Quality of Saudi Nurseries: Application of the Translated Infants and Toddlers Evaluation Rating Scale – Third Edition (ITERS-3)

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by Dr. Nahla Gahwaji , NA
Classification: For Code: 111799
Keywords: quality, nursery, ITERS, translation, Saudi Arabia.
Language: English

This research examined the quality of a nursery using the translated Infant & toddlers evaluation rating scale (ITERS-3), so that it can be applied for quality evaluation of nursery provision in Saudi Arabia. The case study approach was used where the (ITERS-3) is applied at 6 nurseries (3 public and 3 private) where one of the private nurseries is located at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) that was chosen intentionally for its high-quality standards. The sample classrooms in nurseries were selected; representing 3 levels as follows: infants (4 months, 1 year and 7 months), toddler  (1 year, 7 months - 2 years and 3 months), and children more than two years  (2 years and 3 months - up to 2 years and 8 months). The translated ITERS-3 is applied in theses classrooms to test its utility to the Saudi culture. The research concluded with some recommendations for policy and practice for nurseries in Saudi Arabia, besides it provides guidelines to develop more professionally skilled and competent caregivers.


Quality of Saudi Nurseries: Application of the Translated Infants and Toddlers Evaluation Rating Scale –Third Edition (ITERS-3)

Nahla M. Gahwaji



The study examined the quality of nurseries using the translated Infant & toddlers evaluation rating scale (ITERS-3), to use the quality tool to evaluate nursery provision in Saudi Arabia.  The case study approach was used where the (ITERS-3) is applied at three public and three private nurseries, where one of the private nurseries was located at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).  The nursery was chosen intentionally for its high-quality standards. The sample classrooms in nurseries were selected; representing 3 levels as follows: infants (4 months, 1 year and 7 months), toddler (1 year, 7 months - 2 years and 3 months), and children more than two years (2 years and 3 months - up to 2 years and 8 months). The translated ITERS-3 is applied in theses classrooms to test its utility to the Saudi culture.  The research concluded with some recommendations for policy and practice for nurseries in Saudi Arabia, besides it provides guidelines to develop more professionally skilled and competent caregivers.

Keywords: quality; nursery; ITERS; translation; Saudi Arabia.

Author: Associate Professor, Childhood Studies Dept. King Abdulaziz University.


Due to the importance of quality in education and its consideration as the focus of attention and a pillar on which to build outstanding and good education, it has become necessary to provide noteworthy services to the nursery provision to achieve the highest quality standards.  The decree of the Minister of Education (2016) to merge kindergarten stage to primary Saudi public schools, that benefits working mothers and female students at universities, was remarkable in action (Ministry of Education, 2017).  It should be noted that the interest in the quality of the educational environment in compliance with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 for education was limited to kindergarten stage, where the Ministry of Education (MOE) issued a decree requiring all public kindergartens to apply the Quality Evaluation Tool (Gahwaji, 2006).  The Quality evaluation tool is translated and adapted versions of the ECERS-R (Harms, et al., 2005) and ECERS-E (Sylva et al., 2010) scales, in addition to the Saudi extension ECERS-SA.  

Empirical research in the area of nursery provision, and particularly in quality evaluation of nurseries in Saudi Arabia, is lacking.  The study will form a foundation on which more national research can be performed, in contrast to many Western countries, the “quality journey” is only just beginning in Saudi Arabia.  There are no quality evaluation tools that have been developed specifically for use in Saudi nurseries.  Therefore, analyzing translated widely known frameworks for assessing quality in Western cultures such as the ITERS -3 (Harms et al., 2017), will be critically evaluated and adapted.  This translation process will provide researchers and practitioners with further opportunities to use this rating scale to improve and maintain the quality of nurseries in Saudi Arabia.  More importantly, it is anticipated that the research findings will be relevant to the Gulf countries because they share the same religion and language, and a similar cultural background with Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, this study can improve the quality of nurseries through its recommendations for changes in policy and practice.

There were several local research studies that assess the quality of environment of Saudi kindergartens (Alhejaili & Gahwaji, 2018), but unfortunately, there are no similar studies at nursery provision due to the limited number of nurseries.  Considering the environment as an essential component of excellence, the researcher decided to evaluate the practical and structural variables of quality at nurseries through the application of a standard rating scale.  Subsequently, translating the ITERS-3 will build a base on which quality of nursery provision can initiate as the kindergarten stage on the government level to provide quality care for young children under the supervision of qualified caregivers.

The original ITERS (Harms et al., 1990) and the revised ITERS-R (Harms et al., 2006) have been used in research studies and program improvement efforts in many countries such as Canada, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Portugal, England, Spain, Austria, Hong Kong, and Korea.  They have been proven reliable and valid in each country with relatively minor adaptations.  Even though there were cultural differences among these various countries, yet each adheres to a core set of child development goals and practices common to most industrialized countries (European Commission, 2009).  It has been shown that in England, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Austria, higher scores on the ITERS were related to more positive child development outcomes (European Childcare and Education Study Group, 1997; Fiene, 2003; Petrogiannis & Melhuish. 1996).  These results provided evidence that children from many backgrounds require similar inputs for success in developmental areas valued in western industrialized countries.  Furthermore the ITERS has been translated into several languages, including German, Spanish, and Japanese, and was used in several international studies (Harms et al. 2003; Harms et al., 2004; Harms et al. 2005).  The ITERS is developed in close collaboration with realistic field-based sites.  The ITERS is used in a variety of ways in program improvement efforts in the USA and in other countries, including self-assessment by centre and staff, preparation for accreditation, and voluntary improvement efforts by licensing or other agencies.


The establishment and opening of the first nursery in Saudi Arabia were in (1980), and the total number of nurseries throughout the country at that time reached to (11) serving (202) children supervised by (12) caregivers, statistics overall not encouraging at that time.  In (2000), the number had increased to (126) centres, where the number of children reached (1,164) supervised by (185) caregivers (Azzazi, 2010).  Until now, attention in nursery provision continues with the opening of (80) public centres in Riyadh region only; strong indicators of sustainable development are solid and keen to keep pace with revolution in the right way all over the regions of Saudi Arabia.

Provision serving young children in Saudi Arabia vary according to many variables, perhaps the most important of which is the service type, provider, or supervisory authority according to the following: settings attached to the buildings of government institutions such as universities and ministries attended only by employees’ children supervised by academic departments, settings as part of public or private schools attended by children from the local community, with priority for the staff of these facilities, and self-governing care centres mostly belonging to the private sector (Ministry of Education, 2019).


When addressing quality standards, we should consider the models that have developed these standards and made them the basis for ensuring the quality of care and education for children at early years.  Browsing through quality models in the Middle East, one of the most widely used in a neighboring country with a similar background of Saudi Arabia is “JAWDA”, which is a project at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ensure the quality of early childhood education in the GCC.  The project’s vision is to support the improvement of the quality of early childhood by integrating international practices and programs into local culture and heritage.  The program adheres to several values, the most important of which is setting standards, following ethics, and applying continuous improvements.  The basis of the "JAWDA" model is mixing different cultures by recognizing the UAE environment and promoting mutual respect and integration through programs and services, customer satisfaction, support and education of communities through communication with local and international communities to increase awareness of quality standards. The Quality Programme is accredited by the Council for Awards in Care, Health, and Education (CACHE) (JAWDA, 2018).  Most standards for quality program are highlighting the use of a developmentally appropriate approach that includes continuous evaluation of the children's progress, with the possibility of individual teaching according to the needs of each child, the integration of children with special needs and establishing partnerships with families (Herrera et al., 2005).  Implementation of policies and procedures to safeguard and protect children and staff, while providing training to staff and parents on child protection programs is another vital standard (Wishard et al., 2003).  Workforce qualifications and professional development where the system emphasize that employee have the right education and experience to deal with children in early years, with adequate training from accredited organizations (Munton & Mooney, 1997; Manning et al. 2017).   An additional standard is partnership and building of mutually beneficial relationships with the community and parents through continuous communication and creation of opportunities for the participation of parents and community institutions, as this promotes the social development of children and provides opportunities for responsible and active citizens (Melhuish, 2004).  Indoor and outdoor environments: Includes adequate supervision of children, providing a suitable adult ratio for children's groups, while providing a safe and healthy environment that is well maintained and equipped with appropriate age resources (Calkins & Williford, 2009; Peisner-Feinberg, 2000).  Care for healthy food and teaching children’s health practices are also emphasized (Calkins, 2007; Phillips, 2000). The latter standard is the basis for all the work and activities of the nursery in terms of specialized leadership that provides clear guidance, has systems and operating mechanisms that ensure compliance with government regulations and promote the sustainability of employees, with policies and procedures (Burchinal et al., 2003; Goelman, 2006).  

Early years is the stage of overall development of the child and depends entirely on the care of his parents and family and who works in the nursery, as it requires management and staff to participate actively in achieving balanced and integrated development in all respects for children from the age of birth to three years, to take into account several things in the processing of the environment around the child and the staff, including having a clear and written philosophy: on how to develop infant skills and aspects of personality (Grammatikopoulos et al., 2017).  Through interaction between children and staff, support for self-learning can occur, thus, the nursery environment should be supportive of exploration by the child’s development (Barblett, 2000; DfEE, 2000).  The safety and security of children always must be taken into account in the structural quality indictors; there are no sharp edges and no different heights in the floors in the wrong way, with the importance of continuous sterilization to prevent the spread of germs and infections, as well as mental health of young children (La Paro et al., 2014).  Child assessment and program evaluation enables services to develop and improve continuously, and without evaluation, work in any institution comes to an end (Pessanha et al., 2007).

According to research evidence, nursery provision does not fulfil basic criteria that support their quality services, but the emergence of different quality standards and assessment tools can assist in achieving the development and improvement needed to serve children and family’s needs (Love et al., 2003).  Since most quality evaluation tools are originated and initiated in Western cultures that are based mostly on Western educational theories, the demand for culturally relevant tools that recognize the diversity among societies is vital.  Inspection regimes often accompany national policies in kindergartens and compulsory education but never for nursery provision serving young children.  Theory and knowledge base should inform regulations and inspection in terms of defining quality characteristics of nursery provision but considering cultural variables.  Measurement is an important issue when considering the quality of early care as the nature of assessment necessarily objectified theoretical assumptions about what constitutes quality (Petrogiannis & Melhuish, 1996).  Gammage (2002) perceived quality control as achieving all the planned procedures for checking that outcomes. To meet these outcomes, education and care settings were subject to evaluation through a system of monitoring and inspection.  One way of responding to the quality control movement is to define and articulate clearly Early Childhood Education (ECE) pedagogy and curriculum.  This move resulted in the development of a number of frameworks in the international contexts including The Early Childhood Standards (NICHD, 2001), Guidelines of Best Practice (Barblett, 2000), and Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (DfEE, 2000) which cover care and education for children (birth – 8 years) with variations in diverse frameworks.  

The most widely acknowledged “best practice” framework was the Developmental Appropriate Practice (DAP) in the USA, which demonstrated the ECE discourse and became a benchmark for evaluating quality for more than a decade. During this period of self-examination in the field, the definition of program quality embodied in the National Association of Education for Young Children (NAEYC), DAP was revised in 2009 to include a greater emphasis on cultural diversity, family concerns, and individual children’s needs (Copple & Bredekamp 2009).  As research indicated, the quality of children’s settings is measured and evaluated in terms of two indicators: Structural quality – this comprises characteristics of this environment that can be regulated by governments and inspection regimes, and Process quality- this covers features that cannot be regulated and involves activities, interactions and practices in classrooms.  Also, two different approaches to measuring quality can be differentiated; the first approach tried to evaluate overall or global quality by including measures of a range of characteristics associated with quality, while the other approach focused on specific process indicators.

Many tools were developed to assess both structural and process quality while their focuses were either global or specific.  These tools include the ECERS-R (Harms et al., 2005), the Assessment Profile (Abbott-Shim et al., 2001), and CLASS (Pianta et al., 2008) as measures of classroom quality at preschool and nursery level.  Other examples include the Family Day Care Environmental Rating Scale (FDCRS; Harms & Clifford, 1989) as a measure of the childcare home, and the Observational Record of the Childcare Environment (ORCE; NAEYC, 2003).  Also, the ECERS-E is a measure of educational attainment in kindergartens that was developed in England (Sylva et al., 2003).  While most tools devised for early care ranging from nursery to preschool stage, number of which cover nursery stage in specific such as the ITERS.

Several studies were reviewed in this research such as the EPPE (Sylva et al., 1999) and the EPPNI (Melhuish, 2001), and (Henry et al., 2004; Grammatikopoulos et al., 2017). Findings indicated that these studies use different quantitative and qualitative methods to explore the quality of early care settings in different contexts and their impact on children's development.  These related projects demonstrated the significance of conceptualizing quality and effectiveness from the perspectives of stakeholders.

There have been some studies in the Middle East, which focus on the effectiveness of quality evaluations of kindergartens. For example, the Hadeed study (1994) in Bahrain aimed to assess the impact of different types of kindergartens: the educationally-oriented and the care-oriented, comparing them with the effects of home care, and the ECERS is applied in the research without any translation or adaptation since the researcher is bilingual.  However, both studies are similar in terms of culture and data collection methods.  Bahrain and Saudi Arabia share the same religion, language, and cultural background.

Another study investigated the impact of different Saudi kindergartens that vary in their application of the Newly Developed Curriculum (NDC), on several measures of child development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Al-Ameel, 2002). Although the study incorporated the use of the ECERS-R as a measure for quality evaluation of kindergartens, it did not translate or adapt the rating scale for the sake of the study.

The rating scale that was translated in this research is the ITERS-3, which was used in child development research studies (de Oliveira & Campos-de-Carvalho, 2000; Deynoot-Schaub & Riksen-Walraven, 2006; European Commission, 2009; Ruzek et al., 2014).

This rating scale comprehensively assesses the overall day-to-day quality of care provided for infants and toddlers up to 30 months of age. The ITERS-3 was the third edition of the original ITERS (1990).  The significant purpose of translating the ITERS-3 for continuity and innovation while keeping the unique features of international tool that had, for over 25 years, made the ITERS a useful instrument for both research and program improvement.  Numerous research projects in the USA and nationwide have used the ITERS to assess the global quality and have discovered significant relationships between ITERS scores and child outcome measures, and between ITERS scores and teacher characteristics, teacher behaviors, and compensation.  


The main question of this research is, what is the quality level of Saudi Nurseries? The following objectives that guided the study are as follows:

  • To observe the similarity or differences of the supervisor and caregiver’s ratings that indicated their understandings of the translated rating scale,
  • To interrupt the supervisor and caregiver’s confidence and judgements of appropriateness of the translated items when using this measure in their cultural context, and
  • To make recommendations for policy and practice for nursery provision in Saudi Arabia.

The quantitative research methods do have some attributes in common that result in their falling under the paradigm of Quantitative/Interpretive inquiry. However, they each have a somewhat different focus, resulting in variations in how the research question might be addressed, sample selection, data collection and analysis, and write-ups.


In this study, there are different layers of interpretation, which are situated in the cultural context.  The process of translation created an additional layer of interpreting and creating meaning from the interviews.  Thus, a dual interpretive perspective has been used here: namely understanding the translated meanings of the people involved and interpreting those meanings in the context of the research objectives.  D’Andrade (1992) wrote that culture is something behaviourally and cognitively shared by an identified group of people, and it has “the potential of being passed on to new group members, to exist with some permanency through time and across space” (p. 230).  Thus, an interpretive paradigm is appropriate for understanding cultural and contextual perspectives.

Several reasons were behind taking the decision to focus this study on examining the quality level of Saudi nurseries using a translated tool.  The most important is the lack of any national regulatory standards or rating scales as measures for nursery’s quality. The policy system tends to focus mainly on evaluating caregivers’ performance as the only quality indicator rather than evaluating the quality of program. According to research evidence, other features of nursery services such as safety and health, diversity, parental involvement, and program structure are also important.  Through the setting of regulations for operating nurseries, the government has implicitly set benchmarks for preschool quality but not for nursery provision. These reflect the minimum criteria for initial and continued registration of only private nurseries.  Another reason is the absence of parental involvement in determining the level of quality in nurseries because information about indicators of high-quality programs is never made available to parents or other stakeholders. The authority to monitor, evaluate, and enforce standards in the nursery is rested only with government auspice. On the other hand, there are no independent auspices that can assist and maintain the quality of nurseries in the country.  The researcher participates, interviews, discusses, and evaluates nurseries because knowledge or evidence of the social world can be generated by observing, joining in or experiencing “natural”, or “real life” settings and interactive situations (p. 61).  One of the features is the holistic perspective, where the culture, group, or phenomenon under study is considered in its entirety, this may result in examining a complex network of features, ideas, and even persons.

Again, this research applied an interpretive methodology, with a case study design.  The case consists of multiple levels and components and builds a holistic picture by considering information gained at many levels.  Accordingly, different methods are required for varied elements, and those methods are guided by existing evidence and theory (De Vaus, 2001).  Studies that are situated within an interpretive paradigm aim to explain how people make sense of their social worlds, including their perspectives, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings (MacNaughton, Rolf & Siraj-Blatchford, 2001; Peshkin, 1997).  People are social actors who make sense within a cultural context of meanings that are socially constructed and shared across groups.  The cultural frameworks in which people live and act, influence their behaviors.  In turn, peoples’ behavior also impacts their social and cultural worlds, because they continually re-create those worlds as a dynamic meaning system, which changes over time.  Established meanings and practices can be contested and changed through the process of negotiation with others, and reflexive mediation.

Therefore, the task of the interpretive research is to understand how meanings are socially constructed and how these may be open to change and adaptation.  Because interpretive researchers become embedded in systems of meaning, they also must be reflexive about their perspectives, beliefs, and ways of making meaning from the actions and interactions of others.

A multiplicity of complementary methods is highly recommended for use in data collection so that the form of methodological “triangulation” is created (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).  Triangulation can serve as a means of maintaining research findings for bias, for example, and as means of increasing confidence that the data are sound (Siraj-Blatchford & Siraj-Blatchford, 2001).  In the context of the quality of nurseries, interpretive research has succeeded in getting below the surface of general evaluation characteristics identified in check-lists and rating scales (Harms et al., 2005).


In this research, data collection incorporates the multi-method approach, which is described in Table 1.  The research used the case study approach while conducting direct observations in 6 nurseries (three public and three private) by the caregivers of those nurseries besides appointed supervisors from the Ministry of Education (MOE).  To secure reliability and validity in classroom observation, the strategy of the researcher sitting with both supervisors and caregivers in the classrooms as a non-participant observer is applied.  To clarify observations and gain the caregivers’ and supervisors’ perspectives, the researcher conducts semi-structured interviews following most observation periods to interrupt the supervisor and caregiver’s confidence and judgments of appropriateness of the translated items when using the ITERS-3 for evaluation in their social context.  The caregivers provided the demographic and background information on the six nurseries.  Using different data resources, the aim is to triangulate references and perspectives to ensure greater data reliability.   Using a combination of data collection methods, both quantitative and qualitative, aimed to add “rigor, breadth, and depth of any investigation” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005: 11).  

Also, the case study approach is used where it begins with the selection of the “case,” which is the nursery at KAUST in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The choice was purposefully, not randomly; that is, a nursery is selected because it exhibits characteristics of interest to the researcher.  While this centre might serve as a “model” for other nurseries, it is exceptional in that all caregivers are highly qualified and under competent supervision, since they follow international procedures in terms of qualifications and training.  Furthermore, the practice and pedagogy applied in this nursery are following the general guidelines of NAEYC.


The ITERS-3 (Harms et al., 2017) is part of the Environment Rating Scales family.  It provides a total score of global quality in nursery classrooms serving children from birth through 30 months of age. The measure includes 6 sub-scales representing (33) items: Space and Furnishings (4), Personal Care Routines (4), Language/Books (6), Activities (10), Interaction (6), and Program Structure (3).  Each item within a sub-scale is measured using a 7-point Likert-type scale (1= low or inadequate quality to 7 = good quality).  Space and Furnishings (α=.76) includes aspects of the environment, such as indoor space and room arrangement.  Personal Care Routines (α =.86) encompasses aspects of daily routines, such as nap, meals and snacks, and diapering.  Language/Books (α =.94) includes a focus on the language used in the classroom.  Children’s engagement in play, fine motor, dramatic play, and music activities is captured with the Activities sub-scale (α =.89).  Interaction (α =.91) includes supervision, peer interaction, and teacher - child interactions.  And finally, Program Structure (α =.87) that includes scheduling and group play.


The researcher herself, who is bilingual, completed the translation process of the ITERS -3.  The researcher contacted the authors of ITERS-3 to get permission for the translation process to ensure comparability.  All the sub-scales and items were Arabic translation of the original rating scale so that it can be used in the evaluation process effectively.  This action resulted in a glossary containing detailed specifications of most of the terms used throughout the study.  The caregivers and the supervisors in the sample practiced assessing the same classrooms under the direct supervision of the researcher until acceptable inter-rater reliability was attained. This procedure proves that the two versions of the rating scale (English and Arabic) have acceptable characteristics of validity and reliability (Bisceglia et al., 2009; Burchinal, Kainz & Cai, 2011; Burchinal et al., 2000; Burchinal & Cryer., 2003; Gordon et al. 2013).

The principles and aims of each sub-scale are expressed in the Arabic language, but they are not an exact translation of the English version. The rating scale remained the same in the translations; some changes are required in a few of the indicators, and especially in the examples, to make the various translations culturally relevant.  Then the examples for the items under each sub-scale are reviewed extensively: some are added or dropped to fit with the guidelines used in official documents of the MOE.  

The preliminary work of translation was conducted throughout the analysis process of the evaluation. To ensure proper evaluation, the two versions (English and Arabic) of the rating scale underwent extensive pre-tests in the nursery of KAUST to ensure that data are collected according to a standard procedure. This resulted in a glossary containing detailed specifications of most of the terms used throughout the translated rating scale. There was a concern on the use of some of the terms such as some, many, and few in the rating scale because the research ensured that proper measurement of each aspect of quality is in a comparable manner at nurseries of the study sample.

In the end, three colleagues from the Arabic Language Department at King Abdulaziz University, checked the content validity of the items, and the accuracy of the translation, and examined the translated version separately.  About 95% of the translation and meaning is precise when compared with the original version, thus making the rating scale adequately accurate to be adopted in quality evaluation of nurseries.

The researcher conducted a meeting with two supervisors from the MOE with the intention of ensuring that any doubt arising from the evaluation can be clarified, and to allow verbal feedback on the clarity and relevance of the sub-scales, items, and examples of the translated work.  This process also ensured that the supervisors and caregivers use the rating scale effectively in the evaluation process for nurseries of the study sample.  

The caregivers completed evaluations of three classrooms within their setting, making a total of 18 observations at all nurseries of the study sample.  Likewise, 12 supervisors completed evaluations of the same three classrooms in each nursery.  A total of 36 observations for both supervisors and caregivers provide the data for the statistical analysis.  Both observers used ITERS-3 (Arabic version), which describes quality indicators and aims to evaluate the quality of nurseries. The sub-scales of ITERS-3 are listed in Table 2.

Scoring of the Sub-scales

Calculations for the total scores for the rating scale are considered by summing the mean sub-scale scores.  A score for each sub-scale is calculated using the following formula:

Sub-scale score =    sum of scores for each item in the sub-scale

                                              Number of scored items


Descriptive statistical techniques are used to summarise characteristics of sample data including, measures of central tendency (Mean) and measures of variability (Standard Deviation). Data is analyzed statistically to discover whether there are significant differences between the caregivers’ scores and the supervisors’ scores and between public and private nurseries.

Descriptive Statistics

Table 3 provides the overall descriptive results for the sub-scales of the rating scale by nursery type.  Alternatively, Table 4 provides the overall descriptive results for the sub-scales of the rating scale by observer type.  The ITERS -3 total scores of both observers are normally distributed and are in line with the results from previous studies.  The distribution of the scores is normal and allows the researcher to carry out powerful statistical tests to identify significant differences among the sub-scales of the rating scale.  

The private nurseries tend to have slightly higher total scores than the public ones in three sub-scales. The reason for this difference is that most private nurseries follow international pedagogy and standards. The ITERS -3 scores tend towards the top of the “good” range and sometimes approach the “excellent” range. Although inter-observer agreement is established for both observers before starting the evaluation process, the supervisors tend to rate nurseries slightly lower than the caregivers do, as shown in figure 2.  

An Overview of the Sub-scales  

For the purpose of analyzing procedures, the sub-scales of the ITERS-3 are presented respectively.  First, the ITERS - 3 sub-scales are presented in figure 1, which breaks down the ITERS -3 into their sub-scales’ components by centre type.  The highest scores for the public nurseries are found in “Personal Care Routines,” “Language and Books,” and “Space and Furnishings” compared to slightly higher scores for the same sub-scales of the private nurseries excluding for “Space and Furnishings.”   Although the scores for “Interactions” across all nurseries approach the “good” range, the private nurseries reveal some striking differences.  One of the private nurseries in the sample is the one at KAUST, which is found to be an exciting place where toddlers are challenged and supported in their learning.  The interactions between caregivers and children are responsive and enabling because it is considered a high-quality model for other nurseries.  

The score for “Program Structure” is more disappointing for the private nurseries because there are few learning corners, and are hardly ever used.  Evidence of classroom observations indicates that most private nurseries in the sample provide care rather than education for the children.

Reflecting on the feedback from supervisors and caregivers, the rating scale seems to be time-consuming, but useful as a research tool.  Interviews with the caregivers of the classrooms after the observations and additional evidence such as planning documents provide supplementary information.  Also, repeated remarks where the observer is unsure about scoring items offer another layer of reassurance and validation.  

The ITERS reflects a “universal” view of what constitutes appropriate provision, and what characterizes quality. Because ECE is defined differently across countries (e.g., 0-5 years, 0-8 years), it may be wise to contest some of the age-related assumptions that underpin ITERS.  For example, is the Personal Care Routines sub-scale equally important for 0-3, 3-5, 5-8 years old?  Moreover, if so, how might that provision be adapted to support children’s development?  The categories within ITERS both reflect and define quality characteristics.  They do not capture all the defining features (e.g., nature and quality of relationships; quality of play).   The ITERS does not focus on the capabilities and dispositions that children need for their success and achievement, on the other hand ITERS may constrain professional development by limiting improvement to those across identified within its framework.  The ITERS may be is “culture-specific” and unable to detect and assess indices of quality in provision in other cultures (Copple et al., 2013).  For example, one needs only to contemplate the different and unique greeting, to eat, to sleep and to groom customs (measured by the Personal Care Routines sub-scale) in Singapore, Nigeria, or places in the Middle East, to illustrate how children’s daily schedule, routines, and practices take on different meanings in different cultures.  Sometimes religious aspects play a principal role, while in other circumstances, political or economic norms dictate a significant role in early care and education.


The present research identifies several limitations, such as this study was site-specific.  Data were collected from a sample of 6 nurseries within the city of Jeddah, which were located in the Western region of KSA.  This makes it difficult to generalise the findings of this research to other nurseries in different cities and regions of the country. The design of the research can be replicated, but the results may not be the same, because this study focused on the perspectives of stakeholders in one area, and at a specific point in time. However, the sample is representative of the two forms of nursery provision (public and private).  The accuracy of translation the rating scale and the data collection methods from English to Arabic were considered. The bilingual researcher carried out the back-translation task.  Quite a few Saudi experts in the field of ECE (academics, supervisors, policy makers) examined the translated items during the pilot study, but no field test was administered prior to the study. The psychometric indicators for the ITERS-3 in Arabic are not available before this study.  The ITERS-3 was developed and standardized with Western samples. Moreover the quality indicators in the rating scale were developed based on American field experiences. The quality indicators may not be valued in Saudi culture.  Nevertheless, it was more efficient to use measurements such as the ITERS, which was used in numerous studies all over the world rather than developing a rating scale from scratch.     Interview notes and field notes from classroom observations were written in Arabic then were analyzed by the researcher.  Not translating them into English avoids further bias; however, this prevents the possibility of being examined by future researchers.  Meanwhile, it was also generalized bias since there was no inter-observer reliability check. There was only limited use of different types of nursery programmes since the sample of the research included only public and private nurseries. The inclusion of other types of nursery programs such as playgroups, international nurseries, and home care would add another dimension to compare results. This added dimension could have benefited the research but was beyond the aims and the scope.  Also, this strategy precludes having nursery programs that serve children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or with special needs.  Finally, the present study was conducted in urban areas; as well there is one exceptional nursery in terms of acquiring high-quality standards due to its location.  The study concludes with several recommendations, such as using the translated ITERS-3 as a regulated tool for quality evaluation of Saudi nurseries.  A second recommendation is to establish a model that incorporates quality standards in the nursery provision.   Also, the ITERS-3 can be used to develop the overall performance of nurseries or as a self-assessment tool to identify strengths and weaknesses, or for scientific research purposes in addition to providing statistics on public and private nurseries for comparative studies of the Gulf region, the Arab world, and Western countries.  Besides, translating ITERS in specific will benefit researchers and practitioners in the Arab world, particularly in the Gulf region, to use the rating scale effectively since language sometimes is a significant obstacle in conducting research and comparative studies.

This is exploratory research of different perspectives on quality evaluations of Saudi nurseries. The most significant contribution is its originality: this is the first research to demonstrate, in-depth, how quality can be conceptualized in the Saudi context, drawing on the perspectives of practitioners.  Another contribution at the international or cross-cultural level is that the present research contributes to the still limited evidence concerning nursery provision in the developing world, particularly in the Middle East, where traditions and cultural customs, Islamic beliefs, and personal morals preside strictly over all aspects of life in the Saudi culture.  The findings suggest that the widely accepted perception of what constitutes quality in nurseries should be challenged because defining quality is culturally situated and not universal.  As most theories and research studies on evaluating and maintaining quality in early years’ settings originated in Western cultures, which have their definitions and perspectives in accordance with their custom and values, care should be taken when applying evaluation tools or rating scales in Saudi nurseries where family values, traditions, and the influence of religion are still particularly evident.    

Finally, this research is the first of its kind involving using a translated version of a very widely used rating scale in quality evaluation, which is the ITERS -3.  Even though the ITERS -3 is relatively new compared to the ITERS, it was deliberately translated to Arabic and adapted for use in Saudi nurseries because it covers very significant quality indicators for most parents.   The rating scale used in this research (ITERS -3) set the frame of references against which aspects of quality can be measured.  However, further research is needed on how it can be used in practice in KSA, how caregivers, directors, and supervisors identify areas for change and development, and how modifications can be brought about. Alternatively, further research is needed to establish to what extent ITERS might contribute to increasing professionalization and improving quality, greater autonomy, and reflexivity on the part of caregivers, directors, and supervisors.  The translated rating scale should help caregivers to become more professionally skilled and competent.  Future research is needed to track and evaluate subsequent change processes and impact factors.  It can be used at the caregiver’s level to monitor the performance of an individual nursery, and to monitor improvements of nurseries, caregivers’ competence, and children’s achievements.  Thus, the outcome of this research potentially marks an important point on the “quality journey” for early care in KSA.


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Table 1: Methods, Data Sources, and Sample



Data source







Classroom observations




Total = 36 classrooms

Table 2::  Sub-scales of the ITERS-3

The sub-scales of the ITERS-3:

  1. Space and Furnishings  items 1-4
  2. Personal Care Routines- items 5-8
  3. Language and Books- items 9-14
  4. Activities- items 15-24
  5. Interactions-  items 25-30
  6. Programme Structure- items 31-33

Table 3::  Descriptive results (centre type)

The ITERS-3 sub-scales




Std. Deviation


Std. Deviation

  1. Space and Furnishings





  1. Personal Care Routines





  1. Language and Books





  1. Activities





  1. Interaction





  1. Program Structure





Table 4: Descriptive results (observer type)

The ITERS-3 sub-scales




Std. Deviation


Std. Deviation

  1. Space and Furnishings





  1. Personal Care Routines





  1. Language and Books





  1. Activities





  1. Interaction





  1. Program Structure





Total ITERS-3 scores






Figure 1: Histogram of ITERS-3 Sub-scales (centre type)

Figure 2: Histogram of ITERS-3 Sub-scales (observer type)


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