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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Teaching Computer Science in North America and in the Gulf Countries: The Widening Gap

Dr Mohsen Madi, Dr Ahmed Guessoum.

Theoretically, the establishment of successful higher education programs that specialize in computer science (CS) in the Gulf countries is expected to be based on the following typical factors:

• a well-designed curriculum, built around the principles endorsed by international accreditation boards;
• competent, teaching-minded, research-active faculty; and
• proper computing facilities and educational logistics (such as textbooks, libraries, properly equipped labs, techno-ready lecture halls, etc.).

However, whereas such anticipated success is proven to be the case in North America (NA) and in the developed countries in general, it is observed that the presence of the aforementioned factors is far from sufficient to producing the expected success when applied in the developing countries. For example, although the Gulf countries do not lack any of the above ingredients---neither in quantity nor in quality, the proficiency of students graduating from higher education institutions in the field of CS remains largely dismal when compared to their peers graduating from North American institutions. Our main statement is that the gap between the effectiveness of CS education in North America and in the Gulf countries is widening.

In this paper, we present some preliminary results that attempt to analyze and understand the key factors leading to the ineffectiveness of CS education in Gulf universities and, consequently, to the widening of the gap. In order for us to start bridging in the gap and as a result close it, it is necessary to realize and take into account the importance of several factors and differences that can be cultural, which entail some attitude towards a CS degree in particular, or technical in terms of inadequate sharpening of the students' problem solving skills in their pre-university education in the Gulf. Another outstanding factor is the linguistic barrier. For example, whereas English is justifiably the language of instruction in CS, the level of English as currently present in textbooks is proving to be overwhelming to the students. Through the results of several surveys conducted on large samples of students both in the United States and the UAE, we are able to probe deep into the cultural mindset and psychological preparedness of the students, as well as other academic and administrative factors that we feel contribute to the widening of the gap.

The work presented here tackles an issue which has been on the minds of many academics in the Gulf countries that have been educated in the west. It is our intention that the work we present in this paper provides the initial grounds for further research and development in this critical area, based on critical peer reviews and correct diagnosis. It is also accepted that in pursuing such objectives, we must penetrate through a detailed scrutiny of pre-university education and its goals, as well as a wider socio-cultural analysis of the place of education and the degree of its importance in the minds of the youth.


Dr Mohsen Madi  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Department of Computr & Information Science College of Engineering & Computer Science
University of Michigan-Dearborn

Mohsen Madi, PhD
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
University of Michigan-Dearborn

Dr. Mohsen Madi has obtained his B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees in computer Science from North American Universities. Prior to his current position in the US, he was an assistant professor in a young but ambitious university in the Gulf. He constantly tries to document and put to use his international experience when teaching and mentoring students with different backgrounds and cultures.

Dr. Madi research interests are in the areas of computer graphics and object oriented software development. He is currently in process of putting the initial sketches of a trend of academic textbooks, where the objectives are on enhancing problem solving skills and mastery of software development techniques for students of diverse backgrounds.

Dr Ahmed Guessoum  (United Arab Emirates)
Associate Professor of Computer Science

University of Sharjah

Dr. Ahmed Guessoum received his Ingeniorat from Algiers University of Science and Technology (Algeria), his MSc from the University of Southern California and Ph.D. from the University of Bristol (UK), all degrees being in Computer Science. He was a Research Associate on an ESPRIT project at the University of Bristol from 1991 to 1993 and a Guest Researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim (Norway) from 1993 to 1995. He then served as an Assistant Professor at King Saud
University in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) until 2000. Currently, he is an Associate Professor at the University of Sharjah (UAE).

Dr. Guessoum's current research interests cover Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Understanding. He currently works on Machine Translation (MT) with a special focus on translation between English and Arabic and the use of MT for Internet uses and education. He has also developed some keen interest for issues related to Information Technology and globalization.

  • Computer Science Education
  • Software Engineering
  • Problem Solving
  • Developing Countries

(30 min Conference Paper, English)