They Know Better!

Abdullah Al-Obeid, the Minister of Education, is all over the front pages these days to brag about the new e-learning initiative his ministry has recently launched.

I think he can brag. After all, the man has single-handedly solved all the problems that have plagued our education system for decades. Female teachers no longer get killed on the road to their schools in God-forsaken remote places; all the textbooks have been fixed to be moderate and up-to-date; and extremist teachers have been kicked out for good.

That’s why it comes as no surprise to read about their latest genius decision: they will not issue any renewals for permission for Saudi students to attend international schools. Not that it was easy to enroll your kids in international schools in the past. I am told that it takes a hellova a wasta to do that, but now even your big ‘wow’ can’t save your kids from the Saudi education system.

Moreover, they say British schools will have to accept only British pupils, German schools German pupils, Indian schools Indian students, and so on. Nonsense. Because most international schools will not be able to operate without Saudi students who make up the bulk of enrollment.

Earlier this week, Tariq Al-Maeena published a letter from a distressed mother who says she would rather have her kids home schooled or move to Dubai or Bahrain. I don’t know what MOE has to say about the reasons behind their ruling, but in a country where the government think they can tell you what (or what not) to name your kids, it is only understandable that they know what’s best for the kids once it is time for them to go to school.

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19 thoughts on “They Know Better!

  1. The Saudi education system will not be fixed until a competent minister is assigned. That minister should be an educator with international experience to draw upon in introducing change. Also he/she should not be from the religious leadership group. We had this ministry run by the clerics for decades and they showed complete incompetence, because their focus is not on education rather to make every one a perfect Muslim. That is the wrong mission for an Education Ministry. Note I included a she as a possibility as I think it is time for a women to be named to a cabinet position in Saudi. Education will be a good place to make this happen.

  2. This time I will disagree with you Ahmed, not in saying that our educational system is not crap but in under estimating the dangers of foreign educational systems in the Kingdom.
    I have a friend who used to argue with me a lot about this issue, few weeks ago she rang me saying: Maram you were right!
    A famous Saudi Private School in Jeddah called Jeddah Knowledge has not only dropped the Saudi educational Syllabus but all what we hold so dear..and all what makes us a country or a nation..including the language and the holy Quran!
    “They taught my daughter (8years old) how to disrespect her religion, culture and heritage..” said my friend who you could consider her to be some how liberal! She is a British-born and holds a PhD (2006) in Medical Physics.
    The Saudi head teacher refuses to speak with parents in Arabic, refuses to make Arabic books available to the pupils in the library or dedicate some reading sessions in Arabic as it is the case with English.. They even sent a note one day saying” It’s not the School’s policy to teach Quran or to ask girls to pray” and many more shocking stories!
    This is one decision that I truly support BUT on the other hand they need to modernize our system to make it more appealing to middle-class citizen at least..let alone to the wealthy families who would ship their kids to boarding schools any way..

    We have a problem and if the rich kids are having their way in expensive foreign schools then there is no urge or hope for any body to pay attention to the ” people’s” schools. While upsetting the important people might have some good impact on the whole country..

    The ” compound” solution to our problems..often resulted in delaying the modernization and advances of our society..if the Westerns are happy and enjoying life in Aramco for example..and their women could drive..who cares about the rest of us?

  3. hello ahmad.. this is the first time I comment on something you wrote.. since I’m just a reader most of the time.
    I do disagree with you in somethings.. the Saudi educational system isn’t that bad.. since most of us had graduated from it.. but it does require alot of work from the students’ side to acquire some extra skills..
    But about the new decision.. I think it’s too early or was made in a rush (as always).. because their replay would be that they permitted Saudi schools to teach non-Saudi Syllabus.. but the thing is that that permittion was given a few months ago as I recall..so schools who intend to adopt any other teaching system wouldn’t begin untill the beginning of the new year..and to be honest I wouldn’t change my child’s school to a new one with a new system and use him/her as a lab rat for it. So in that the MOE went wrong.. if they just waited one more year!!

    About the books being out of date or that teachers are sent to faraway places.. well I have nothing to say about that.. because I agree totally..

    Finally about the school Maram talked about before me.. my youngest sister studies there.. and she’s in the 2nd grade and they do take Arabic lessons almost every day.. although not to the extent I’d like them to be having.. and they memorize juzu2 3amma of the holy Quran as we did went we were young.. and they have these good manner days ( as in the yes please & thank you day ).. which is nice.
    It’s a very strong school in English in my opinion.. but in Arabic which is supposed to be our mother tongue… they fail misribally..

    The Principle of that school is another whole issue by her self.. but we’re not talking about principles now :)

    sorry if talked alot :P

  4. My brother Ahmed

    Have you heard about the country of contradictions?

    We have internet but many quarters don’t have sewerage!!!
    We study an intensity of religious materials but we are lack of moral fiber!!!
    Sooner we will have e education but we don’t have real schools (still some students study in rented small houses)!!! Neither useful material nor qualified teachers!!!

  5. Dear Ahmed,
    I would like to comment on the school mentioned above, JKS . My daughter goes there and she is in grade 6 . She has Qura’an , Tawhid,Fikeh and Hadeeth as well as Arabic every day with emphasis on composition (Tabeer).They also take History and Geography in Arabic (true these two are summerised) .One must also consider the kids and the study load /hours of study in one day . As for encouraging reading that has never been the case in any Saudi school for the last 30 years. Long before this new system of dual education . So weather they read in Arabic or English it doesn’t matter as long as they teach them to love reading .It is very difficult to teach in both languages satisfactorily. There are many schools that teach all subjects in Arabic with English as a second language and there are only a few schools (2/3) that put more emphasis on teaching in English with an international curriculum plus government Arabic and Religion. It is an individuals choice to put their kids in the school that teaches in the language you as a parent prefer .I would also like to comment on the prayer .. They are required by the school to perform the mid day (dhuhr) prayer every day .. so to say that they don’t ask them to pray is just not true.
    In todays world where English plays a significant role,the ideal system is what is available at JKS .. and hopefully soon at more schools including government schools .Most Saudi kids speak Arabic at home,it is their mother tongue and when they learn more English at school ,science and math are also taught in English whilst the Arabic subjects and Religion are in Arabic , kids become bilingual . They are able to communicate in both languages fluently. My belief is that all parents (rich or poor ) should have the choice of how and where to educate their children .All Types of schools,those that teach Arabic+ESL / English+ arabic and religious subjects /or international schools should be open for any one to attend according to the parents wishes.

  6. Hi ahmed ..

    No educations and no schools thought no
    capable states the citizens on a problems solution.But the brains which rotate the education she the problem .

    Smiled does not sadden you are in ksu :)

  7. We are Australian and our kids go to a British school. It is my thought that this ruling has not been well thought through and will be modified in time, particularly with respect to expat students. For example, there is no Australian school. Our South African friends are in the same boat. What are we to do? We have been told that it does not affect existing students enrolments but that is for today, not a guarantee for the future. There are many nationalities here with no school of their own, and requiring a school to be started will result in hundreds of small schools with inadequate staff, resources and curriculum. Part of the reason we are here is for our children to experience contact with a broad range of cultures. They have kids in their classes from everywhere, including Saudis. It is fantastic, and has been an excellent experience for them. I know from conversations with many Western expats that high standard schooling is essential and if standards fall or such idiotic rulings are insisted upon, they will leave. Our rule was that we are here as a family or not at all, and many others feel the same. There will be a rush of expat exits and many professional posts will be empty. That is one of the short term issues with this policy. This is clearly something someone thought was a good idea, for whatever reason, but has not been well researched. Hopefully, as soon as the flaws are pointed out, there will be the usual back-peddling. Parents should have choices about schooling for their children, and should be trusted to do the best for their children. As for e-schooling – the mere concept brings a smile to my face. Internet here is hit and miss at the best of times. How exactly is that supposed to work!?

  8. “We have internet but many quarters don’t have sewerage!!!”_____Installing Internet connections is very much cheaper than installing a sewage system. However, it is surprising that a rich country like SA should still have places without sewage systems.

  9. I absolutely abhor the school system in Saudi Arabia. Terrible, terrible, terrible.
    Students graduate having studied the history of Saudi Arabia three times, and knowing nothing about international history. And I mean NOTHING. In Islamic studies memorization is encouraged, sometimes even required, without any focus on retaining anything. The teachers are often poorly trained and unprofessional. Nothing of the arts is taught. Whenever anything creative of fun is introduced, some conservative or other interferes and ruins everything. I could go on and on. And I went to a relatively good school, mind you.
    I think someone needs to come in and do a complete overhaul. Just change everything in the education system, starting from the bottom up.
    If you have something that’s not working anyway, throwing in a bunch of shiny new features (which I doubt will be implemented correctly) will just make a big mess.
    And as for not accepting Saudis at international schools, are they really going to say no to a member of the royal family, for example? The “no wastas” rule hardly ever works in Saudi.
    And I’ve always wondered what names I’m not allowed to give to my children? “Jewsareawesome”? “Atheismisfun”? I’ love some examples! :-D

  10. I wonder if that goes for the Islamic Saudi Academy here in the USA? Most Saudi diplomats send their kids to school there for free, however the bulk of the children are non Saudis and pay money, some $3000 a year, to send their children there.

    If only Saudi can go there now I wonder where they are going to come up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to make up for the shortfall?

    This is a stupid choice all the way around. Saudis need MORE interaction with people abroad, not less.

  11. When Socrates said ““I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world” what do suppose he meant. Did he mean I am a citizen of the Saudi Kingdom? a citizen of the United States?

  12. Hello,

    The education system in Saudi truly needs an overhaul, but lets talk basics here. We got kids studying about 20 subjects in private schools, after which the kid goes home and has more home tutoring, which is pressured on them by teachers, and then the kid gets homework and does it all again the next day. No breaks, no nurturing of creativity, no options, just study EVERYTHING and dont worry about it. You dont need any other experiences but classroom ones. Are you kidding me? Can we please take a step back here and realize that education systems are supposed to nurture a whole person, not just the academic aspect. So is it important to learn ethics, Yes i think so, but is it important to learn the derivatives of ethics, how they are produced Islamically, and all that, close down their world without opening it up. We are taught the strangest things in school, and I swear, as soon as I got out, and starting reading on my own, I saw that most of the stuff we were taught was such a limited aspect and a one point of view issue that I was shocked to find other people providing good arguments for the same issue that was different, Islamically or otherwise. It is simple, we dont teach Islamic ideals such as compassion, empathy, open mindedness and respect, but one aspect that appeals to the sect it is taught by. Where is the term education when we simply indoctrinate.

    Also, what about the Arts? What about creativity? We got high school kids picking what there chosen career will be. HIGH SCHOOL!!!! They are choosing sciences or business. Great, those are two career options. Wonderful, you can do this, or do that, there is nothing else. We dont need anything else cause no self-respecting Saudi would do anything else anyway. What photography, what artistry, what music, what journalist, why are you wasting your time with this nonsense? I hope you are sensing my sarcasm and cynicism.
    There do need to be some serious changes in the education system, and in all practicality, limiting what schools certain students should go to is ridiculous. You cant go to an International School cause you are Saudi, what is this, Apartheid? Let people get educated.

    And also, English is the language of the international world and with globalization we need to push towards educating people in the language and not doing so just makes us fall behind and spend more money trying to figure it out when we grow older. I recieved my higher education in Canada and if it wasn’t for my english school oppurtunity I wouldnt have been able to take full advantage and would have spent a couple of years wasting time improving before I could even take a university course that involves essay writing and analysis, things we lack unfortunatley.
    There is so much I can say about this, but it is really hard to sort through garbage.
    Excuse the vulgarity of my message.

  13. I studied in an international school in Dammam when I used to live there and I think I had precisely 1 (one :D) Saudi classmate. She too was half American, I think.
    This was an American system based school, one of the better ones in the region.
    I never really understood why there was such a lack of Saudi children in the system, but when you’re in 4th grade you don’t really think about these things too deeply.
    With regard to your article I don’t really understand how the nationality based system will work in practice, because some international schools cater to an eclectic crowd and not specifically to those of one nation.
    What’s the rule going to be for them?

  14. actually, our educational system is bad, but it’s not the worst. the problem lies in the fact that it teaches kids to blindly follow what is being dictated to them rather than think and improvise on thier own. I, myself, suffurd the teachers’ constant nagging about sticking to the book. this problem affected even the tutors at universities. Only my American professor encouraged thinking. she’d usually give those who copy the book a big rounded zero.
    one of our professors who encouraged e-learning since we’re girls and it would be much easier for us to use the net rather than being confined to a small room with a TV. however, he’s not even there to explain things to us clamining that he’s busy most of the times. what’s worse is that he doesn’t even attend classes. then he dares accuse us of being irresponsible and demands that we submit papers after studying the course on our own right now in the middle of all the hassle of final exams.
    so what’s the use of launching this e-learning thing if they are not going to stick to it properly?
    I remeber a joke told long ago. they said an athiest came to KSA on a work. after that he believed in the exitence of a god.
    why???
    cause he realized that had it not been for a god, we would have checked out long ago under all the false promises and corruption.
    take care

  15. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but SAUDI ARABIA DOESN”T HAVE “SCHOOLS”!! Schools are places where the young are taught to think critically and analytically about the world in which we live. SA has brain washing factories where the young are taught WHAT to think, not how. Until this changes the people of SA will be the medieval sheep that thier rulers and clerics wish them to be. I am sad for you.

  16. Shame on the journalist who wrote this article for suggesting that the government should let the minds of children become corrupt, and to suggest that anyone should be able to teach any curriculum without any government oversight.

    I think the journalist should be taken away for treason. We don’t need people like him to defy the great values of our Islamic nations…

  17. Wasta’s will always exist, no matter how impossible they say it is.

    That being said, I think it doesn’t make sense that the locals aren’t allowed to attend international schools.
    In fact, all the restrictions that you mention seemed unreasonable to me.
    I’ve heard of paternalistic government, but the GCC ones take on a life of their own!

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