Academic journal article Education

Students' Beliefs about Arabic Language Programs at Kuwait University

Academic journal article Education

Students' Beliefs about Arabic Language Programs at Kuwait University

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Educational outcome of schooling is the key factor of the demand for schooling. The need for education is kind of human capital investment, because it confers benefits on individuals, enterprises, and societies as a whole. These benefits can take two forms: market benefits like earnings, and non market benefits such as life goals (McMahon, 2006).

Based on various benefits of education, Kuwaiti's public education enrollment at all levels has increased considerably over time (Ministry of Education, 2008), and public expenditures on education have also accordingly increased. So, the crucial questions facing educators in Kuwait now involve the content of schooling at all levels: What does the educational process produce now and what should the education process produce in order to achieve the optimal goals of education?

Language-related programs are among those that have undergone close examination of content and delivery methods. In Kuwait, there are two types of programs which dominate the scene related to teaching and learning of Arabic; and these are: Liberal arts-oriented program and education-oriented program (Kuwait University, 2006). Equally important is the decision taken by individuals to pursue education in terms of the cost to individuals and the need to meet academic requirements and deferred entry into the labor market. Thus, individuals are viewed as important stakeholders to be considered in any educational policy studies; therefore, they are assumed to be rationale consumers when deciding which academic program to choose (Yuan, 2008).

Statement of the Problem

The aim of this study is to examine the beliefs of students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education and students of Arabic language at the Faculty of Arts about their respective programs. The research problem is guided by the following research questions:

1. Do students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their motivations for joining a such program, their career intentions and their choice of program than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts?

2. Do students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their perceptions of future employers' expectations than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts?

3. Do students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their aspirations for career development and long term life goals than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts?

It is hoped that the current study would provide educational policy makers with data which they will communicate with prospective students and to give a better understanding of the students' beliefs prior to college enrollment.

Definitions of Terms

Beliefs

Refer to the assumptions we make about ourselves, about others in the world and about how we expect things to be. Beliefs are about how we think things really are. Beliefs tend to be deep set and our values stem from our beliefs (Pietrandrea, 2009).

Program of study

"A planned series of experiences is a particular range of subjects or skills, offered by institutions and undertaken by one or more learners" (Aggarwal & Thakur, 2003, p. 20). In the present context, it is the type of the course that students choose to complete their degrees in Arabic language. They are the language-based and liberal arts-based programs.

Students of Arabic at the College of Education

Students who are preparing to be teachers of Arabic as a mother tongue language (language-based program).

Students of Arabic at the Faculty of Arts

Students who study Arabic for its own sake (liberal arts-based program).

Hedonistic Motivation:

Refers to intrinsic interest or enjoyment in the participant.

Pragmatic Motivation:

Refers to choosing a specific program of study for vocational and longer-term reason.

Fatalistic Motivation:

Refers to students who embark on their program of study by default, because they could not get into the program they preferred.

Review of the Literature

Contextual Background

Kuwait is a constitutional state in south western Asia, located at the upper angle of the Arabian Gulf, and is a small country; 45% are native Kuwaitis, and 55% are foreign residents. Petroleum is the sole economic product, and it has made Kuwait a classic welfare state and a tax-free country where education, health, housing, and other public services such as building roads are free (Ministry of Information, 2002).

Kuwait now looks very different from what it did in the aftermath of World War II. Like other developing countries, Kuwait's major motive for this development in education was developing its own human resources in order to be fully independent from the colonial powers of that time (Al-Shaye, 2002). The government of Kuwait bears all public expenditure at all levels of Education to include both capital expenditure and current expenditure. Public expenditure in the field of education covers such outlay / costs as staff salaries and benefits, contracted or purchased services, books and teaching materials, welfare services, furniture and equipment, minor repairs, fuel insurance rents, telecommunications and travel (The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, 2008).

There are two public higher education institutions in Kuwait; Kuwait University and the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training. These two institutions contribute to achieving the ultimate goal of the Kuwaiti educational system-building of a well-balanced citizen who can advance the welfare of the country and humanity. Among the 12 colleges of Kuwait University, there are 2 colleges offering Arabic language programs: College of Education and College of Arts (Kuwait University, 2006).

The Arabic language is highly visible in the Kuwaiti landscape. For first-time visitors, advertisements and street names and shops are often in Arabic, and graffiti are mainly found in Arabic. Arabic continues to be widely used in the Kuwaiti media. Arabic can also be found in foreign publications, and on radio and TV local or satellites (The Academy of Arabic Language, 2006). The emphasis of this study is not on what education in Kuwait is about, what policies are, or how the policies are made; but on what Kuwaiti students perceive that they will gain from different programs of Arabic study. This perspective focuses on the user side rather than on how the policymakers work and on what the education providers intend to achieve (EL Touny, 2002).

Theoretical Background

It is necessary at the outset to examine how established the topic of students' beliefs as a research subject. The concept of human capital, which conceptualizes a relationship between human capital investments (i.e. education, time, and effort) and diverse benefits, assumes that the expected benefits of education are key factors in the demand for 'investment in education' (Becker, 1964). For the purposes of this study, themes relevant to the concept of human capital, and students' beliefs are discussed.

Human capital theorists stress that relating education to purely materialistic gains has distorted the multifaceted value of education (e.g. Psacharopoulos, 2000; Woodhall, 1998). In narrow versions of the human capital theory, skills and knowledge are instrumentally perceived, insofar as they raise individuals' productivity, and hence, other things being equal, increase their lifetime earnings. In contrast, the human capital model may be interpreted more broadly so that we can see the overall picture. Learning should not be limited to higher market earnings (McMahon, 2006), but should also include a knowledge of and capacity to appreciate world cultures. For example, learning may provide a future benefit not reflected in market earnings. The notable contribution of the human capital model emphasizes the importance of non-economic considerations in addition to the economic ones. Thus, monetary and non-monetary returns to education are complementary, not exclusive. Schultz (1963) observed that the classical viewpoint of education had put us on the wrong road of economic thought; he thought claimed that the individual human was a form of capital that could be developed. Therefore, Schultz's important contribution was the assertion that skills and knowledge are a form of capital.

Black (2008) explained that an individual's beliefs are information gathered from past experiences, knowledge about predecessors' experiences, peer group, or even public opinion, pressure, and social norms that are associated with certain programs of education. Since these sources of expectations are vulnerable to variation as a result of various factors, it is likely that they will be imprecise calculations of the expected returns in the chosen program (Lopez, 2008). Beliefs are not fixed; rather they depend on how favorable individuals perceive their circumstances to be in a changing situation (Chen, 2008).

In the most basic terms, students expect continued participation in education to give them a good earning ability, a high living standard, a respected social status in the future, and a positive personal development (Purcell & Pitcher, 1996; Yuan, 2008). In her study, Al-Kandary (2004) found that Kuwait University students' decisions to pursue higher education are affected by their beliefs of how those decisions will alter their future lifetime earning. Similarly, Menon (1997) revealed that students of Cyprus respectively display similar traits with respect to their decisions to pursue higher education. Interestingly, Menon found significant differences between the anticipated beliefs of students intending to pursue higher education and those who are not. In fact, not only deciding to continue participating in education is critical, but also extends to what area of study is being chosen.

Across different regions of the World, Arabic language programs study still attract a fairly large number of students. However, as with other languages programs, students' beliefs about Arabic programs are based upon program-related differences. Boys et al. (1988) examined British students' entry behavior in different disciplines, including English, at nine different institutions each of which has its own philosophy and mission, particularly teaching-based institutions and research-based institutions. They found that the choice of a specific program of study has adjusted overtime to reflect students' beliefs. For example, students choosing a liberal arts-based English degree program had different beliefs with respect to lifelong values from those selecting teaching-based English program. The latter, expected that their programs would provide them with different benefits. Besides appreciating the humane side of language study, there were a number of references to communication skills, which were held to improve the ability to assimilate and present information; so when students select their majors, they would be well-equipped. Based on the researchers' findings, an important point was made-the relationship between academic and students' beliefs is extremely complex due to the complex relationship that reflects the changing nature of students' beliefs.

In their study, Martin and Gawthrope (2004) revealed that students of English show a mix of attitudes towards English and expected benefits. Although students of English at liberal arts school scored low on direct career relevance, their decisions to continue studying the subject for pure enjoyment are often hedged with taking-up another, more applied subject, in a combined program.

Students entering liberal arts or education-based language programs may indeed have an idealized image of career development, or an assumption that the degree is a ticket to a lifetime of demanding and rewarding work. However, it must also be considered that many beliefs are not unreasonable (Martin & Gawthrope, 2004). The question of content and delivery method of language education has arisen out of this new circumstance.

The emergence of language programs that focus more on applied sides of language has become a phenomenon. Skills such as written communications skills, oral communication skills, documenting, searching and the like have predominated the prospectus of language-related programs, whether liberal-arts or education-based (Grin, 2002).

Method

Participants

The population of this study was students of Arabic language majors at the College of Education (213 students) and the Faculty of Arts (374 students,) at Kuwait University for the academic year 2008/2009. The sample of the study were divided into two groups: (a) students of Arabic at the College of Education (n=139); and (b) student of Arabic at the Faculty of Arts (n= 195). The sample size is as important as the sampling procedure, so a process of random selection within each group was utilized.

Instrumentation for the Study

The survey questionnaire that was used in this study is based on the published literature (Purcell & Pitcher, 1996). The survey was divided in the following parts:

1. Independent variable: There is one main independent variable: Program of Study (students of Arabic at the College of Education and students of Arabic at the Faculty of Arts).

2. Dependent variables: There are three dependent variables:

* Student's motivation (divided into three categories):

(a) hedonistic, (b) pragmatic, and (c) fatalistic.

* Students' perceptions of future employers' expectations; and

* Students' aspirations for career development and long-term life goals.

The questionnaire consists of 61 items of 5-point Likert type scale. Negatively worded statements were reverse scored; high scores reflect positive attitudes whereas low scores reflect negative attitudes. Although the scale is a 5-point Likret type, the scale format was of different presentations such as 'agree,' 'possible', and/or 'important'.

Reliability & Validity of the Instrument

The questionnaire was distributed to a number of specialists at Kuwait University for review. The reviewers included one professor from the department of psychology, two professors from the department of curriculum and instruction, two professors of higher education, and one professor of Arabic. A number of items was modified or deleted based on their recommendations. After all modifications were performed, the questionnaire was piloted with a sample of (30) students. Cronbach's Alpha was then calculated. Alpha= 0.89 which is a fairly high internal consistency measure (Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991).

Data collection

Since this study is related to students' beliefs about their chosen programs of different Arabic language programs, the necessary paperwork was submitted to obtain permission to conduct the study. When the permission was granted. Since the average class size is twenty-five students, a number of classes were randomly selected from each program to get the desired number of participants mentioned previously. Subsequently, course instructors were contacted for permission to administer the questionnaire to their students during the class period. The instructors were assured that the complete administration of the survey would not take more than 30 minutes from their class time.

Data Analysis

In order to create a data file for analysis, a coding system was designed based on the questionnaire items and response categories. Each question and measured item formed a variable, and each response category within the variable was defined and assigned a numeric value. For the purpose of this study, each variable was coded according to its appearance in the survey instrument. Following data collection, an identification number was assigned to each questionnaire in order to keep track of each case and to check the accuracy of date entry.

Based on the research questions, two data analysis procedures were conducted: (a) descriptive statistic and (b) inferential statistics, namely, two independent sample t-test. Two independent-sample t-test were used to determine if there were significant differences between the two groups of students of Arabic at the College of Education and the Faculty of Arts.

Findings

Research Question 1

Question one was about whether students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their motivations for joining a such program, their career intentions and their choice of program than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts. The results are shown in Table 1.

Hedonistic Motivation.

It was found that there was a statistically significant difference the total scores of hedonistic motivation for the two groups. Specifically, the group of students in the College of Education was more intrinsically- motivation and experiences more enjoyment than the group of the Faculty of Arts (see Table 1).

Pragmatic Motivation.

The data suggested that students of Arabic in the College of Education and the students of Arabic in the Faculty of Arts demonstrated a statistically significant difference in the total scores of pragmatic motivation. This pragmatic motivation specifically manifested in five components: training opportunity, specialized skills & knowledge, job motivations, getting chosen career and, pursuing education (see Table 1).

Fatalistic Motivation

The data indicate that students of Arabic from the Faculty of Arts were less fatalistic than their counterparts from the College of Education. Specifically, finding employment rather than being a university student was not as applicable to the participants from the Faculty of Arts as to participants from the College of Education. Moreover, students of Arabic from the Faculty of Arts did not cite negative reasons that 'not finding a suitable job was their motivation to be in this program' as did their counterparts from the College of Education (see Table 1).

Research Question 2

Question two concerned about whether students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their perceptions of future employers' expectations than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts.

Results showed that there were no statistically significant differences in the total score with respect to the perceptions of future employers' expectations for the students of Arabic at the College of Education (M = 42.1, SD = 13.55) and the students of Arabic at the Faculty of Arts (M= 19.65, SD = 2.1), t = 1.63,p = .10 > 0.5. However, there was a statistically significant difference in the item concerning the perception of the importance of "time management" between the participants from the College of Education (M = 2.95, SD = 1.43) and the participants from the Faculty of Arts (M = 2.52, SD = 1.46) t = 2.50, p = .01 < 0.5.

Research Question 3

Question three concerned with whether students of Arabic teaching program at the College of Education differ in their aspirations for career development and long term life goals than students of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts. Table 2 shows the results.

Aspiration for career development

Results showed that there was no statistically significant difference in the total score of the aspiration for career development for the participants from the two groups. However, there were some items under this dimension where the two groups showed statistically significant differences: changing employers, achieving higher position, more secure employment and, changing their field of responsibilities (see table 2).

Long term life goals

Overview of data suggested that there was no statistically significant difference in the total score of life long goals scale for the participants from the College of Education, and the participants from the Faculty of Arts.

Discussion of the Findings

Before embarking on the discussion, it would be relevant to raise two issues. First, it is important to know that both groups showed some rationale in choosing their field of study (Becker, 1964). That is, the participants perceived benefits from their investment in education. The statistically significant differences between the two groups were in the degree, not in kind (Abu-Allam, 1994). Secondly, the dichotomy of concepts is better seen on a continuum. That is, if some people are pragmatically-motivated, it does not necessarily mean they are not hedonistically-motivated as well (Al-Thabeity, 1998). In fact, this continuum nature of combining different or even conflicting factors explains why some people showed varying levels of conviction with respect to different factors.

As students decide to continue participating in education, it is clear that they are aware of making an investment in their human capital (Schultz, 1963). The mosaic of beliefs shows that relating any program of study to merely materialistic benefits is not realistic; non-materialistic returns to individual investment in education such as knowledge and skills are apparent in students' perceptions (Psacharopoulos, 2006; Quiggin, 1999; Woodhall, 1998). For instance, beyond how much their program contributes to their earnings, students believe that the knowledge they gain from their chosen program can help them get added values such as respected social status and positive personal development in terms of skills and knowledge (Alexander & Salmon, 1995; OECD, 2002; Purcell & Pitcher, 1996). Thus, students joining different Arabic language programs display similar traits with respect to their decisions to pursue participating in higher education (Menon, 1997; Wong, 1989).

Despite the fact that students of Arabic from the College of Education were more fatalistically-motivated and, at the same time, more hedonistically pragmatically-motivated than the students of Arabic from the Faculty of Arts, it is not unusual to come across such a case. According to Machlup (1978), the sources of beliefs are various including individual information (e.g., one's own or acquaintance's experience) about the relevant peers, family and so on. Since these sources are vulnerable to variation (alternation) as a result of political, social and economic factors, it is likely that they will be present in students' calculations of the returns they perceive in the chosen program (OECD, 2002). Hence, beliefs themselves are not static; rather they depend substantially on how favorable individuals perceive their circumstances to be in the changing situation (Williams, 2001). Haggan (1998), for example, has found in her study of Kuwaiti participants majoring in English at Kuwait University that although students held negative attitudes towards English, they expected materialistic returns for continued participating in the English program. Indeed, this last notice reflects that holding conflicting beliefs towards a multi-dimensional phenomenon is not unusual in social research (Abu-Allam, 2006).

Although students of Arabic have what might be called "generic" beliefs with respect to choosing their academic program, students who clustered within certain categories held different beliefs as a function of course content (Boys et al.; 1988). Hence, students of the two programs showed no statistically significant differences in terms of life-long beliefs about their programs and their general philosophy of Arabic language programs in general. Moreover, since the future employer is very likely to be the government (Arab Planning Institute, 2002; El Touny, 2002), different programs of Arabic language appear to be a less prominent indicator of future employers' expectations than if the employment were part of the free market. It is worth noting, however, that since the public sector is the first choice, students of Arabic from the College of Education are more realistic in their beliefs about their academic program. On the other hand, as the ultimate objective designed for the Arabic language graduate in the Faculty of Arts is developing educated individuals rather than meeting the society's needs of manpower in public services (Faculty of Arts, 2003/2004), we can understand why the students of English from the Faculty of Arts are less anxious with pragmatic motivations.

Implications for Educational Pedagogy

The findings of many studies, including the current study, have demonstrated that students' beliefs about investing in higher education have become, an important tool and an essential part of educational policies. The findings from this study suggest a number of implications to be taken into consideration by educational planners in Kuwait. First, they need to be aware of the role of students' beliefs in investing in further education and to encourage students and their families to communicate those beliefs about the potential benefits of their chosen program with those who are in a better position for advising them. Second, students' beliefs are of no less importance as an input than other indicators to policies concerning education and employment. Third, it is plausible to let that each program present itself as it is, whether liberal arts-based or professional-based language programs (Grin, 2002). The case should be, however, that the whole community believes in the unique contribution of each program, respectively (Martin and Gawthropem, 2004). The ultimate goal is to enhance students' achievement and understanding of the content of their chosen program.

Recommendations for Future Research

This exploratory research reveals fascinating patterns within the beliefs of students of Arabic enrolled in career-based and liberal arts-based programs. First of all, the extent to which students' beliefs of enrollment in different programs are being and are likely to be true, and the extent to which their beliefs of the transition from education to real world are realistic can only be assessed properly over a longer period of time. Second, if I were to approach the research again, I would rather conduct a two-stage study, comprised of a quantitative followed by a qualitative study. Alternatively, it is suggested that a qualitative study be built on the findings of this and other similar studies. The main strength of qualitative approach is providing a deep understanding of a given phenomenon through answering "how" and "why" questions, emphasis has been tracking situations over a period of time rather than tracking frequencies of occurrences. Basically, qualitative approach can provide us with two crucial outcomes (see Creswell, 2003):

* Understanding the participants' ways of making their experiences and events meaningful and how their beliefs and the behavior are reflected in the real world mutually influence each other.

* Understanding the particular context within the participants act, and how this context affects their actions.

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DR. SHAYE S. AL-SHAYE

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Kuwait University

Table 1
T-test Results for Items Showing Statistically Significant
Differences in Students' Opinions Regarding the Motivations
for choosing a specific program

Type of Motivation            Education         Arts       t-value

                              M       SD     M        SD

Hedonistic Motivation        16.7    4.7    15.5     5.3    2.1

Pragmatic Motivation         14.2    5.6    12.0     4.2    3.8
  - Training opportunity      2.2    1.3     1.9     1.1    2.3
  - Specialized skills &      1.50   1.09    1.30     .81   2.34
    knowledge
  - Job motivations           2.18   1.26    1.75    1.13   3.20
  - Getting Chosen career     2.43   1.33    2.02    1.26   2.80
  - Pursuing Education        2.14   1.22    1.90    1.10   2.51

Fatalistic Motivation        16.45   4.27   18.03    4.45   3.34
  - Finding Employment        2.86   1.51    3.49    1.42   3.97
  - Suitable Job              3.39   1.39    3.86    1.35   2.95

Type of Motivation            P *

Hedonistic Motivation        .04

Pragmatic Motivation         .0006
  - Training opportunity     .02
  - Specialized skills &     .02
    knowledge
  - Job motivations          .001
  - Getting Chosen career    .005
  - Pursuing Education       .01

Fatalistic Motivation        .002
  - Finding Employment       .0002
  - Suitable Job             .003

* Sig value is 0.05

Table 2
T-test Results for Items Showing Statistically Significant Differences
in Students' Beliefs about aspiration for career development and long
term life goals

Item                           Education      Arts       t-value

                               M     SD     M      SD

Aspirations for career dev:
  - Changing employers        2.7    1.3   2.2     1.2    2.1
  - Achieving higher          3.4    1.4   3.4     1.5    2.4
    position
  - More secure               3.6    1.2   3.3     1.6    2.7
    employment
  - Changing their field of   3.4    1.3   2.6     1.25   3.30
    responsibilities

Long term fife goals          41.3   5.1   40.2    5.3     .72

Item                           P *

Aspirations for career dev:
  - Changing employers        0.02
  - Achieving higher          0.01
    position
  - More secure                .005
    employment
  - Changing their field of    .001
    responsibilities

Long term fife goals          0.5

* Sig value is 0.05
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