Saudi Arabia is located in Southeast Asia. Its education system was not elaborate in 1925 but King Ibn Saud stressed the importance of education for the Saudis to bring national unity.
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During this time, there were few elementary schools in the country, only four existed. There was the need for forming a centralized educational plan to give more students a chance to attend school. This was necessary because the country had a compulsory six-year elementary and five-year secondary program but it was difficult to enforce because there were few schools in the country.
Consequently, the country’s first education system saw the light of day. Saudi Arabia borrowed its education model from Egyptian education system. The aim of Saudi Arabia’s educational system was to build more schools, instill knowledge and incorporate Islamic teachings in the curriculum.
Eventually, change took place in the Saudi Arabia education system and more schools were built. In 1933, the pioneer religious school was opened. The private schools were given rules in 1934 and Tahdeer Al-Baathat the first secondary school started in 1935. Its aim was to prepare students to acquire university education.
To ensure the smooth running of education in the country the government formed the General Directorate of Education. It was charged with the responsibility of running all education but the military education. The changes done in the education system saw the number of elementary schools increase to three hundred and six by 1952. However, the illiteracy level was still very high at ninety two to ninety five per cent. Therefore, the government formed the Ministry of Education in 1953 to combat illiteracy levels.
This paper will seek to answer the following questions. 1) Why is the education system in Saudi Arabia not useful? 2) How should Saudi Arabia develop a useful educational system? 3) What are the benefits of the scholarship? 4) What are the difficulties faced by students on scholarships at the beginning of their journey?
Children start elementary education between the ages of three to five years. The education system does not give much concentration on early childhood education because it is not a requirement when enrolling in primary school. Furthermore, kindergartens are not recognized in the official educational ladder (“Educational System in Saudi Arabia “2).
Children join primary school at six years. The program lasts for six years and at the final year, the pupils have to sit for a final examination. Students who pass the final examination have a choice of proceeding to the next level or not. The children get the elementary education certificate after the doing the final grade six exam (“Educational System in Saudi Arabia” 5).
The national primary schools are day schools and the enrolment for both boys and girls in primary education is high.
Children enroll into the intermediate level after completing their primary education and passing the final examination. The intermediate education program lasts for three years. Just as in primary education, the enrolment rate for both boys and girls is high.
Students join the secondary education after the intermediate education and lasts for three years. Students join secondary school at the age of fifteen and finish at nineteen years. Secondary education is divided into two-general and specialized and the students have a choice on which type of secondary education to study.
The general type is also known as regular secondary education. The students study generally for one year and in the second they choose a major to focus on for instance, Arabic and sharia, administrations and social science or natural science. Those who score high marks usually take the natural science major.
The second type is specialized secondary. The government recognizes the importance of technical education to improve the skills of the labor force hence the establishment of this type of education. The program prepares students in technical skills that are relevant in this era of globalization. The country cannot afford to lag behind in information technology, which has become a tool in the global market. The program has three area- agriculture, industrial and commercial (“Educational System in Saudi Arabia” 4-5).
Higher education in Saudi Arabia lasts for six years in pharmacy, medicine and engineering fields. On the other hand, the program lasts for four years in social sciences and humanities fields.
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The ministry of higher education (MOHE) is responsible for higher education and it was established to plan, supervise and coordinate the country’s requirements for higher education. The country needed the ministry to prepare the institutions in scientific and administrative fields in order to bring national development.
Consequently, the country embarked on establishing universities and currently there are twenty-one high capacity universities spread across the kingdom (MHOE 1). The ministry of higher education oversees the universities but does not interfere with their academic and administrative activities.
The country’s educational system educates for learners who have special needs. Through this program, schools for the blind for both boys and girls were opened. The system also takes care of children who have mental disabilities for instance, Al-Tarbiyah Al fikriyah Institute that caters for boys and girls (“Educational System in Saudi Arabia “7). By 2006 there were fifty-four schools catering for students with different special needs.
Adult education program
The government recognizes the need for adult education because it aims to reduce the illiteracy level among the adults. The program falls under the General Secretariat for Adult Education. Public teachers teach the adult classes using public facilities. The learners are taught writing and reading plus arithmetic. After completion, of course at the fourth grade they are given a literacy certificate (“Educational System in Saudi Arabia “8).
Government research support
The government supports scientific research in the universities and together with the ministry of education. The scientific research is a significant source for civic development as well as scientific development, which is one of the tasks that the universities are expected to, fulfill. With the government’s support, the institutions and research centers are able to conduct specialized researches.
The ministry of higher learning also gives its support to scientific conferences and symposiums to enable the teaching staff of the universities to participate in specialized researches as well as help them to stay updated in their various fields and keep abreast of technological advancements (MOHE 1).
The education system is based on the following principles as formulated by the Higher Committee of Educational Policy. One, help the students to make their faith in God stronger. Two, teach the students the history of the country and preservation of their religious beliefs.
Three, inculcate ideals that are in line with Islam. Four, strengthen students quest for knowledge in Islam and use it to serve the nation. Five, enable students to develop a holistic Islamic view. Six, teach religion and Islamic culture in the education system. Seven, spread Mohammed’s message. Eight, seek knowledge in scientific areas in accordance to Islam orientation.
Nine promote fundamental faith in Islam. Ten improve the standards of the nation through Islamic teachings. Eleven produce faith and maintain human dignity. Twelve teach about life and eternal life (Saudi Arabia – educational system overview 1).
The kind of education offered in has four specific traits. One, it lays a major emphasis on Islam. Two, government’s financial support. Three, centralized system and four, separate institutions and education for women and women. The Islam religion is core in the curriculum, time is set apart for learning and teaching of the sacred book of Quran, and students learn the Islamic theology all the way from primary school to higher education.
Religion is incorporated in the teaching of disciplines such as sociology. In other words, the curriculum is highly religious because its aim is to teach and preserve Islamic culture (Saudi Arabia Educational System- Overview 1).
Separation of men a women education
Education system for men and women falls under two different bodies. Men’s education falls under the ministry of education while women’s education falls under the General Presidency of Girls’ Education. However, both men and women learn the same things because their curriculum is the same. Both systems have the same educational policy. Men and women attend separate schools at all levels because men and women are not supposed to mix freely in public.
However, boys and girls learn together in kindergarten. Some medical schools and private elementary schools do not have separation of sexes. The separation occurs to follow the requirements of Islam that accords women different social status in the society (Saudi Arabia Educational System- Overview 1).
Control of education
The government has strict control of education and a strict commitment to educational development. The government caters free tuition as well as other things such as bonuses and subsidies. In addition, the government supports students who join certain areas of study as well as those who go abroad for further studies. The government offers free education but mandatory until the elementary level (Saudi Arabia Educational System- Overview 1).
Why is the education system in Saudi Arabia not useful?
The education system of Saudi Arabia has been criticized and others have said it is not useful. As a result, people such as journalists, parents, business leaders, policy makers and religious leaders have called for educational reforms.
To begin with, the educational system is often criticized for being medieval. It is based on the traditional system that puts focus on religious teaching. The system fails to address modern day issues and does not prepare its students adequately for the modern world that is rapidly changing.
Critics say that the education system should focus less on religious studies and teach subjects that are relevant in today’s world that is interconnected due to globalization. Saudi Arabia should make the reforms because it cannot afford to stick to an education system that does address all its needs.
The Saudi education system is segregated and this type of education does not teach the students how to interact with members of the opposite sex. They are taught to stay away from one another and even in future, the students are unable to interact with members of the opposite.
For example, the Saudi women who go to study abroad cannot interact with their Saudi male counterparts because they would not want to be mistaken as lose. Furthermore not only is the education segregated for men and women but women are not allowed to study some courses such as journalism or course that would require them to interact with men in the future(Hamdan 51).
Not giving women an opportunity to study the courses of their choice amounts to discrimination and all education system should strive to eliminate discrimination because of sex and give all students an equal opportunity in all areas of study. (Hamdan 44-50).
The Saudi Arabia education is criticized for lacking international standards. This is because of lack of researches supported by universities and education organizations. Collaboration in researches is important to share knowledge and improve the current researches to meet international standards.
The private sector does not fund researches in the public education. This an opportunity that the government fails to take because the two can work together in funding researches for greater results. Lack of cooperation reduces the chances of discovering brilliant minds to be involved in research who can contribute greatly by coming up with brilliant ideas. Therefore, the private sector and the government should work together to bring complete reforms in the education system (Oxford Business Group 194).
The public education system fails to produce productive students to make positive contribution in the society. This is a serious problem because Saudi Arabia has a big number of its total population below eighteen years. The people under eighteen years of age make up about sixty percent of the country’s total population.
Therefore, the education system needs to be reformed to make it useful so that the country will be in a position to produce men and women who will join the labor force instead of relying on foreign workers (Bronson and Coleman 1).
In fact, the private sector is reluctant to employ Saudi graduates because they do not possess the right skills for the jobs and prefer expatriates who are well equipped even though the government has instructed the sector to employ Saudis in what is called ‘Saudization’.
Expatriates have the highest paying jobs in the country and eighty per cent of doctors, scientists and engineers working in the kingdom are foreigners (Oxford Business Group 191). The education system in public schools will continue to produce half-baked students who are not capable of competing in the modern world if the government continues to rely on its conservative and traditional system of education (Ursula 1).
The traditional system is not capable of educating students to deal with the twenty first century challenges and for this reason many parents are opting to take their children to private schools that offer a competitive kind of education because the Saudi Arabia education system has failed in that regard.
The Saudi Arabia education system also lacks a standardized way of testing its students thus it is difficult to gauge its effectiveness and make sure that it meets international standards.
On the other hand, the system does not introduce English until the seventh grade and thus students are not able to master fluency in English, which is necessary for higher learning, and especially when they go to study abroad on scholarships. Moreover, the teaching quality is not up to standard thus even if the curriculum is revised and the teaching techniques not improved positive results might not be achieved (Oxford Business Group 191).
How should Saudi Arabia develop a useful educational system?
The Saudi Arabia education system should come up with a strong childhood education program based on science. It will give the children a good strong foundation in scientific education that will prepare them for future programs in science. The government should support the childhood education program and make the elementary education compulsory so that child begin to be molded at an early age. Moreover, the education offered in these levels must be responsive to the current needs in Saudi Arabia (Ramady 412).
The government ought to support the building or upgrading of the universities to make them modern. Furthermore, the country’s universities must work in conjunction with professors from universities in the world.
Knowledge gained from working closely with other global universities will help to reform the educational system by borrowing useful tips that make those universities tick in the twenty first century. For instance, King Abdulla University is a good example of how Saudi Arabia education system can attain international standards with its modern curriculum.
The king Abdullah project was initiated. The project aims to improve the skills that students gain in the institutions of learning by ensuring they are relevant to the job market. In return, the education system will ensure not only the availability of a skilled labor force, but also a motivated one. To achieve this goal the King Abdullah project has identified schools to work with in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh.
The crown Prince will lead a ministerial committee to oversee the project. The committee will improve the learning environment by building high-tech classrooms. Improving the learning environment will enable the country to keep up with the new technological and scientific developments.
Moreover, the project will help to meet specifications in the education Document also help to achieve the five-year education development plan. Overall, the project will help to raise the aspirations as well as the hopes of the Saudi Arabia citizens (Ghafour 1).
The project will use educational models of countries such as the US, Finland, Japan, Singapore, Britain and France among others. The steps of working closely with these successful countries will help to raise the educational standards hence produce students who will not only be qualified to work competently at the local job market, but also on the global job market.
Moreover, the king Abdullah project will also give teachers intensive training to familiarize them with the new developments in the education sector. They will also be equipped with technology tools to help them adapt the new teaching methods that are crucial in this era.
The teacher training programs will include over four hundred thousand teachers in the kingdom. The training will focus on teachers’ areas of specialization. It will also focus on skill improvement, management and supervision and computer science. The skills they will learn in computer science will enable them to interact with modern teaching tools such as the internet, projectors and interactive boards (Ghafour 1).
The project will also focus on service learning and community service. Students will be encouraged to participate more in out of class activities to improve their interpersonal skills. They will also get an opportunity to improve their health as well as cultural standards.
The community service activities will give the students a chance to identify the challenges in their society and come up with innovations or solutions. The opportunity will make the competitive and prepare them in their future careers (Ghafour 1).
Lastly but not least the project aims to reform the education system in line with the country’s job market and development needs. To that effect, the project has already completed studies on the major aspects of higher learning in conjunction with research projects of the various Saudi universities (Ghafour 1).
The Saudi Arabia education system can be developed by implementing a curriculum that is in line with internationally accredited curriculum. The curriculum should move away from rote learning that does not encourage students to think critically and question what they learn because they just memorize (Oxford Business Group 191). The system is also teacher centered and should shift to be learner centered which incorporates analytical teaching methods.
The government ought to inject more funds into the education ministry to implement new teaching and learning strategies into the education system. In addition, the government should connect students with more programs of distance learning to give them a chance to interact and learn from their global counterparts.
The interaction will help to improve the students’ skills and increase their employability in Saudi Arabia. The Saud Arabia education system must seek to reduce the skills gap in order to make the country self sufficient in its labor force and build a competitive strong country (Oxford Business Group 191).
The country has taken a step in ensuring that it competes in science and technology at the global level. To achieve this goal King Abdullah University of Science and Technology was opened in 2009. The university is an only kind because it has a same sex campus. Men and women attend same classes and mix freely around the campus.
The aim of allowing men and women learn together is to modernize the education system that is based on Wahhabi teachings that advocate for segregation of women from the men. It will also help to change the deeply conservative Saudi society.
More importantly, the university offers courses in science and technology. It will fund the academics in their work so that they can work and make innovations that will influence the Saudi society (Saudis Open Hi-tech Science Oasis 1). To help the academics achieve their goals the university has modern equipment and state of the art super computers (Supercomputing and Networking 1).
Funds have not been spared in acquiring facilities that will enable Saudi Arabia getting a footing in the area of science and technology. For example, “the university is full of modern hardware worth around $1.5bn including three-dimensional imaging facilities” (Saudis Open Hi-tech Science Oasis par.11). The university also keeps pace with the global lingua franca and English is the language of instruction.
On the other hand, the government ought to give parents more say in their children’s education by formation of teacher-parent associations that will enable the parents to contribute towards their children’s education (Bronson and Coleman 1).
What are the benefits of the scholarship?
The Saudi government gives domestic and abroad-based scholarships to thousands of students every year. There are 100,000 students in the Saudi Sponsorship in the world, and 30,000+ Saudi students in the United States. Furthermore, it also gives scholarships to foreign Indian and Pakistan students.
The government recognizes the benefits of scholarships because many students would travel from across the world to come and study in the middles east. Thus, the government does not consider its students seeking knowledge abroad as shameful and encourages its students to travel across the world in search of knowledge.
Furthermore, the government support students who go to study abroad not only in paying for their tuition fees, but also gives them a living allowance of about $1, 800 on a monthly basis (Wagner 1). Female students in the scholarship programs must have a male to accompany them abroad. He is called a mahram. He could be a female student’s uncle, brother or further.
Thus in the case of female students the living allowance is higher about $2,700. Having catered for the students’ educational needs the government does not place any conditions on the students apart from observing and following the universities standard. The top scholarship programs are King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. It has a scholarship program that caters for many students.
In 2004, king Abdullah established king Abdullah scholarship program in a bid to encourage more women to travel abroad for further studies. To ensure that the Saudi students succeed in the foreign countries the government offers them scholarships to learn English in preparation for higher learning year.
The students take the language course for a year. They must sit for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is a requirement for admission in western universities. The government pays tuition fees for the students in the language program and gives them living allowances.
Consequently, the number of women studying abroad increased and in 2010, women made up twenty five per cent of the students studying in the UK in post and undergraduate programs. Thus, the scholarship programs benefits the women by giving them a chance to study abroad and contributes to women empowerment in a male dominated society (Wagner 1).
The scholarship program benefits students especially those who come from not so well up families because there are need-based programs. The scholarship program looks at the financial needs of the students and awards the most deserving. Therefore, brilliant students from poor backgrounds get an equal opportunity of furthering their studies like their rich counterparts (Wagner 1).
The opportunity the students get for studying abroad through the scholarships present the students with a platform for international exchange. Students get a rare opportunity to interact with other students in their academic circles. Moreover, the Saudi students broaden their perspective in their specific study areas. More importantly, the students get a chance to improve their interpersonal skills and cross cultural communication because they encounter students from other cultures across the globe.
This kind of interaction is important in demystifying some of the myths and stereotypes they have leant about people from different countries. In return, the students learn cultural and religious tolerance, which is very important in the society where people come from diverse backgrounds (Alsayyed 1).
The goals of scholarships
The goals of scholarships are to enable Saudi Arabia to have a better future. The students who go abroad acquire knowledge and skills that will help to bring about development in Saudi Arabia in accordance with its societal and economic needs. Furthermore, the scholarship programs will enable Saudi Arabia to reach the level of other industrialized countries.
Students who go to study in industrialized countries have a chance of learning first hand what the countries are doing right and can borrow this knowledge and incorporate it in the Saudi education system to help the students develop the competence that students in those countries have and help bring about industrial revolution and success.
To achieve its goal of making the kingdom a powerful country to reckon with in the international market the country has signed deals with developed countries for its students to study in foreign universities. For instance, the government signed a deal with France to send more students on the scholarship program. The deal will see the number of students studying in France increase from six hundred to two thousand by end of 2010.
The students will get a chance to study in the fields of medicine, chemistry, biology, business, microphysics and chemistry. The deal will help Saudi Arabia to address the problem of shortage of scientists as well as improve the quality of graduates in the education system. It will be important to improve graduates quality to raise the standards of Saudi universities in the world ranking (Oxford Business Group 191).
The knowledge gained in the scholarship programs is valuable than the natural resources that the country has because the knowledge gained cannot be depleted unlike the naturals resources. This means that even if the country’s rich sources of natural sources were to be depleted the country would continue to prosper as it would depend on a skilled human resource.
Therefore, giving students an opportunity to study under the scholarship programs is a win-win situation for the students and the country. For example, countries such as china, England, Japan and France have a rich human pool of human resource that provides highly skilled labor for their industries. These countries have sound education systems that produce productive members to the society.
The members utilize the knowledge gained in schools in industries that produce goods such as electronics that are exported allover the world. Thus, such countries get a large amount of foreign exchange from exports and use the money earned to develop their countries. In addition, the countries send expatriates to offer their services in other countries.
The scholarship programs also help to create and improve countries bilateral relationships. Countries benefit from the relationships in the relationship in terms of trade or political front. For example, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and America was almost severed after the revelation that some of the hijackers who bombed the twin towers were Saudis.
To mend the broken relationship that had seen the number of foreign students from Saudi Arabia to the US drop significantly, the king promised to increase the number of Saudi students enrolling in American universities in order to save and improve the relationship between the two countries (Brinkley 1).
How to develop the scholarship program?
The scholarship program needs to be developed to be in line with the job market. The ministry of education must select overseas universities that offer courses that are relevant to the Saudi Arabia’s society.
For many years, the many Saudi students have been taking courses in the fields of humanities and social sciences such as history, literature and so forth yet the job market does not have enough openings for graduates in these areas (Ursula 31).
The selection of students for the scholarship programs should be merit based. Only those with high GPA scores should get a chance in the scholarship program. Interviews should also be conducted on the students to determine if they really deserve the chance based on their qualifications and desire to further their students.
It will ensure that the government does not spend billions of shillings on under qualified students who will not make any useful contribution to the country.
Some of them might not even complete their studies because they might find the educational pressure too much to bear. Redden says it is important for the Saudi students to pass TOEFL because students who lack English fluency encounter problems in American universities and take long to complete their courses because they have to learn English firs (1).
Furthermore, the government should have a proper plan for the students after they graduate so that they get a chance to utilize the acquired knowledge. The government should ensure that there are employment opportunities for the graduates to reduce the rate of unemployment. Many students who graduate have expectations of get ting a job with the government and when they fail to get one they become frustrated as there expectations are dashed.
The government should consider empowering students to venture into self-employment in the areas of their studies. It can do this by setting up a fund for the youths who can borrow money and begin their own jobs. They will in turn create employment for others and help to tackle the problem of unemployment. Moreover, the graduates should be encouraged to change their attitude towards certain jobs because the biggest problem is not lack of jobs but the attitude in the culture towards certain jobs (Ursula 32).
What are the difficulties faced by students on scholarships at the beginning of their journey?
Saudi students who go abroad to study on scholarships have trouble adjusting to their programs at first. To begin with, some students face a problem in communication especially they if their English proficiency level is low. This leads to communication breakdown yet they need to be able to communicate properly to navigate their new environment easily. The language barrier occurs because the students often lack adequate teaching in the English language because the official language in Saudi Arabia is Arabic.
Students also encounter a different culture. The Saudi culture and society is conservative and when the students go, abroad they encounter permissive societies and this might be problematic for them. Furthermore, they may encounter coldness in the new society due to negative stereotypes that people might have against Saudis.
Some people see Saudis are potential terrorist who have gone through an education system that teaches them hatred towards other people. The media also perpetuates and upholds the negative image about Saudi especially after the 9/11 New York bomb attacks. Some of the Saudi students especially the ones with less or no travel abroad experience may also come with their own stereotypes about their host society and may fail to interact freely due to the misconceptions (Wagner 1).
Saudi students also experience a problem in their studies due to different qualities of education. Back home the education system is mostly geared towards rote learning and religious studies.
The students are not well prepared for an education system that encourages students to think critically and analytical instead of just memorizing information given by the teacher. The Saudi students often take time to adjust to the different educational systems that are learner oriented (Ursula 32).
Some students join higher levels education from their previous levels back home. This poses a challenge for the students because their entry behavior does not match the courses they intend to take. The problem is further compounded if they lack fluency in English. To learn their courses they have to take English lessons and depending on a person’s ability, some take very long to complete their study programs (Wagner 1).
The Saudi educational system has gone through remarkable reforms that have led to the construction of many institutions of higher learning. The government has pumped a lot of money into the educational system by providing free education and scholarships to students to study abroad.
The commitment of the royal family in bringing about educational reforms is remarkable. The educational system has been found wanting and changes are necessary in order to make the education offered in the kingdom useful. Changes must be done to overhaul the curriculum and make it relevant in producing students who are capable of handling the challenges in the twenty first century.
The changes in the education system must be initiated by the Saudis from their own free will and not as a coercion from external forces. If the changes come from within, they are bound to have a lasting impact. The conservative religious and academicians must be brought on board because they have a strong influence in the society.
Once most of the people are on board it will be less difficult to effect the changes because no kind of change is ever easy to bring about, as people are unsure of the outcome. In this case, some conservative feel that reforming the curriculum and making the teaching of English mandatory will lead to westernization. They fear that the religious based curriculum will be losing its core characteristic and lead to secularization of the Saudi community.
The educational system must respond to the needs of the society today as well those of tomorrow. Modernizing the educational system will ensure that Saudi Arabia attains sustainable growth in an environment that changes rapidly. The economic environment today is driven by scientific know how and information technology.
Therefore, the Saudi educational system must focus on training students in the areas that are in line with the needs of a modern workforce. Moreover, the students must be given career guidance to make good choices and avoid having a situation where most students go for humanities and social science oriented courses that are already saturated. More students should be encouraged to take science-oriented courses that are crucial in the country’s future development.
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