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Blog post Part of special issue: Action research: Research into action

Looking to action research to bridge educational gaps caused by the Covid-19 pandemic: A Saudi perspective

Hibah Aladsani, Assistant Professor at King Faisal University

In March 2022, schools reopened in Saudi Arabia. As an educator in higher education, the most noticeable change with my students was their preference for distance learning. However, my sister, who teaches year two students (aged 7–8 years), raised her concerns regarding their loss of learning. On the first day of the pupils’ return, only three pupils could write their names properly! She also discovered great gaps in their skills of mathematics and literacy. International studies have documented that primary school students scored below normal percentile points in literacy and maths as a result of the educational disruption caused by Covid-19 (Donnelly & Patrinos, 2021; Engzell et al., 2021).

The Saudi ministry of education initiated several remedial measures to reduce students’ learning loss, such as extending the hours and days of the school year, giving priority to improving literacy and mathematics skills, and applying diagnostic tests to identify the educational level of each student. However, my sister felt that her students needed a special plan that was formed specifically for their needs.

This prompted me to recall a BERA event I had attended in November 2021, titled ‘Action Research – Research into action’ which was delivered by the Research Methodology in Education special interest group. So, I advised my sister:

‘When you have a problem in the classroom and aim for transformative change and solve this problem, you can apply action research steps through multiple research techniques. This approach composes a circle of planning, action, evaluation and reflection. This approach should be a collaborative action between you, your students and the stakeholders.’

I explained that action research regards teachers as researchers, which is important as they live inside the field of education every day, and so understand the weaknesses and strengths of the educational process (Kincheloe, 2012).

She wanted more information from me, but action research was a new approach to me. The BERA event and my sister’s queries were the sparks to start my journey of exploring the world of action research. I had a rich discussion with a friend who applied action research in her PhD thesis (Alkhalaf, 2021), listened to a great podcast about action research delivered by Colleen McLaughlin from the University of Cambridge, and read key texts (such as Greenwood & Levin, 2007; Mills, 2017).

‘The Saudi Ministry of Education could encourage teachers to do research by rewarding them with reducing their teaching load and providing training courses about research methodologies.’

I then suggested to my sister that we should carry out action research in the next year to try to address the learning loss of her pupils. She hesitated for two reasons: her teaching overload and her lack of research knowledge. Ulla et al. (2017) discussed similar challenges that – despite positive perceptions of teachers towards doing research – their lack of research skills, lack of financial support from schools, and their heavy teaching loads were their main obstacles. My sister’s hesitation made me think of the importance of promoting the idea of teachers as researchers. In my opinion, the Ministry of Education could encourage teachers to do research by rewarding them with reducing their teaching load and providing training courses about research methodologies. We can learn from Finnish experience on research–teaching integration. The Ministry of Education in Finland launched several research-based development programmes – delivered by university-based teacher educators – to support training teachers in school-based research skills to apply once in the profession, and to utilise their research findings to improve their educational content, course design and pedagogy (Cao et al., 2021).


Alkhalaf, A. K. (2021). Integrating sustainable education into an ICT curriculum: A study into the role of ‘technology stewardship’ in achieving transformative learning toward sustainability in a Saudi Arabian ICT training context for pre-service teachers [Doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester (UK)].

Cao, Y., Postareff, L., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., & Toom, A. (2021). A survey research on Finnish teacher educators’ research-teaching integration and its relationship with their approaches to teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 46(1), 171–198.

Donnelly, R., & Patrinos, H. A. (2021). Learning loss during COVID-19: An early systematic review. Prospects, 51, 601–609. 

Engzell, P., Frey, A., & Verhagen, M. D. (2021). Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(17). 

Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action research. Sage.

Kincheloe, J. (2012). Teachers as researchers (classic edition): Qualitative inquiry as a path to empowerment. Routledge.

Mills, G. E. (2018). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher. Pearson.

Ulla, M. B., Barrera, K. I. B., & Acompanado, M. M. (2017). Philippine classroom teachers as researchers: Teachers’ perceptions, motivations, and challenges. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 42(11), 52–64.