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Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia Essay


Education is acknowledged to be the foundation of the socio-economic development of a nation. An effective educational system which yields high results is therefore seen as being essential for a nation’s well being. As such, having an effective education system is an objective of all governments.

The paper has begins by noting that modern Saudi Education was established in 1970 through the Education Policy Document. The various stages in the Saudi Education system are articulated as; pre-school, elementary school, secondary school and higher education institutes.

The differences between boy and girl’s schools vary from level to level. In the secondary school level, the difference is that girls have fewer choices than boys who have choices from; vocation schools, military schools and the education ministry.

The higher education institutes are the ones with the most differences. While more women are enrolled than men, some courses are limited to men and the educational facilities offered to men are superior to the women’s. Even so, changes have improved conditions for women and now they have access to most courses.

The paper concludes by stating that while Saudi Arabia has an effective educational system, its success can be hampered if the male students in higher learning institutes continue to be favored at the expense of females.


The educational system of a society is fundamental to the development and ultimate advancement of the entire community. Educators and governments all over the world have acknowledged that the educational structure and practices adopted can have a significant effect on the education of the population leading to significant impact on economic and social outcomes of their citizens.

An effective educational system which yields high results is therefore seen as being essential for a nation’s well being. Most countries have developed varied educational systems which are as a result of the various cultural backgrounds or even religious orientations of the particular nations.

Saudi Arabia’s educational system is one of the education systems that exhibit profound differences in structure and governance from most western country educational systems. These differences are as a result of the religious and cultural realities of the country.

A unique feature of Saudi Arabia’s education system is the separate schooling for the sexes from kindergarten to university level. This paper will argue that this separation on the basis of gender is one of the factors that have made Saudi Arabia’s education system so effective. The paper shall focus on the individual differences between the male and female schools.

Structure and Governance

Formal education in the Saudi Arabian Kingdom traces its roots to the 1930s when King Abdul Aziz started primary school programs in the Kingdom. Even so, the core foundation of the Saudi Education system is viewed to be the Education Policy Document issued in 1970 by the Saudi Council of Ministers.

This policy aimed among other things to implement educational plans and programs that would be universally accessible to the members of Saudi Kingdom. Al-Khaldi (2007) states that the one of the core ambitions of the policy was to achieve education for all.

The Saudi government is committed to the provision of education to its population. A study by Rugh (2002) reveals that as a general rule, primary education is free while secondary and higher education is highly subsidized by the government.

A notable attribute of Saudi Arabia’s education system is that it is highly centralized in nature and the overall supervision is done by the Ministry of Education This ministry is also charged with the training and subsequent employment of the teaching staff.

Saudi Arabia’s education has also become increasingly religious with the incorporation of religious teaching into the curricula. A study conducted in 2002 on education in Saudi Arabia revealed that “Islam is not only integral to Saudi education but also serves as the very essence of its curriculum” (Walsh, 2009, p.33).

Educational institutes are grouped into two: public sponsored and private. Both private and state-sponsored schools use the same textbooks hence ensuring uniformity. The government supervises the curricula of the private schools so as to ensure uniformity and as a general rule, private schools can only “add to the government-approved curriculum, not subtract from it” (Rugh, 2002, p.45).

Kindergarten Level

The first stage of education in Saudi Arabia is the kindergarten level which caters for children below the age of six. This educational level is optional and parents may choose to home school their children. The schools at this level are under the Education ministry.

Coed learning is permitted for pre-school age children and kindergartens therefore making this education level the only one where mixed learning is permitted in Saudi Arabia. The education policy of 1970 which is a foundation pillar for Saudi Arabia’s education system explicitly states that “Co-education is prohibited in all educational stages except in nurseries and kindergartens” (Al-Jawhara, 2008).

Elementary school

Elementary education which caters for pupils from the age of six through twelve is compulsory for all Saudis. Each school year in the elementary level consists of two semesters. Upon completion of this stage, pupils can move on to the intermediate schools which last for three years. Upon successful completion of this stage, the pupil can be enrolled to secondary school.

Through grades 1 to 12, boy schools are supervised by the Ministry of Education. Up until 2002, girl’s schools through these grades were supervised by the General Presidency of Girls Education but the institute was abolished and its role taken up by the Ministry of Education.

At the end of the Intermediate level, national examinations are undertaken and one must obtain the Intermediate School Certificate as a prerequisite to entering secondary education.

Following this examination, the Education Ministry offers both boys and girls the chance to choose either a literary or scientific path for their secondary education. This choice has an impact on the career path of the individual since it determines the courses that one is eligible for in college.

Secondary Level

A major difference between girls and boys schooling is exhibited when pupils are selecting the schools to join for secondary education. While the boys are presented with a myriad of options, girls are limited to a single choice of schools run by the Ministry of Education. Boys on the other hand may elect to attend schools operated by the Ministry of Education or those run by the Islamic University.

In addition to this, Saudi boys can enroll in vocational and technical schools that are run by the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training. Such institutes provide technical and commercial courses for boys whose careers are not aligned with the mainstream education courses.

Also, boys can join schools run by the Ministry of Defense. These military schools enable the student to take on a military career in future.

Another difference is in the selection of sporting facilities available to the students. Rugh (2002) reports that while boy schools are exposed to a wide array of sports ranging from football to cricket, girls are highly restricted. However, this is not necessarily a negative thing since males are more rule-oriented and attracted to sporting activities while females on the other hand shy away from overly competitive activities.

Moes (2005) reveals that stress and confrontation which motivates males to improve their performance has the opposite effect on girls. In addition to this, female students show great interest in other curriculum activities except sports as compared to male students (Hamdan, 2005).

Higher Education Level

There are numerous opportunities for higher education in Saudi Arabia and most students take advantage of this. Saud Arabia boasts of 109 university colleges in 11 universities that are supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education. There is also an excess of 141 colleges which offer courses ranging from teachers training to agriculture.

As a result of separate schooling there are some courses that are only available to men. Women are always denied admission to the renowned King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran which only offers its courses to males. This slightly limits the opportunities for women since the course option that one has in higher education has some bearing to their success in the job market (Wiseman, et al., 2008).

Even so, the other universities admit women and as such, women have equal opportunity with men to pursue higher education. Following recent reforms in the Saudi Arabian education policy by the Ministry of Education, women have been given access to courses such as mechanical and civil engineering which were previously only open to male students.

While male students have a say over the classes they take up in university, females may not always have a choice. Guardianship laws which are strongly embedded in Saudi culture sometimes affect the education of women.

In some universities, women are required to get guardian’s approval before they can resister for classes. Doumato (2009) states that this sometimes limits women from having the right to enroll in the programs of their choice.

Mirza (2007) reveals that while female teachers are abundant at the elementary and secondary school levels, there is a shortage of teachers at the higher-level education. This shortage is as a result of the traditional Saudi society where the role of women was mostly limited to taking car of the home and raising the children.

Men who were considered the breadwinners were more likely to seek higher education both in Saudi institutes and overseas. This situation has resulted to an adequate pool of male faculty members and a dire shortage of female ones. The proficiency of the teachers who teach the different genders is also different.

These results in a significant difference in the quality of education provided to men and women. Studies indicate that over 34% of the men teaching at men universities hold doctorates as compared to a mere 3% of those who teach in women’s universities (Hamdan, 2005; AlMunajjed, 1997)

A model approach for education delivery in higher education institutes in Saudi Arabia involves a distributed learning environment. A distributed learning environment is defined as “one where there is an integration between face-to-face instruction and online communication between faculty and students (Mirza, 2007; Dede, 1996).

In this set up, female students have an online communication and very limited face to face interaction with their instructors while the male students benefit from face-to-face interaction.

A study by Mirza (2007) revealed that female students felt a great desire for having face to face instructions from their tutors and as such, the online communication was detrimental to their learning experience. This is because not having the instructor in the same classroom resulted in the loss of concentration by the female students.

A significant difference in male and female education is in the amount of money that the government and education institutes appropriate for male and female education. Hamdan (2005) documents that women’s education is appropriated only 18% of the share in higher education.

In addition to this, the facilities that women are provided with are of inferior quality as compared to men. For example, Saudi women are denied access to many libraries affiliated with schools as well as public libraries. Women libraries on the other hand are poorly equipped and small.


Education is acknowledged to be the foundation of the socio-economic development of a nation. As such, having an effective education system is an objective of all governments. The Saudi government has placed a strong emphasize on education and continuous to the most ardent supporter of the growth of the education sector.

The differences exhibited between the male and female schools are in line with one of the general principles of the educational policy as articulated in 1978 by the Ministry of Higher Education. This is that “Women have the right to receive education that is suitable to their natural endowments and which would prepare them for their role in life” (Al-Khaldi, 2007).

Men and women differ significantly and the approach in teaching them should take this into consideration. It is held that men and women’s brains operate differently and modern brain scanning technology has allowed scientists to demonstrate that “males use less of and specific areas of their brain while females tend to use both hemispheres for the same tasks” (Moes, 2005, p.5).

Moes (2005) asserts that after nearly decades of conscientious social engineering, children still choose gender-specific toys and boys remain competitive while girls are cooperative. These revelations point to the inherent difference between boys and girls. Zahra (2001) goes as far as to propose a feminine theory of education which would ideally be rooted in transformative learning.

However, separate schooling does present some setbacks. Most significantly, separate schooling results in differing in choices available to students based on gender.

For example, after intermediate level school, males have a number of options which give them an advantage over the females. The online education that is imposed on women also places them at a disadvantage compared to men who have face to face interactions with their instructors.

Even so, separate schooling yields the best for the sexes. Concerns about equity are grounds for the controversy that single sex schooling attracts. Moes (2005) reveals that this is not the case since separating boys and girls for schooling offers educators an opportunity to cater for the unique needs for the different genders.

While some argue that separate schooling discriminates against women, Rugh (2002) reveals that the number of Saudi female college students has risen exponentially from a mere 100 in the mid 1960s to over 140,000 by 2002. Furthermore, for many women in Saudi Arabia, sex segregation is not synonymous with a lesser social status.


This paper set out to give an in depth analysis of the Saudi Arabian Education system with particular emphasis on the separate schooling system and the differences that arise as a result of this system. To this end, the paper has reviewed the structure of the Saudi system and the various attributes which influence the school system. From this paper, it is clear that religion plays a major role in the lives of Saudis.

Considering the centrality of Islam in the Saudi Education, it stands to reason that the educational system should be in line with the religious tenets. It is also clear from this paper that the Saudi government places great significance on the education of its people.

As a result of this, there has been significant progress made in increasing literacy for the population. This paper has demonstrated that Saudi Arabia applies strict educational policies in accordance with the teachings of Islam. However, this paper has noted that the bias on male educational resources at the expense of females is retrogressive to what is otherwise an effective educational system.


Al-Jawhara, B. (2008). Woman in Saudi Arabia Cross – Cultural Views. Ghainaa Publications

Al-Khaldi, S. (2007). Education Policies in the GCC States. Gulf Research Center.

Doumato, E.A. (2009). Women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Freedom House.

Hamdan, A. (2005). “Women and education in Saudi Arabia: Challenges and achievements”. International Education Journal, 2005, 6(1), 42-64.

Moes, M. (2005). American Muslim Schools and the Single-Sex Approach to Education. Gulf Research Center.

Mirza, A. A. (2007). “Students’ Perceived Barriers to In-Class Participation in a Distributed and Gender-Segregated Educational Environment”. Proc ISECON 2007, v24

Rugh, A. W. (2002). “Education in Saudi Arabia: choices and constraints”. Middle east policy, VOL. IX, NO. 2.

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P., Alissa. "Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia." IvyPanda, 3 May 2019,

1. Alissa P. "Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia." IvyPanda (blog), May 3, 2019.


P., Alissa. "Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia." IvyPanda (blog), May 3, 2019.


P., Alissa. 2019. "Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia." IvyPanda (blog), May 3, 2019.


P., A. (2019) 'Separate Schooling for the Sexes from Kindergarten to University Level in Saudi Arabia'. IvyPanda, 3 May.

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