment time and cost.

It also offers potential workers a mobile app that allows them to find nearby jobs.

The start-up is timely, with a recent labor law in the Kingdom pushing businesses to hire more Saudis.

“It’s a unique offering where we find jobs in a geographical way,” Ibrahim said.

Sabbar helps Saudis find nearby jobs in the retail and service industry, while also helping automate businesses’ recruitment process. (Supplied photo)

“There’s no platform for Saudis to find retail jobs, like baristas or cashiers, so this helps businesses in their challenge today to hire faster and easier.”

The platform allows businesses to access quality candidates through a matching algorithm built on jobseekers’ personality and desire, and to ensure that potential hires are retained longer.

“There’s a high turnover in Saudi Arabia in this (retail and service) industry — up to 70 percent — compared to the global average of 24 percent,” he said.

“You have businesses today that are struggling to meet the demand of filling vacancies quickly due to the hire turnover, and there’s a struggle to grow because of it, so when the labor law came out I saw retailers go through a lot of challenges, so it’s a niche market I can definitely grow.”

Abdullah Shamlan of Speero

For Abdullah Shamlan, a 29-year-old Yemeni who was born and raised in Riyadh, the Misk program has provided him with invaluable mentorship to grow his business Speero.

“You learn from the best, and the quality of the network of founders you’re exposed to is great,” he said.

“It’s the largest in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, which definitely helps.”

Speero is an online marketplace that helps businesses and individuals find spare parts for cars in a more convenient way.

“We connect spare-parts stores with customers. It helps organize some complicated industries, like spare parts,” Shamlan said.

“There’s no single solution that tells you about spare-parts prices and their validation in the market, so we’re doing the tough job for the government on the ground.”

With more than 8,000 suppliers in the Kingdom, Speero has started helping 150 of them manage their inventory while providing almost instant quotations to customers on the search, before delivering the parts to their doorstep.

“We serve more than 5,000 people in Saudi Arabia, and we’re taking a totally offline market online,” Shamlan said.

“There’s a need for this because it’s a daily struggle, and we already crossed $1 million in sales in less than 18 months.”

Renting chalets in the Kingdom is another practice that has been made easier, thanks to Latifah Altamimi, a 30-year-old Saudi from Riyadh who created GatherN in November 2016.

“It’s a platform that helps people search and book chalets in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“We also help chalet owners list their properties and manage them, so it’s like a combination of a Saudi Airbnb and Booking.com.”

Latifah Altaimi of GatherN

The start-up stemmed from Altamimi’s own experience as a regular customer, spending every weekend in a chalet in Riyadh for social and family gatherings.

In one year alone, the app’s customer base grew 500 percent.

“There’s demand for it. We have more than 6.2 million transactions every year in this market, but 99.99 percent are done manually, for walk-in customers or calling the reception of the (chalet),” she said.

“It’s a concept developed in Saudi Arabia, with more than 100,000 resorts in the Kingdom.

“We now have more than 1,000 chalets, with huge room for improvement.”

Altamimi said the Misk program has been extremely beneficial, adding: “We already know a lot, but there’s a huge difference between knowing and doing. It’s a great opportunity to expand, and we’re working on our growth. We already grew 40 percent in the seven weeks we’ve been with them (the program).”

One of the challenges she is working on is converting her leads into bookings.

“We now have more than 15 employees, 8 percent of whom are Saudis, and we’re planning to reach 25 employees,” she said.

“I was an employee for seven years and I’m a proactive person. I like to try different things and experiment. I worked in an international company where I didn’t have the space to be creative and do more than what I was expected to, so having my own company gives me huge space to experiment, be creative and contribute to the country’s economy.”

The Misk program began on Jan. 27, 2019.

It will conclude with a demo day on May 13 in Riyadh.

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Saudi twins take world by storm at international arithmetic competition

Time: March 06, 2019  

Twins Emad, left, and Muath Al-Amoudi. (Supplied/Photo)
  • Muath Al-Amoudi: My mother could not hide her feelings of happiness and she burst into tears

JEDDAH: When it comes to mental arithmetic Saudi twins Emad and Muath Al-Amoudi have it all worked out.

The gifted brothers have just taken the world by storm in beating off more than 9,000 other youngsters to come first and second in a major international mathematics contest.

The 7th graders at Makkah-based Sheikh Abdullah Khayat Intermediate School took part in the 23rd UCMAS Abacus and Mental Arithmetic International Competition, held at the International Islamic University in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Emad won first prize in level 2 of the competition, while Muath came second in the level-1 category.

“I have been training on mental calculation in a UCMAS training program for nearly six years,” Emad told Arab News. “The program is divided into eight levels, and the higher you go, the more difficult it becomes. I did the second level perfectly.”

Emad said he had not expected to win the contest, which attracted entrants from 83 countries. “Last year there were 5,000 contestants, and so this year I wondered how I could compete with such a large number of participants. I didn’t believe my capabilities could be compared to theirs.”

He added that the support of his family had given him the courage and self-confidence to succeed. “My mother accompanied us to Malaysia. When we arrived at Kuala Lumpur, I knew that there were 9,000 taking part in this year’s competition. My mother reassured me and Muath, saying we were no less than them and that we could make it.”

Muath said that coming runner-up in his category had motivated him to go for top spot in the next competition. “I had a tough competition, especially with the presence of competitors from India, Iran, Japan and Malaysia,” he added.

The most emotional moment of the event for Muath was when he saw his brother on stage waving the Saudi flag.

“It was a touching moment. I felt like I needed to kiss the soil of my country. My mother could not hide her feelings of happiness, and she burst into tears,” he said.

The UCMAS program, which develops the mental power of children from an early age, was established in October 1993 and now has a global network of more than 5,000 centers across 55 countries.

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Saudi Arabia seeks to improve its knowhow

Time: January 19, 2019

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world which still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education.
  • With the Kingdom ranking 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, education is key to improving its standing
  • The Arab world needs to make strides in research, development and innovation in order to bridge the gap with the West

DUBAI: With Saudi Arabia standing 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, the Kingdom is hoping that a focus on  innovative education will boost its ranking.

Improving the quality and nature of education to enable youth to innovate and be creative will prove key to achieving that goal.

The index results were announced in Dubai last month by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to measure the knowledge sector in 134 countries.

“With Saudi Arabia, we obtained the information from international organizations which were provided data from the government,” said Dr. Hany Torky, chief technical adviser at the UNDP and project director at the Arab Knowledge Project.

“We rely on international organizations like the World Bank and UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization),” but Arab countries “don’t convey data to international organizations” or they do so “very late,” he added.

The aim of the index is to map trends in different areas of knowledge to be able to identify challenges facing countries in the field.

Saudi Arabia scored high in sectors such as health and environment, information and communications technology, and features of the labor market.  It also proved strong in research, development and innovation, ranking 38th, and the economy, at 47th.

But in other sectors, the Kingdom scored relatively low. Technical and vocational education and training landed it in the 117th position, followed by 87th in the general enabling environment.

Khaled Abdul Shafi, director of the regional bureau for the UNDP, said focusing on education will be paramount for Arab countries.

“Education can give young people this freedom and not consider that it should be based on memorization,” he added.

“All the stages of education are important, and if Arab countries focus on education, we’ll be in a much better position compared to where we stand now.”

The knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West is large, with the exception of the UAE and a few other countries.

Abdul Shafi blamed this on the quality of education in the Arab world, which he said is based on spoon-feeding and does not encourage innovation as much as it should.

“It’s also not really related to the marketplace, so students are graduating without really having the skills required for the economy,” he added.

“Education is the main reason, so we need to pay a lot of attention to the education sector in all its different stages to enhance its quality. It’s very important to determine where the problem is to work on dealing with it.”

He said research, development and innovation as a whole are lacking in the Arab world compared to other countries, with an absence of youth participation and the unavailability of data and research.

“The importance of the index isn’t the ranking of countries, but to analyze the knowledge status in each country,” he added.

“They’ll be able to put their hands on their weak points and work on further enhancing these indicators to achieve much more progress,” said Abdul Shafi.

“We encourage countries and work with them to transfer the practices of developed countries to less-developed ones, so we’re not just producing a report, we’re also collaborating with some of these countries to transfer their experience and knowledge.”

As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, a major focus has been placed on youth and their education.

With a predominantly young population, the Kingdom has identified and developed initiatives to bridge the knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West.

Some include the Misk Global Forum, the flagship platform of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s foundation, which held its “Skills for Our Tomorrow” conference in November to focus on youth, knowledge and innovation.

The Misk Foundation has also launched a number of programs to foster talent across the Kingdom, with the aim of developing a knowledge-based economy as the country shifts away from oil.

“The report enables us to face reality,” said Aysha Al-Mansouri, a Saudi specialist in youth capabilities development.

“In Saudi, we have a clear vision and a future objective, which we hope to achieve through our Vision 2030. We need to do right by our youth and our country.”

But with 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous.

“It’s shameful for us as Arabs, and I was surprised to see so many young illiterates,” said Jamal bin Huwaireb, CEO of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation.

With 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous.

“Success is going to be the result of those who work continuously and have a clear strategy. In 40 years, illiteracy was completely eliminated in the UAE, so countries like Egypt or Iraq, which used to disseminate knowledge for centuries, should work on this. We all share the same goal, so it’s not impossible.”

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world, which Torky said still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education.

“What’s the point in having 100 percent of graduates if they don’t have the skills required for the labor market?” he asked.

“Investment in education is almost the same in all Arab (Gulf) countries, but the process and deliverables of education are problematic. To maintain the status quo is a failure, and we need to keep improving.”

The education sector will have to keep up with the pace of technological transformation. “There are impacts of the acceleration in technology, like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain and the Internet of Things, and the related skills that you need to acquire to deal with such developing technologies,” Torky said.

“In the near future, there will be seven countries that will lead the world in knowledge, and the UAE is one of them, having jumped six positions in the index in 2018,” he added.

“Arab countries can actually reach such status, like the US, the UK, Singapore, Finland, Sweden and Brazil.”

Bin Huwaireb expressed hope that other Arab foundations will eventually collaborate with the UNDP in disseminating knowledge.

“We have a single goal of reinforcing the concept of knowledge in the Arab world,” he said. “Over the years, we can now see that the difference is clear and everybody is speaking about knowledge, the knowledge economy, the industrial revolution and knowledge reports.”

Workshops are being held in Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt to create momentum across the region.

“We are beginning to reap the benefits of this project,” bin Huwaireb said. “Many Arab countries have a problem with empowering environments, but they should do their best to bridge this gap between them and other developed countries so their knowledge indicators can climb to higher rankings.”

He touched on scientific research, a vital element still lagging in the region. “Scientific research centers are a real obstacle we suffer from in the Arab world, because without such centers there will be no progress and no knowledge generation,” he said.

“But there are major plans and strategies to allocate the proper funds for scientific research, and we want it to increase in all Arab countries. It needs some time, but encouragement, motivation and collaboration should continue.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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