Canadian Teacher Inspires Saudi Students at Misk Schools in Riyadh

Canadian teacher Kathleen O'Neil attending the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh in November 2017.

It’s been just over a year since Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman founded Misk Schools, a state-of-the-art day school in Riyadh imparting a world-class education based on the International Baccalaureate Program.

Like many of the Misk Initiatives, Misk Schools is attracting top talent from around the world to teach and inspire the next generation of Saudi students. One of those teachers is Kathleen O’Neil, a 31-year-old Canadian educator who has lived in the Middle East for the past eight years. A graduate from the University of Toronto, she moved to the United Arab Emirates shortly afterward to participate in an education forum in Abu Dhabi, and now considers Saudi Arabia home.

Speaking to Arabia Now from Riyadh about what inspires her to be a teacher, O’Neil said, “I wanted to be a teacher to do my part to improve our world. Education is power and there is no better way to contribute to the younger generation, especially girls, than to give them an education.”

She’s certainly picked the right place to pursue her passion to educate.

MiSK Schools champions a unique education model in which experienced local and international faculty members use project-based and experiential learning—among a range of instructional methodologies—to equip young minds with the necessary cognitive, academic and social skills to succeed in everyday life.

In Saudi Arabia for nearly four months, O’Neil told Arabia Now that what has surprised her most about Saudi Arabia is the Kingdom’s openness. “Coming here, you try to prepare yourself for the closed society that you hear so much about,” she said. “I have found the opposite to be true. The people have been warm, kind, welcoming and genuine. Similar to Canadians. It’s easy to feel at home here.”

The deserts of Arabia are a long way from where she grew up in Canada, surrounded by farms and country roads. In the winters, temperatures in her hometown get down to about minus 30 degrees Celsius. So it’s no surprise she gets lots of questions from her Saudi students at Misk schools about where she was born. O’Neil told Arabia Now, “They keep asking me about the snow, the snow and the snow! They are intrigued about Canada and the cold. I wish I could take them on a field trip to experience it for a week, then they’d be asking to come back to Saudi Arabia quickly!”

O’Neil may be teaching, but it’s not stopping her from learning, too. “At Misk Schools, there are so many innovative things happening. I am learning as much as the students every day about new forms of technology and creative ways to teach and learn collaboratively,” she said. “The students are my biggest inspiration and motivators.”

Misk Schools offers a holistic learning environment, by integrating technology into everyday learning to foster students’ curiosity, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. O’Neil is also offering lots of her free time to volunteering with different charitable initiatives.

Given that Misk Schools’ values are to be “curious, listening, aiming high, and never giving up,” it would seem O’Neil is very aligned with that. Her journey to become a teacher in Saudi Arabia, and the visions she has to inspire and give back, are qualities every student will say are one of the best lessons they could ever learn.