Saudi society has undergone so much transformation in the past three decades, some for the better and some for the worse. Image Credit: AFP

There has been talk of how our Saudi youth are so ill-prepared for the workplace. I find that such statements are often demeaning to the very fine and qualified cadre of Saudi graduates, both men and women, who have achieved expertise in their fields of study. This cadre mostly encompasses students who had the determination or luck to proceed for higher education, either in universities in the kingdom or at learning institutions overseas.

But for the many who did not get past the high school level, the criticism for such inadequacy could have been the poor status of education in the past that most of these kids had to endure. It has only been in recent years that changes in the curriculum have added some positive flavour to the teachings.

That hasn’t however abated the worries of some parents who bemoan the trend of robotic behaviour in speech and thought process and the issue of freethinking among their young. The lack of imagination and initiative, qualities that seem to stand out when describing today’s youth must be considered with great thought. And in that so much of this behaviour is perceived negatively is a source of concern for them.

This society has undergone so much transformation in the past three decades, some for the better and some for the worse, and now it looks to its youth with questions. Where had we gone wrong?

As parents, the bulk of responsibility for the behaviour of our youth must rest squarely on our shoulders. No laws or legislature can be designed to enforce the kind of upbringing that breeds positive results alone. Parents play a major role in this evolving struggle. Fortunately, the government has recognised some flaws in the education system and has introduced a wide array of subjects from which tomorrow’s graduates can benefit from. These include philosophy, critical thinking, music, languages, etc.

And parents are often at fault. One of the very elements that serve to teach our children is to foster the right to ask and question why. Asides from neglect or preoccupation in other matters, here too parents have failed their children. It may be expedient to blame the educational system for such faults. And God knows there are many faults there to be examined and questioned. But such trends are often borne at home.

It starts with not encouraging the freethinking spirit within your child. Instead, what actually takes place is the drumming of total submission to any perceived authority from a very young age; a submission that may be right or wrong. While respect for the elders and the learnt is a fine quality, it should not be cast in concrete. For elders, just like our youth, could be misguided. They could have undefined agendas that may not translate into a positive source of inspiration for young minds. If the behaviour today of our young is any indicator of our ills, quite a few of them may have fallen into such a trap.

Perhaps parents have allowed others to do the thinking for them and are victims in this dilemma themselves. But to deny their children the right to question, the right to ask, and the right to challenge what they perceive is wrong will not yield changes for the better. And in the dynamism of present-day earth, we must learn to swim on our own and quickly or we shall drown.

Let us not suppress these young minds with holier-than-thou lectures. Or sermons from when time began. Let us deal with them in real-time and discuss with them real issues. Educate them to live as citizens of this planet, to go beyond our borders, to seek knowledge wherever it may be, and to accept that as earth’s citizens, we all are not the same and that none is to be blindly judged as better than the other And finally, that such differences between us as a people of this earth are not life-threatening.

It is when we shower them with such support, that they will learn to define their positive roles. A freethinking society does not start from anywhere. Authoritarian rules in the upbringing of children have no place at home.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena