By Majed Alsalem, Ph. D.
It has been a year since I graduated from the University of Kansas in May, 2015. I remember the last goodbye with my colleagues, cohort, and friends. I still have a feeling that I will be part of this “empire” forever. I can see how KU is the empire of special education and how I can position myself as an ambassador for KU in my country, particularly in the area of special education. It’s not about 4 years of studying to obtain a PhD degree, it’s a long-term commitment that only KU was able to instill in our minds in order to make this world a better place for individuals with disabilities. Last month, in April, 2016, the Saudi government announced Saudi Vision (2030), which is a new philosophy of empowering Saudi policy based on citizenship and participation from all individuals. It’s an economic revolution that will make changes in most of the country’s systems based on pragmatic and scientific foundations.
Reading the Vision through a special education lens, it creates a huge transformation in the special education field in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This change includes (but is not limited to) education, employment, and the rights of individuals with disabilities overall in the country. What does that mean? It’s the time to take action to reform the system through different frameworks that help make a real change. This is my role as an ambassador of the great empire of special education, to build and create the future of special education in Saudi Arabia based on the knowledge, experience, and successful work that I was involved in at KU. As an example, the work that I am doing right now concerns how to apply evidence-based practices in our educational system, enhancing professional development for teachers, and implementing universal design for learning (UDL).
Therefore, it’s very critical when implementing any framework, philosophy, or strategy to keep in mind the cultural and social factors of the Saudi community. Thus, my own vision of how to adopt best practices from around the world while maintaining the Saudi identity aligns with the Saudi Vision 2030. A new era in the country is about to start, and I hope to be part of this new history of the Kingdom.
This brings back memories of when we discussed the shifting paradigms in education and institutional practices in special education in every class, talk, and presentation. It was a great experience beginning when I arrived in Lawrence in 2011. As I went through the long journey, it shaped my way of thinking, the way that I deal with sensitive topics, and interact with experts—keeping in mind that what works and fits in one environment may not work and fit in others.
The recent movement in educational policy applies rigorous standards, continuous and constant evaluation and assessment, accountability, professional development, and it increases the roles of technology, school autonomy, and parent involvement. Based on this, the four major components that the system in Saudi Arabia is focused on are: (a) Curriculum, which is the basic element of gaining information, and the new trend is to have it be more applicable rather than theoretical knowledge learned without interacting with information. (b) Teachers — the focus now is to create a system for teaching licenses that teachers must renew every 3–5 years. (c) Instructional design — UDL has just emerged in the conversation in the Ministry of Education in relation to preparing curriculum and teachers based on the notion of UDL. (d) Students — where they become the focus of the Saudi Vision (2030) by preparing them to be digital citizens, to engage with society, politics, and government participation through technology.
It is a wonderful experience to integrate the best practices of Saudis and Americans into my work when I’m dealing with students with disabilities and preparing teachers and researchers in the field of special education. Again, I was the ambassador of Saudi Arabia at KU from 2011–2015, and now I’m the ambassador of KU in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the rest of my life.
Dr. Majed Alsalem is originally from Saudi Arabia. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at King Saud University. He earned his doctorate in 2015 from the University of Kansas in special education under the advisement of Dr. James Basham. Dr. Alsalem research interests in the area of instructional design, technology and innovation for supporting learner variability in modern learning environments, particularly with the implementation of universal design for learning (UDL), professional development for teachers, and evidence-based practices. Majed’s primary focus is on deaf education, deaf and hard of hearing literacy and assistive technology.