Commodore, Royal Saudi
Until the 1970s, Finland had one of the most bureaucratic and centralized education systems in Europe. It was not because the Finnish people or the government lacked the will or desire for a better education system but because the country had limited natural resources. Finland is a country of about 5.4 million people and has an area of 130,596 square miles. Reformers in Finland decided to take serious steps to keep up with the rest of the advanced industrial world. They realized that a modern system of education is the key to progress. Now, Finland has the finest and best students and the most dedicated and qualified teachers in the world. The country accomplished this great feat in a relatively short span of time. Few years ago people around the world knew Finland as a country with a sauna in every house. Others knew it for its lakes, Nokia and the Ice Breakers. But, nowadays, people know Finland for its education system with freedom in the classroom for the students. They talk to each other during a class with no restriction and learn the best way to communicate. They simply reversed the social behavior of how to raise young children. In countries around the world, they teach very young children how to talk and speak but when they begin going to school the first word they hear is to keep quiet. In Finland it is otherwise. The teacher does not stand in front of the classroom for 45 minutes to lecture but he becomes part of the classroom. There are many things we can learn from this cold northern Nordic country. Saudi Arabia since its establishment had always allocated the highest per capita to the education sector. Education in Saudi Arabia is free for all citizens. The government has, undoubtedly, taken many steps to improve the quality of education. Saudi Arabia is a big country covering an area of about one million square miles with cities, towns and villages. Despite its huge size, the Ministry of Education opened schools in every part of the Kingdom. Most recently, Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah launched a program to overhaul Saudi schools and ordered allocation of $22 billion for this task. This includes building thousands of schools and nurseries to train more than 25,000 teachers and sending many of them abroad for more education. Minister of Education Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who has recently taken charge of the ministry, is known for his dedication and talent for modernization. The newly allocated $22 billion is a five-year plan to overhaul education system and this is in addition to the annual budget for education. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates in the number of young men and women and has also the highest enrollment in schools including the university level. So, overhauling education and improving the education system is a very important step to hone and utilize the talents of our youth. We simply can learn from the Finnish experience and see how they achieved success in a very short time. Saudi Arabia has the biggest scholarship program and will launch other strategic programs in the education sector, which will include sending many teachers abroad and to Finland and other countries that have advance education systems. We can learn from their experiences. At this stage, we need to improve the way we build schools, transportations for students and most important thing is to concentrate on the education of modern day sciences that are good for the future of the youths when they enter the job market. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. What We Can Learn From Finland? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.