The lack of research centers in our region makes it very difficult for decision makers to get accurate data that can help to formulate social, economic and scientific policies. Al-Aghar Group Think Tank is a notable exception which should be commended for continuing to engage stakeholders in workshops and seminars with experts to address our national problems and build strategies based on scientific research and theories to advance our nation.
Enhancing the role of the Saudi family in order to achieve the national objective of transforming the Kingdom into a knowledge-based society was the theme of the latest workshop conducted by Al-Aghar. It was sponsored by its strategic partner The King Abdulaziz and His Companions’ Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) which strives to increase the scientific and innovative talent of Saudi youth and promotes the gifted, talented and creative community.
The objective of the workshop was to support an academic study that would enable Saudi families to overcome the challenges they are facing and change the negative mindset that has delayed progress and development within Saudi society.
A distinguished group of private and public sector leaders adopted a scientific methodology to identify a focus group for the study, which includes less educated families who lack interest in knowledge or development.
These experts were divided into four teams, each representing a segment of society. According to research conducted by Al-Aghar, Saudi society is divided into knowledge families, families with educated parents who do not promote knowledgeable children, a larger segment that includes less educated families who lack interest in knowledge or development, and finally poor and uneducated families.
Each team was required to come up with viable solutions to support the creation of the knowledge family and to promote the segment of society they represented in the workshop. The team of experts which included Shoura Council members, officials of governmental and non-governmental organizations, academics and media personalities engaged in constructive dialogue analyzing the challenges that prevent the Saudi family from coping with modern developments. They addressed the fundamentalist way of thinking which rejects global trends and applies negative attitudes that discourage creativity and innovative thinking, and they urged that awareness campaigns be launched to highlight the dire consequences of not correcting social ills and refusing to apply global standards in daily life.
The participation of the Minister of Education Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah in the workshop challenged the participants to introduce innovative solutions to reach the national objective of creating a more knowledgeable society.
The Secretary General of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue, Faisal Al-Muammar who was also among the participants added valuable input about the existing tribal culture and the need to enhance the positive role of the religious establishment to influence the development of the knowledge-based family.
The team of experts outlined four major essential mechanisms to support their mission, namely to promote the roles of the mosque, academic institutions, the media and civil society. Friday sermons should carry interesting messages that emphasize the importance of seeking knowledge as an Islamic obligation of every citizen. Schools should offer programs that involve parents in their children’s academic progress and encourage them to recognize the potential of their young ones.
A more active media role was recommended with awareness campaigns featuring well-known artists or sports personalities. Social messages can be very effective if they are delivered daily through radio, TV and social media to reinforce the spirit of innovation and academic excellence.
Another recommendation was the establishment of mentoring programs and the promotion of role models from within society. Prominent personalities could change the negligent attitude of parents and encourage them to make more meaningful attempts to provide love and quality time for their children. It was even suggested that a guidebook for the ideal parent should be prepared and distributed with birth certificates nationwide.
The discussions highlighted the need for the government to exert more effort to upgrade the educational system so as to produce more qualified graduates who are capable of mastering the technological and scientific advancements of our time. It was also suggested that incentives and rewards be given to those who implement a knowledge-based approach in their work.
The experts urged extended government and private sector support for strategic research and emphasized the need for more government funding for research centers in the fields of science and technology.
There is also a need for alliances between government agencies, the religious establishment, academic institutions, NGOs and the media to initiate more effective programs that will expedite the knowledge-based process.
The experts finally concluded that less educated families in society require immediate national attention to be transformed into knowledge families.
The Mawhiba and Al-Aghar alliance is indeed an ambitious attempt to build the appropriate environment and prepare the younger generation for making a contribution toward developing a knowledge society based on innovation and talent.
(Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. This article was published on the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 29, 2012. Fatany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)