Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid AL MSAFIR: Redefining and Enhancing the Global Education Structure
Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid AL MSAFIR

Humans are interesting creatures, with their enhanced thinking, they are the most dominant species ever to walk the face of the earth; they have made a legacy of themselves through evolution. Settled in a system carefully curated to keep human racing moving, education has been the study of records recorded in humanity.

However, even though the human race has effectively brought changes in the education system across the world, the systemic arrangement seems to differ depending on the geographic location.

In this quest to bring the entire world on the same page as the education system across the world, education leaders are making a difference with a commitment to walk that extra mile. One such educator is Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid Al Msafir. He is redefining and enhancing global education with a vision to bring the entire world on the same page in terms of education.

With his journey being his inspiration, Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid laid the genesis of Alnoor International School in 2007. Being the Founder, Chairman and CEO of the prestigious school, Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid shared his inspiring journey with The Knowledge Review magazine.

Let’s dive deep into an interactive exchange of thoughts with a prominent education leader, Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid.

An Adventurous Journey of a Lifetime

For Dr Mahmoud Khalid, his childhood has been an informed trip through history. Being born to a judge, he was able to travel and live in several towns and cities across the country. This added to his advantage and opened doors to many opportunities with added responsibilities at an early age.

Sharing this initiation of his academic journey as a leader, he says, “In 1980, I joined the Vanguards, supervised by the General Union of Iraqi Youth and became a member of the National Union of the Intermediate Schools to maintain the security of the city where I was living with my parents and siblings.”

Moving forward with higher education, in 1984, he relocated to the capital city of Baghdad to enrol at the University of Baghdad, majoring in Economics. Looking back at his journey during his graduation, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “During my bachelor’s degree, I was elected as the president of the National Federation (Student Union) at the Faculty of Management and Economics at the University of Baghdad. Being a student representative helped me be aware of students’ problems, challenges, and struggles. Being close to the students encouraged me to continue to represent students.”

In 1991, I decided to obtain my Master’s Degree (MA) from Baghdad University and towards the end of 1993, I was appointed by the university as an assistant lecturer and was entrusted with the administrative task as Administrative Development manager,” he further added recalling his university days.

Further shedding light on his journey after his PhD, Dr Mahmoud Khalid highlights, “At the age of 27, as I was preparing to complete my PhD in International Economics. During that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened its doors to recruit new applicants. Therefore, I decided to apply to join and admit to the Foreign Service Institute and was able to secure a seat at the institute and out of eight hundred applicants, only fifty were accepted, and I was among those fifty. Even though I was accepted at the Foreign Service Institute, I could keep my position and post at the University until I completed and graduated from the Foreign Service Institute. I remained at the institute for two years from early 1995 – late 1996.”

The Start of an Inspiring Career

After joining the Foreign Service Institute, Dato Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid Al Msafir was officially appointed as the third secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while being a lecturer at the University of Baghdad. He highlights his journey as a secretary and academician: “At the age of 27, as I was preparing to complete my PhD in International Economics, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened its door to recruit new applicants. Therefore, I decided to apply to join the Foreign Service Institute. Subsequently, I was transferred to Cairo as the first secretary at the Iraqi Representation in the Arab League and Representative of Iraq in the Council of Arab Economic Unity along with a number of Economic Organizations based in Cairo.”

Towards the end of 2003, I was transferred as Charge de affaires to the Iraqi Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At the end of 2006, I decided to resign from my post and return back to lecturing. Thereafter, I joined UCSI University and was appointed as Vice President of the University and later on Associate Vice President. Then, I was transferred to UCSI Terengganu to become the Chief Operating Officer (COO),” he further stated.

Moving ahead with his highly experienced and promising career, Dr Mahmoud Khalid joined UNITEN as an Associate Professor of International Economics. During his time with UNITEN from 2009-2017, he took up various positions, like Head of the Centre for Globalisation Studies and Postgraduate Studies for Administrative and Economic aspects at the College of Graduate Studies at UCSI while teaching Economic subjects for Postgraduate students. Highlighting his influence on the younger generation catering to his vision, he proudly shares that more than twelve PhD students graduated under his guidance, and ten students graduated with a Master of Arts.

Prospecting his journey with UNITEN, he shares, “During my academic career, I supervised over a hundred scientific papers published in international journals, published three books and translated many books. I wrote hundreds of Economic, Political and Social Articles in a number of international newspapers and websites.”

In 2017, I received the Distinguishing Professor’s Shield from UNITEN, and I left the University after I received an early retirement to devote myself to fulfil another dream, that is to manage AI Noor International Schools (AISKL), which was established in 2007. I was one of the founders and now chairman of Alnoor International Schools,” he further highlighted.

Laying the Founding Stone of Alnoor International School

In his journey as a prominent educator, Dato Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid Al Msafir founded Design for scientific Renaissance (DSR). Talking about his foundation, he says, “It is a scientific institution that sponsors scientific affairs, research and conferences. Over the past few years, DSR has hosted seven annual international conferences, presented twelve peer-reviewed journals, and provided booths for training.”

Moving ahead, in 2018, I was offered to establish a university in Qatar and to be its first president. I founded the University, Lusail University. In 2020, after the pandemic hit the world, businesses around the globe were shaken. Eventually, I returned to Malaysia to pick up where I left off; both Alnoor International Schools and DSR need my full attention as Chairman of the Board of Directors,” he further added.

However, the genesis story of this unique school dates back to 2003, when Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid Al Msafir and his family first arrived in Malaysia. Unfamiliar with Bahasa at that time, they sent their kids to an Arabic expatriate school. After their two kids spent several years of primary and secondary education in expatriate schools in Kuala Lumpur, Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud and his wife realized that expatriate schools did not provide university-qualifying education. In order to join globally renowned universities, students from expatriate schools were required to enrol in one-year preparatory foundation courses.

With a vision to bridge the gap and also streamline the required curriculum, Dr Mahmoud Khalid and his friend, the late Dr Yassin Yahya Yassin, set out to establish a school that would provide affordable high quality and university-qualifying education in English to other Arab expatriate families’ children.

Further highlighting the journey and formation of the core members of the Alnoor International School, he says, “We were then soon joined by Captain Ibrahim Muhammad and Dr Abdulsaheb Saleh Abdulsaheb, who at that time was also trying to find the right education for their school-aged children. The four founders looked for suitable premises in Kuala Lumpur. The first school premises was at Jalan Damai in mid-2007. The campus then was measured 1700sq m, and with the assistance and knowledge granted by Datin Amani, the premises were equipped to serve as a school.”

Combining Western-style education (IGCSE) with community-focused Arabic values to create a global-minded awareness among the younger generation, Al Noor International Schools was inaugurated in July 2007, and he highlights his first achievement of the school, he asserts, “In Jalan Damai, the first batch of 70 students from 12 different nationalities started their education journey from Preschool 1 until IG 1 (level 10) at AIS in 2007.”

Initiating the Global Education Vision with AIS

Al Noor International Schools was established with a vision to bring global education on the same page for everyone. While the school started functioning in 2007, the first memorable milestone for the school toward the shared vision of global education came in 2010, when the Cambridge Assessment Centre officially recognised it. Asserting this importance to the curriculum, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “From then on, anyone wanting to obtain an international education certificate could turn to AIS to take an official IGCSE examination and prove the attainment of the Level 9 Checkpoint.”

Seeing the growth of Al Noor International Schools in 2011, the school management decided to expand its wings across the country. Starting right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in Jalan Bellamy, the new premises are brimming with green, quiet and peaceful Bukit Petaling. AIS moved from Jalan Damai to Jalan Bellamy in 2011, with the new premises accommodating 300 students in 2013. In the same year, 2013, the expansion continued to the neighbouring premise, which now allowed the school to offer education to up to 600 students.

Further highlighting the milestones achieved by AIS, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “In 2014, to complement the existing Cambridge Assessment Centre, AIS added a Cambridge Assessment Centre for Primary, allowing anyone to prove the attainment of the Level 6 Checkpoint. At this point, Alnoor International School was renamed Al Noor International Schools to reflect the extended offering.”

In 2016, AIS acquired its own transportation fleet consisting of three school buses and seven school vans. From then on, students and parents could count on a reliable and safe transportation service. In 2019 the student body counted 46 different nationalities across the two campuses in Jalan Bellamy,” he further added.

Innovative Learning with Modern Technology

Ever since the foundation of Al Noor International Schools, the school’s core objective has been delivering high-quality education alongside modern means of teaching, emphasised by fostering intercultural understanding. This emphasis is highlighted by the diverse student body and modern smartboards that were introduced as early as 2015.

During the years of 2020-2022, when the world was adjusting to COVID, AIS rapidly established hybrid learning, combining physical and digital teaching,” Dr Mahmoud Khalid highlighted how the school adapted and overcame the challenge put forth by COVID-19.

Catering for the Vision of Globalisation

On observing the love for the game of football in the students, in 2022, the notorious Joga Bonito arena, a state-of-the-art Astroturf 5-by-5 futsal pitch, started operations on the premises of Alnoor International School, once more showcasing AIS’ international and innovative spirit.

Football being a sport that brings people together peacefully globally, AIS strives to play sports as an integral part of the learning experience. Currently, a second pitch is under construction to provide football and recreational opportunities for an even larger number of students,” Dr Mahmoud Khalid said, giving an example of the inclusive international culture adopted at AIS.

Developing an Inclusive Cultural Institution

The next challenge that Dr Mahmoud Khalid faced as a prominent educator was bringing inclusive culture into the institution’s curriculum. Talking about this philosophy and how the school brought effective measures to make the model work, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “AIS-KL aims to create a high-quality, reasonably priced institution that welcomes families and students from many classes. The second objective is to mould children’s behaviour in middle-class families and local communities to be consistent with societal norms and values. So, we toiled, and I saw to it that English remained the school’s medium language of instruction while still upholding the principles and values of each socioeconomic, racial, and religious group.”

We aimed from the beginning to establish an international school based on an academic basis and not as a business of education. Due to the tight academic ties between our founders, we have upheld it from the beginning. To this day, I have personally been concerned about academic concerns to protect it from any defect or lapse,” he added.

Gracefully Overcoming Challenges

Starting an institution based on values is bound to encounter ethical and unprecedented challenges, similarly parallel to the inception story of Alnoor International School. Asserting the difficulties the school encountered, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “The difficulties we encountered as an organisation were low wages and earnings and the burden of paying for the expenses of starting and maintaining a top-tier international school. It was indeed a significant issue for us, but we discovered people who shared our beliefs by striking a balance and looking for those who valued education above huge salaries. They helped us a lot by transforming our ideas into reality. These folks choose to work in a similar setting despite having access to better occupations with higher pay.”

By employing English Intensive Program professionals and offering courses and seminars, AIS-KL has created a variety of tailored education. The idea was put into practice without any problems, and this individualized teaching helped our students and brought our school closer together,” he added.

The school has carefully curated a curriculum that indulges students in their holistic development. Students at AIS-KL are encouraged to participate in the exciting life at the campus actively. Explaining the eccentric campus life at Alnoor International School, Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “When kids are interested in their studies, they have a positive attitude about school, contribute meaningfully to classroom discussions, and are prepared to do their best. A more positive school climate may be created by encouraging students to take an active role in their education, which can positively affect their academic performance. Many options for extracurriculars have been made available, and students are free to pick and choose among them as they see suitable. There are events held each year, each semester, and each week.”

Festivities celebrated once a year include a carnival, a sports competition, and a performance or ceremony of some sort. The school has a term-based co-curriculum comprising (different sports activities, a cooking club, environmental, art, and design, etc.)—frequent interactions between educators and their charges weekly,” he further added.

The Global Perspectives

Further catering to the vision seen by Dato. Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid Al Msafir, Alnoor International School launched an innovative initiative under the flagship of Global Perspectives. Through this initiative, the schools aim to deploy a method of thinking that would make a student understand the importance of critical thinking from a global perspective.

He explains this with an example: “For instance, the United Nations’ stance on climate change is automatically global, given its status as a supranational organisation with international weight. Students’ curiosity and participation in global concerns have increased dramatically since the program’s implementation in grades 4–11.”

An Inspiration’s Advice to the Future

Advising educators on the future of education, Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid says, “My message is that education must not be a burden on both kids and parents. Learning must be pleasurable, engaging, and intriguing, comprehending the need to have a qualification to gain a career in the future. I believe that a person should have the opportunity to pick what they love to study and that students should not be condemned if they are not strong in specific courses and are more robust in others. If the desire equals the passion, it is a tremendous success.”

Envisioning the Future of AIS

Shedding some light on the future of the school moving forward, Prof. Dr Mahmoud Khalid asserts, “It is interesting to me to learn about the new trends in the field of education. I think it is essential for kids to strike a good balance between hard work and doing what is right. Institutions like AIS-KL, which aim to develop students who are educated and prepared for the modern world, are responsible for giving those students the means to relax and have fun while they learn. As I see it, the future will require fewer study hours per student because of its positive impact on the output.”

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