BLOG POST: When Worlds Collide – Abdul Al Lily
In Saudi Arabia, gender-separation is applied to almost every aspect of private and public life. In higher education, for instance, although the two sexes can belong to one university and to one organisational hierarchy, different campuses are built for each. The female campus, unlike the male one, is surrounded by long concrete-opaque walls which ensure privacy and disconnection. This gender-separation, moreover, is applied to all levels of the hierarchy, which means that academics and managers cannot see their ‘colleagues’ of the other gender.
However, Saudi academia is experiencing a distinctive phenomenon whereby the two genders are becoming electronically connected while remaining physically separated. This connection means introducing the two genders to each other, thereby opening up new opportunities, restructuring academic society, bridging two heterogeneous cognitive cultures, creating new power relations and therefore transforming Saudi academia into a political battleground. This battle is likely to be fierce, since it involves highly educated parties and therefore is politically sophisticated and involves those who will directly seek to shape happenings for their benefit. Nevertheless, this battle may turn out to be relatively static, considering the highly structured and male-dominated society it takes place in, wherein one does not possibly know or even has never thought about why one is, for example, privileged or disadvantaged and how to uphold or transform this status.
The observed phenomenon, which lies at the interface between education and politics, means that, in the domain of educational technologies, there is a need to widen the scope of analysis by looking beyond learning, considering more the role that social, cultural and political values play in shaping educational life. The integration of politics into educational experience, moreover, can present an educational opportunity, given that learning can emerge from involvement in politics. This integration, which can be achieved by viewing higher education as a political activity and examining educational technologies through a political lens, can encourage a new generation of graduates who are politically literate citizens, critically reflective thinkers and therefore independently life-long learners.
Moreover, as the observed phenomenon also lies at the intersection of education and gender, this can inspire a new educational field that lies on the border between single-gender and mixed-gender education. This new field – which can be called ‘bridged-gender education’ – has its own distinctive features, such as the authority to filter out, monitor and control the communication channel between the two genders. Research is therefore needed which looks at how distinct this emerging field is from the other two and discusses the advantages and disadvantages that it can bring to educational experience.