HUSAM ZAMAN

Saudi Arabia 2021 | EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

In response to COVID-19, ETEC digitalized its way of doing business for both individuals and institutions, creating some truly unique innovations in the process. Here, TBY talks to Husam Zaman, President of Education & Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC).

How has the Education & Training Evaluation Commission addressed COVID-19?

In response to COVID-19, we have digitalized our way of doing business for both individuals and institutions. At the individual level during the lockdown in April, May, and June, we were challenged to deliver the achievement test for high school pupils who needed to take such tests before applying to universities. We developed an online platform and deployed it in less than 100 days to more than 300,000 students. The statistical comparison between this new test and the conventional test was almost the same, and our success rate according to OECD and the World Bank, which have been observing our practice in accomplishing this mission, was more than 93%. At the institutional level, we conducted two important studies that covered the effect of COVID-19 on education institutions. We did one at the macro level for the entire education system and the transition from physical schooling to online schooling on students and families. For our work in accreditation and assessing higher education institutions, we used to physically visit particular colleges and universities with international experts for accreditation. We planned and executed a virtual version of this, and we have conducted more than 90 visits to different universities for accreditation. This figure of 90 visits in three months since August is a new record for us. Over the last 10 years, about 70 accreditation visits were conducted, so the boost in productivity is amazing. Deploying technology working in a virtual sphere has allowed us to accomplish in just a few months more than we did in the last 10 years. We are not alone in this field of conducting and utilizing technology, but we have been bold in our mass deployment of new techniques.

How have the pandemic and recent technological changes influenced the strategic goals of your organization and your structure?

When I was appointed President of ETEC in mid-2019, I came with a mission to facilitate and continue the merger of the different centers that have formed ETEC. Before I arrived, the management and board proceeded slowly and carefully with the integration process, and when I arrived I felt we were ready for full integration. In 2H2019, we unified the support services of HR, finance, and investment together in one sector for the four centers of ETEC. At the same time, we unified the other technical services such as R&D, standard division, training, and strategic planning. It was fortunate that we finished this before the outbreak of COVID-19 early in 2020, as I could not imagine being able to carry out these megaprojects with divided centers under our umbrella. During the lockdown, our entire business transformed to be virtual, and this enforced and strengthened the merger and unification of units to create one culture much easier. We are now in one virtual place all together, and this accelerated our process of merger and integration. It was something that we did not plan for or wish for, but it was extremely fortunate for us.

Will remote learning change the way you accredit courses, and how will you approach digital options?

We learned from this experience that we have to be extremely flexible and open to new definitions, thoughts, platforms, and ways of educating. To ensure the quality of that new form of education, we need to focus more on the outcomes, as it does not matter how one will teach their students, recruit their faculty, or deliver their courses. What matters most is the quality of the outcomes and the extent to which the graduates are equipped with enough knowledge, skills, and values to succeed later on. Our quality assurance practices will focus more on the outcomes of institutions instead of their platforms and methods. We need to accept and appreciate varieties of applications and methods of different institutional cultures and focus more on the quality of the output at the end.