Given that this work was undertaken in Saudi Arabia, it is pertinent to provide an overview of the Saudi education system particularly its general characteristics, structure, curriculum being used in it. This chapter provides general background regarding the basic objectives of the Saudi education system. The strategies it employs for its on going development and advancement.
The Saudi Education System: A brief preview
Education in all parts of Saudi Arabia was traditional until the late nineteenth century, the education was mainly restricted to reading, writing and recitation of the Qur’an. Higher education in religious studies existed only in the main cities of Saudi Arabia. The beginning of the “Modern Education” took place towards the end of the nineteenth century in the then Ottoman provinces of Hijaz and Al-Ahsa. By 1920’s a few private schools began offering non-religious subjects in some major cities and larger towns. In the beginning of 1951 a network of secondary schools was set up. The ministry of Education was established in 1954 and prince Fahd Bin Abd al-Aziz became the first minister. The first non wholly religious university was opened up in 1957. In spite of the strong opposition of the conservatives of the Saudi clan the public education for girls began in 1964. The Ministry of Higher Education was established in 1975, and the development plans of 1970’s and 1980’s characterized remarkable development in the Education setup, improving Saudi Education system considerably.
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The literacy rate in Saudi Arabia in 1970 was 15% for men and 2% for women. By 1990 it was 73% for men and 48% for women , and, in 2002 it reached 90.9% and 70.2%, respectively . According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook 2002, the literacy rate in 2002 was estimated at 84.2% for males and 69.5% for females and according to the latest facts it stands at 86.6% overall, with male literacy rate at 90.4% and female literacy rate at 81.3%.
The reason for the positive results in combating illiteracy can be attributed to government support and encouragement. Private education institutions and Qur’an schools proved successful in increasing the literacy rate. The very first syllabus to educate adults, especially in terms of reading, was laid down in 1956. Initially, the period of education was reduced to three years, and then after some experimentation, four years. After this four year timeframe, the student attended a follow-up programme after which a he or she was then eligible for a primary school certificate.
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Around the mid 1950’s, Saudis quickly started to realise that education, and reading in particular, were absolutely vital for the future of their country. Today, they look on in pride at a well-educated and successful nation. Saudi business is booming, and the rate of attendance at schools has reached 98.7 percent. Meanwhile, rectification work is continuing on educating elderly people who may have missed out on previous reading programmes.
Characteristics of Saudi education System
Education in Saudi Arabia has four special characteristics: an emphasis on Islam, a centralized educational system, separate education for men and women, and state financial support. Islam is the core of each Muslim’s curriculum, with time each week devoted to the study of the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an, Islamic tradition, jurisprudence, and theology from primary through higher education. Religion is not separate from but is a part of the disciplines of education, economics, sociology, psychology, medicine, and law. It is expected that the Qur’an will be memorized, interpreted, and applied to all aspects of daily life.
The centralized educational system for men is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education; and for women, under the General Presidency of Girls’ Education. All schools at all levels utilize the same methods of instruction, textbooks, evaluation techniques, curricula, and educational policy. As stated in Article 155 of the Educational Policy of Saudi Arabia, there is strict separation of the sexes at all levels of education with the exception of kindergarten, nursery, and some private elementary schools, and in some medical schools. The separation of the sexes is related to the respected social status of women accorded to them by Islam. With the exceptions of physical education and home economics, the curricula are the same. The Saudi government is committed to the development of education at all costs and maintains exclusive control. Education is free but not compulsory beyond the elementary level. The government provides free tuition, stipends, subsidies, and bonuses to students entering certain fields of study and to those continuing their education outside the country. Free transportation is provided for female students.
Objectives of Saudi Education Policy
The objectives of the Saudi educational policy are to ensure that education becomes more efficient, to meet the religious, economic and social needs of the country and to eradicate illiteracy among Saudi adults. The main educational purpose of Saudi education system is a continuation of its Islamic Educational heritage. To prepare highly qualified individuals, scientifically and intellectually, so that they can perform their best in order to benefit their country and the development of their Nation. To play a positive role in the field of scientific research in order to contribute to the global progress in arts, science and inventions. To translate the scientific knowledge to the language of Qur’an (Arabic) and the development of the wealth of the Arabic language, to meet the needs of Arabization, by making knowledge accessible to the largest number of people.
There are several government agencies involved with planning, administrating and implementing the overall governmental educational policy in Saudi Arabia.
The Ministry of Education sets overall standards for the country’s educational system (public and private) and also oversees special education for the handicapped. Early in 2003 the General Presidency for Girls’ Education was dissolved and its functions were taken over by the Ministry, to administer the girls’ schools and colleges, supervise kindergartens and nursery schools and sponsor literacy programs for females.
Structure and Curriculum of Saudi Public Education
The Public education in Saudi Arabia, for boys and girls, is divided into three levels: elementary, intermediate, and secondary. Also, there is optional kindergarten level. The school year at all three levels consists of two semesters, which are fifteen weeks long. Classes per week vary from 28 to 33 class. The length of each class is 45 minutes. Passing the exam at the end of the school year is essential for moving to next grade or level. Students who fail need to take another test in the subject that was failed. Before the new school year starts, if the student fails again, he needs to repeat the grade.
Elementary education consists of six grades. Students start at the age of six. (May accept 3 months – or 4 in Gregorian calendar- less than 6). Elementary education focuses mainly on Islamic religion and the Arabic language; mathematics, history, geography, and science.
Passing the sixth grade examinations is required to enter the intermediate level. The age of the intermediate student is between 12 and 15 years old. Students in the intermediate level study, besides Islamic and Arabic language courses, more general education courses. Completion of the third year of the intermediate level and passing the examination, students can select one of three options: (1) regular secondary school, (2) vocational education, (3) Qur’anic schools.
Before 1937, there was no secondary-level education in Saudi Arabia. The first high school was the Saudi Institution opened in 1926. The real beginning of secondary education coincides with the development of the Foreign Mission preparatory school in 1937. The initial purpose of this school was to prepare Saudi students for higher education in Egyptian universities. The curricula were similar to the Egyptian curricula and most of the teachers were from Egypt. Secondary education is three-year program. The economic development in the oil sector in 1950s and 1960s led to dramatic industrial and commercial growth in Saudi Arabia. The need for an immediate reform of the secondary education system and more secondary schools became clear. The Saudi Supreme Committee of Education embarked on a large-scale expansion of the Saudi education system, which was influenced by the American education system. There are now three types of secondary education available in Saudi Arabia:
Qur’anic school, (2) general (academic) school, and (3) vocational (professional) school.
The first Qur’anic high school opened in 1977. General high school follows a general curriculum in the first year. Then, each student specializes in either liberal arts or science for the next two years. The general high school curriculum has been changed several times, as educational policymakers and curriculum planners have determined that the curriculum did not meet individuals’ and national needs. The Ministry of Education established the first comprehensive secondary school in 1975, as an experimental modern high school in the city of Riyadh. In 1977 and 1978, they opened three more schools in other cities round the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The intent in establishing these schools was:
- To prepare students for real life by affording them with the knowledge and skills they need for employment,
- To meet the needs of both individuals and groups in society,
- To allow students to select the courses and activities that they need,
- To offer students access to an academic adviser to guide and help them during their studies.
Because of the need to expand secondary education and include additional academic programs and areas of study, the comprehensive secondary education program was replaced by “developed” secondary education in 1983. This school allowed students to choose the courses that correspond to their interests, as well as developing a high school structure which allows students to experience different activities. Saudi educational policymakers phased the “developed” high school plan out in 1993 because of the negative social consequences for both students and the society.
Higher education became the focus of Saudi Education system when country embarked on its development ascent in 1970’s. The oldest university in Saudi Arabia was opened in 1957 as Riyadh university which was renamed as King Saud university in 1982. In the academic year 2007-2008 the university had 42,312 students (Albaikan, 2010). There were only two universities in Riyadh, King Saud university (KSU) and Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic university until 2004 when the first women university was established by combining women colleges. The ministry of Higher Education was established in Saudi Arabia in 1975 to supervise and regulate the higher education in the country. The ministry’s major objective was to establish new higher education institutions throughout the country and expand the existing ones and to commence and renew the undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in most disciplines in these universities and colleges. Saudi universities and higher education institutions offer Diplomas, Bachelors, Masters and PHD degrees in various humanities and scientific specializations. A Bachelor degree requires four years study programme in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences and five to six years in the field of Engineering, Medicine and Pharmacy. The medium of instruction in science and technological fields is English, while the other subjects are taught in Arabic.
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Saudi universities have been increased in number from eight public universities to twenty one since 2004 (Ministry of Higher Education, 2008) Most of these universities were pre-established colleges, which were later upgraded to the status of universities. A large number of vocational institutes and private colleges have been established more recently, such as The Prince Sultan University and Arabic Open University. A considerable amount of annual budget is allocated for these higher Education institutions by the Saudi Government to ensure their smooth working and continuous advancement, For instance the budget in 2010 spent $36.7 billion on education and training out of $146 billion total budget. The Higher Education budget of 2010 covered funding for establishing new universities across Saudi Arabia and the expansion of the existing ones and increasing the students enrollment in Higher Education and scholarship programmes abroad. There are approximately more than 80.000 Saudi students studying at Higher education universities around the world with Government scholarships. Moreover, The world’s largest Women University, The Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University, was inaugurated in the first quarter of the year 2011 by the then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, at the outskirts of the capital city Riyadh. The university has the capacity of accommodating 50.000 students and aims to improve women’s access to courses such as Business and Science. The university has its own teaching Hospital , state of the art laboratories and libraries.
The Movement to transform the Saudi society into a Knowledge Society was emphasized by the Minister of Higher Education in a speech, during the First Higher Education Symposium held in March 2010:
The premises of Higher Education development adopted by the Ministry are based on specified fundamentals, most important of them is supporting Saudi society be transformed into a knowledge society. One of the most important means to achieve this transformation is to develop and employ a view of knowledge economy where knowledge is produced, disseminated and ultimately consumed at various community products and service works. Toward this there was collaboration with universities to build real and realistic partnerships with production and services sector, both governmental and private whether local or international. Such move is justified in a view of a university or educational institution role as a manifestation of a balance stroked between producing knowledge and utilization of this produced knowledge, education output that is fit for national development needs and those needs of labour market. Such balancing highlights the real role and the positive reflection of universities and Higher Education organizations at serving their communities, not forgetting too their pioneering role at educating and conducting research. (Ministry of Higher Education Portal, 2010): (para. 7)
The Use of Internet In Saudi Education System
Saudi Arabian citizens were enabled to access Internet in the year 1999 for the first time. According to the Communications and Information Technology Commission (2007) There were approximately 200.000 Internet users in Saudi Arabia in December 2000, the number which rose to 2.54 million users by the year 2005 and by 2007 it jumped up to 6.4 million users, making it nearly one third of the Saudi population which is approximately 24 million (Albaikan, 2010) The major reason for this rapid growth is that around 60% of Saudi population comprises of young people who are in their twenties or even younger (ArRiyadh Development authority, 2007) and they are adapting to the latest technologies faster than expected (Albaikan,2010). It is expected that Internet use will continue to grow In Saudi Arabia at the same pace, hence, raising the issue of incorporating methodologies to provide new learning strategies that include use of technology.
In the major cities of Saudi Arabia, the residential, business and metropolitan areas including universities have been provided with the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) recently.
Asynchronous virtual learning is used in the country due to the limitation in the bandwidth. The manager of Al-Dawalij company (Saudi Educational Software Producing Company) said supporting his view that his company has stopped producing online educational material for schools because of the network connection problems that prevented schools accessing that material (Albaikan, 2010). Therefore their soft wares and products are only available on CDs and DVDs (Abu-Hassana & Woodcock, 2006). The ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia has encouraged the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education sector, providing development projects to establish adequate IT infrastructure and content development for students seeking Higher education. Recently some universities and institutions have also been provided Commercial learning Management Systems such as blackboards, white boards, WebCT and Tadarus (Arabic Language Learning Management System) to facilitate online teaching and learning. However, the number of instructors and lecturers who utilize these systems is limited, due to the lack of sufficient training workshops and practice.
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) and King AbdulAziz University (KAU), established E=learning centers a few years ago, that provide assistance to their lecturers to develop interactive web-based supplementary material for traditional courses (Albaikan, 2010). The KAU, was the first Saudi university that employed a virtual learning environment, by offering online Bachelor degree. However in August 2007, the Islamic University of Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud began offering a distance learning program that delivers instructions entirely through the Internet (Albaikan,2010), but only a few universities up till now have begun implementing E-learning for their distance learning programmes and offer online courses. To further aid and assist the development of education system, the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia has established the National plan for Information technology which encourages the E-learning and distance learning for higher education. The National Centre for E-learning and Distance learning was established in 2006, to support E-learning and blended learning implementation in universities (Albaikan, 2010). The National centre provides tools, technical support and the necessary means for the development of digital education content for Higher education through out the country. Due to the lack of adequately trained lecturers and the ever-rising number of students, The National Centre of E-learning and Distance Learning has started various programmes that aim to enhance E-learning in Saudi universities. The principal goals and objectives of the National centre for E-learning, 2008 were:
- To work across all Higher Education Institutions to develop a national and international E-learning infrastructure.
- To develop infrastructures for the centre.
- To establish awareness of E-learning programmes.
- To provide full E-learning solutions to at least three strategic partners by the end of 2010.
- To collaborate with Higher Education, government and corporate partners to provide solutions for complex E-learning problems.
- To develop new E-learning projects.
- To develop rules and regulations to supervise and govern E-learning programmes in Saudi Arabia.
- To establish alliance with with at least two international E-learning bodies to share E-learning resources.
King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University, Baha University, Taiba University, Qassim University and Madinah Islamic University all have memoranda of understanding with the Ministry to introduce the E-learning scheme as per the ministry’s instructions. (Albaikan, 2010) The National centre of E-learning has established a training programme for academics in the universities who want to adopt e-learning. A digital repository called, Maknaz has also been started by the centre, it will contain various educational content such as learning objects, which can be uploaded and modified by lecturers and retrieved by students.
Jusur, The Learning Management system was created in 2007 to provide the learning management features in Arabic for Saudi institutions. Jusur is an user-friendly system and it has already been upgraded to the second version within a year of its innovation. The system provides online help desk and support, allowing people to send in their queries, using an online ticket for technical assistance and receive a prompt reply in their email accounts. Jasur’s website also offers printed manuals specifically for students and lecturers both.
This chapter has covered the background of the Saudi education system and the important factors that influence it. The general structure, characteristics and curriculum of Saudi education system have been highlighted in the chapter. This chapter also explained the use of internet in the context of Saudi education system, the developing role of ICT in it and the role of the Centre of E-learning and Distance Learning has also been discussed. Saudi Arabia is still striving to respond to the technological evolution in Education. It has only been fifty years when the first university was established with only twenty one students, today the country proudly hosts twenty one public universities and a number of private universities along with the world’s largest women university. Female education is given considerable priority and the focus is on to establish quality learning conducive environments for face to face and E-learning.
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