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JEDDAH: Preparations are under way for the introduction of classes in critical thinking and philosophy in Saudi schools, education minister Hamad Al-Asheikh said. Saudi educators and students welcomed the news.

The minister gave the update to the plans, first announced in December 2018, on Monday during an event organized by King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue to mark the International Day for Tolerance. The introduction of the subjects aims to encourage more tolerant attitudes toward people with different values and beliefs, and to eliminate intellectual extremism.

“The Ministry of Education seeks to solidify the values of tolerance and human understanding in student circles, which act as a pillar to strengthen tolerance in society through multiple practices targeting the student’s personality, thought and behavior,” said Al-Asheikh.

Lecturer Abdulrahman Al-Haidari, who has been teaching English at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah for 18 years, said he has always found it important to ask his students challenging questions that encourage them to think for themselves.

“In my view, a successful teacher is one who promotes among students the capacity to convey their own desired meanings,” he said. Educators who fail to do this limit their students “to simple root-learning activities in which they merely mimic and reproduce the same phrases presented to them in their textbooks,” he added

The biggest challenge he faces as a teacher is encouraging students to come up with their own thoughts and understanding of ideas, including opinions that differ from his.

“Our needs today impose new challenges upon us to form new ways of thinking — challenges of keeping a solid identity truthful to our heritage — and at the same time, allow a much larger margin to tolerate and accept other world views and beliefs,” said Al-Haidari.

The modern education system, which is still relatively new, is a “rewiring” of its predecessor, which concentrated on “providing a new nation with a sense of identity as Muslims and unity as Saudis,” he said.

The introduction of new subjects such as critical thinking and philosophy can help to influence national security as well, Al-Haidari believes.

“Due to our country’s great heritage and location as the custodian of Islam and the two Holly Mosques, our current educational system produces learners who are strongly attached to the Islamic faith,” he said. “Without providing our youth with solid critical-thinking capacities, we simply throw them in harm’s way by making them vulnerable and susceptible to evil political entities disguised with a fake Islamist facade.”

Sara Al-Rifai, an English lecturer at a university in Jeddah, said she strongly supports the introduction of the new subjects.

“By introducing critical thinking and philosophy into the curriculum, students take charge of their own learning experiences,” she said. “They learn how to think outside the box, ask the right questions, be more creative, solve problems and take the right decisions.”

These are skills, she added, that help to prepare young people to join a diverse work environment as adults who can navigate the real-life challenges they will face.

Al-Rifai believes it is important that the Kingdom is investing in Saudi youth, who are major stakeholders in the country’s Vision 2030 development plan.

“When students develop critical-thinking skills and become familiar with different life-related philosophies, they accept and respect different opinions and see life from different perspectives,” she said. “Hence they become more accepting and tolerant of living in a culturally diverse society.”

Abdan Al-Abdan, a graduate in political science and theory, said that the addition of the subjects to the curriculum will encourage young to question social-media fallacies.

“This step should help students — who are citizens who participate in the prosperity of the country — to clearly think through arguments, stories or basic dialogue, and start questioning logical fallacies,” he said.

This can help them to adopt a more analytical approach to what they read and see, and help them distinguish between what is true and what is misleading, he added.

Al-Abdan hopes the new classes will include introductory lessons on history and ancient Greek philosophy, and how Arabs helped to preserve that knowledge through the Dark Ages.

“It’s very important to mention the role of students’ ancestors in philosophy by explaining philosophy through the eras of history,” he said. “Students can then discover that it isn’t new knowledge but something our ancestors participated in and had input to.

“This way, students will feel connected and invested in what’s being taught, as many Arabs have built on Greek philosophy.”

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