GW Partners with Saudi University to Prepare Education Leaders

Partnership with Taibah University will expand cross-cultural scholarship in educational leadership and administration.

Linda Lemasters with the president of Taibah University. (Photo courtesy Linda Lemasters)
Linda Lemasters with Dr. Adnan Bin Abdallah Al Mazroua, the president of Taibah University. (Photo courtesy Linda Lemasters)
May 04, 2015

By Ruth Steinhardt

The George Washington University expanded its partnerships in the Middle East this week, as the Graduate School of Education and Human Development signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Taibah University to collaborate on a doctoral program in educational leadership.

Vice President for Research Leo M. Chalupa was present for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Taibah and GW in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“In a globalized world, we have immediate access to issues that are impacting education everywhere,” said GSEHD Associate Dean for Research and External Relations Maxine Freund. “This program is important because we have to share with and learn from one another to meet new educational challenges.”

GW will serve in both a consultative and collaborative capacity, helping Taibah—a public, co-educational university based in Medina, Saudi Arabia—to create a bilingual doctoral curriculum. The foundational courses for the new doctorate will be based on GW’s existing post-master’s certificate in the field. Graduates of the program will receive their doctorate from Taibah and a certificate from GW.

The educational leadership program trains students for supervisory positions in public elementary and secondary schools and in central administration with an eye toward filling advanced-level positions in diverse educational communities.

With support from GSEHD Dean Michael Feuer, Linda Lemasters and Abebayehu Tekleselassie, associate professors at GSEHD, have helped shepherd the partnership through three years of planning. Dr. Lemasters, who was in Riyadh for the agreement’s signing, said the first phase of the official joint effort begins immediately. The next trip will be to Medina in October, when professors from Taibah and GW will participate in a workshop to decide what courses will be offered and what material will be covered in those courses.

“We want this doctorate to be international in nature,” Dr. Lemasters said. “That means we can’t just give them our existing program and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ Understanding more about Taibah students’ priorities and their vision and their needs will not only enlighten us about the Saudi educational system, it also will be a call to consciousness in our students. It will teach both sides how to work across cultures and how to take different systemic and cultural needs into account.”

Since the program will be bilingual in Arabic and English, Taibah students without English proficiency will still be able to participate. Some sessions will take place via video conferencing. Saudi students also will be invited to visit GW’s Foggy Bottom and Hampton Roads campuses, getting a sense of what Dr. Lemasters calls “both urban and suburban flavors” of the American public school system.

The first part of the doctorate program will involve practical foundational courses with scholarly research-based content in the later stages.

“We want to prepare school administrators who are also scholars, and we want scholars who stay in higher education to understand the practical side of things so that when they teach university courses they won’t be completely in the theoretical sphere – ignoring what really goes on in a classroom or in a school,” Dr. Lemasters said.

That goes for both the U.S. and Saudi sides of the equation.

“This is an increasingly global society,” Dr. Lemasters said. “So the broader knowledge base that we can provide our emerging educational leaders, the better off we are. If we’re such narrow thinkers that we believe our educational philosophies are the only ones that are valid, we will not be able to meet the needs of young people around the world.”