Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Firm seals 'mind-boggling' deal

Consultancy helping hundreds of thousands of girls sidestep cultural and transport problems to get to class.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

With no meaningful public transport system and a ban on women drivers, getting to school in Saudi Arabia is a challenge beyond many students.

But the expertise of a New Zealand company is helping deliver around 750,000 Saudi schoolgirls to and from their lessons, five days a week.

Cognition Education has co-ordinated school transport in New Zealand for many years, and its help was sought out by a Saudi company which had been awarded new school transport contracts.

This year the joint-venture between Cognition and Tatweer Transport Company will expand to cover about 800,000 more students - half male, half female.

"The numbers are just mind-boggling, from our perspective," said Cognition's transport operations manager for Cognition, Karl Hutton.

"Tatweer has identified around 5 million school-aged kids in Saudi, and at this stage they are the only organisation operating school transport."

Mr Hutton said officials had initially targeted at girls because a significant number weren't attending school, mainly because they could not get there.

"They don't have a regular public transport network ... and women can't drive in Saudi Arabia, and girls can only be driven to school by a family member."

Cognition has worked on projects in the Gulf region for about 10 years. The education consultancy now works in 25 countries and employs around 200 people.

Its sole shareholder is the Cognition Education Trust, a not-for-profit organisation which invests in New Zealand educational initiatives, programmes and projects.

In March, Cognition will host the Festival of Education, a showcase and celebration of innovation and success in education in New Zealand.

One focus of the events, supported by the Ministry of Education, will be the export of New Zealand education.

Mr Hutton said the collaboration with Tatweer Transport was an example of what could be achieved.

"[Tatweer] had a philosophy of building capability by having people who knew what they were doing sitting alongside people who are learning really quickly, and in 12 months they have picked that up really quickly, and they're doing it."

Big numbers

Catching the school bus in Saudi Arabia:

* New Zealand company is helping transport about 750,000 school girls in Saudi Arabia to and from school.

* This year the programme will expand by another 800,000 students.

* Many children cannot get to school because Saudi Arabia has little public transport, a ban on women drivers and cultural restrictions which say female students can travel only with family members.

- NZ Herald

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