Saudi entertainment chief sees cinemas returning, eventually

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A full house at the opening ceremony of the fourth Saudi Film Festival. (AN photo)
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Motorcyclist performs during Monster Jam show which was organized by General Entertainment Authority, in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ahmed Fadhi)
Updated 28 April 2017

Saudi entertainment chief sees cinemas returning, eventually

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will one day open cinemas and build a world-class opera house, the man spearheading the kingdom’s entertainment reforms said on Thursday, downplaying opposition by powerful religious authorities to changes they see as sinful.
The kingdom had some cinemas in the 1970s but the clerical establishment persuaded the authorities to close them, reflecting rising Islamist influence throughout the Arab region at the time.
Cinemas are still banned. And while concerts have started to be held this year, they remain frowned on by clerics.
But the government has promised a shake-up of the cultural scene with a set of "Vision 2030" reforms announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year, aimed at creating jobs and opening up Saudis' cloistered lifestyles.
The changes are also intended to capture up to a quarter of the $20 billion currently spent overseas by Saudis, who are accustomed to travelling abroad to see shows and visit amusement parks in nearby tourist hub Dubai or further afield.
In a Reuters interview, Ahmed al-Khatib, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), said conservatives who criticized the reforms were gradually learning that most Saudis, a majority of whom are under 30, wanted these changes.
His goal was to create entertainment that "will be like 99 percent of what is going on in London and New York," although he noted that after decades of cultural conservatism such change could not be rapid.
"I believe we are winning the argument," he said. A few Saudis were liberal, a few conservative, but "the majority are moderate."
"They travel, they go to cinemas, they go to concerts. I am counting on the middle segment, which is about 80 pct of the population," he said. Conservatives, he added, could simply opt to stay at home if they did not care for the events.
MASSIVE DEMAND
In large part, the kingdom's entertainment plans are motivated by economics. With oil prices low, authorities have embarked on an ambitious reform programme to diversify the economy and create whole new sectors to employ young Saudis.
The government has commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to identify venues like parks and theatres for the kingdom to develop through a mix of government funding and private sector investment.
Khateeb said the GEA’s activities have created 20,000 jobs so far after only seven months, and can surpass targets set out last year in the Vision 2030. He predicts the share of Saudi spending on entertainment will triple to 8 or 9 percent by 2030.
The kingdom's most ambitious leisure project to date is a giant entertainment city being planned for outside the capital Riyadh, which would aim to draw regional visitors with resorts, golf courses, car racing tracks and a Six Flags theme park.
"Our start is very encouraging. Every event is sold out," he said, noting that 10,000 more people than could be accommodated showed up for Comic-Con, a comic book convention held in Jeddah in February.
"The demand is massive. And it is normal – the demographic is young in Saudi Arabia and we have a higher disposable income than other countries."
CINEMAS
But Comic-Con also spurred the most public challenge to the entertainment agenda thus far, drawing rebuke from some conservatives.
Such conservatism was not always the way in Saudi Arabia, said Khatib, but would take time to change after it had been nurtured over the course of several decades.
Cinemas, a particular flashpoint, were not on the agenda in the short term, but would come Saudi Arabia eventually, he said. "We will get there. We'll get there. I know how. I don’t know when."
You can "also read" our editorial on opening cinemas.


Global organizations commend Saudi Arabia’s role in e-learning

Updated 11 min 44 sec ago

Global organizations commend Saudi Arabia’s role in e-learning

JEDDAH: Six international organizations have completed two studies on e-learning in the Kingdom and praised its efforts in providing a rapid response, multiple options and continuous improvement during the coronavirus pandemic.
The studies involved the participation of 342,000 respondents and were conducted under the supervision of the Kingdom’s National Center for e-Learning.
The center said that the global organizations completed two comprehensive studies on the experience of public and higher education in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic, with the aim of documenting and studying the reality of the experience and coming up with initiatives to develop e-learning practices in accordance with current global practices and standards.
The studies were conducted with the participation of students, faculty members, teachers, parents and school leaders.
The number of participants in the public education study reached 318,000, while the number of participants in the higher education study reached 24,000.
The first study was prepared by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), with the participation of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Quality Matters (QM), the UNESCO Institute of Information Technologies in Education (IITE), the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) in the US.
The second study was prepared by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with the cooperation of the Harvard Graduate School
of Education.
In the studies, reference comparisons were made with more than 193 countries. The two studies showed the Kingdom’s distinction in the diversity of options, including, for example, electronic content and satellite channels available for e-learning in public education.

NUMBER

342k

The studies on e-learning involved the participation of 342,000 respondents and were conducted under the supervision of the Kingdom’s National Center for e-Learning.

The percentage of countries that succeeded in providing these at the national level was only 38 percent.
The study conducted by the OECD and the Harvard Graduate School of Education included a comparison of the Kingdom’s response to education during the COVID-19 pandemic with 37 member states.
The results showed the Kingdom’s progress in 13 out of 16 indicators on the average of
these countries.
The study also revealed that teachers received significant support to overcome obstacles to e-learning.
The study of public education indicated that there was a clear strategy for the Ministry of Education to reopen schools in the Kingdom and address any issues.
OLC hailed the efforts of the Saudi Ministry of Education in dealing with the crisis by providing a variety of options for e-learning, and the quick response to the pandemic and immediate shift to remote instruction.
The two studies recommended 71 proposed development initiatives for public education and 78 proposed development initiatives for higher education.
The National Center for e-Learning is working in coordination with the Ministry of Education to present the initiatives and begin their implementation.
The center announced that the organizations that conducted the studies would publish their results and complete the second phase at the end of the current semester.

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