Education System in Saudi Arabia

Establishment of Education in Saudi Arabia

Education in Saudi Arabia has become one of the distinct features and factors of country’s social and economics development. The Directorate of Education in Saudi Arabia has been established in 1925 that set a background of the education system in the country. However, beginning of the modern education in Saudi Arabia is associated with the establishment of the Ministry of Education in 1953 as a separate body within executive branch of government. King Fahd Ibn Abdulaziz was chosen to be the first Minister of Education. Under his guidance, education in the Saudi Arabia has expanded and modernized. Since 1958 a uniform educational system has been adopted in the Kingdom. It has included elementary (6 years long), intermediate (3 years long) and secondary (3 years long) parts of the education system. Higher educational program was separated (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2006).

National educational plans emphasized a background concept for the successful process of modernization of Saudi Arabia. This concept was based on two key principles. First, there was a need in the development of required human resources and human capital with the help of education and trainings. Second, it was necessary to build a comprehensive economic infrastructure. Therefore, due to the need and relevance of human capital and infrastructure for economic development of the country, role of education was highly prioritized.

Levels in the System of Education in Saudi Arabia

System of education in Saudi Arabia is comprised of the following levels: pre-elementary level, elementary level, intermediate level, secondary level and higher educational level.

Pre-elementary level in the educational system of Saudi Arabia is aimed at preparing children (both boys and girls) for entering elementary school level. Children attend pre-elementary schools for 2 years. Usually, they are admitted at the age of 4 or 5 years.

Elementary level in the system of education is also considered to serve as a background for preparing children in the further studies. To the elementary school children are enrolled at the age of 6 years. Studies at this level continue for 6 years. Normally, school year is comprised of 2 semesters with each including fifteen weeks of in class activities and two exam weeks. Duration of classes during a day is usually 45- minutes per 6 classes. Curriculum that is studied by children is standardized for both girls’ and boys’ elementary schools (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2006).

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Intermediate level of the educational system for children starts when they are 12-years old and lasts for 2 years. Similarly to the elementary school year, in the intermediate school it includes two semesters with 15 weeks of classes and 2 weeks of exams. In order to receive a school certificate students are required to pass a completion examination. Results of the examinations are used for entering the secondary school level.

Secondary level of education consists of regular secondary schools and vocational secondary schools. Education at the secondary school usually lasts for three years and on average serves students who are from 15 to 19-year-old. In the regular secondary school students study a general curriculum that is obligatory for every student during first year of their studies. During the next two years, students are allowed to study subjects that correspond to the major that they have selected. Students have the opportunity to have majors in social science and administration, Shariah and Arabic studies, and natural science. At the secondary school the school year included two semesters with 20 weeks of classes and 2 weeks of exams.

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Vocational and technical secondary education has been developed in the Saudi Arabia to address the increasing need in the better workers’ productivity in the country. Programms at the vocational and technical schools offer studies in the commercial, industrial, and agricultural trainings.

Higher education level in the system of education has been implemented according to the Islamic customs and traditions. System of higher education in Saudi Arabia has been considerably growing during the last few decades. Currently, system of higher education in Saudi Arabia includes 24 technical colleges, 40 colleges and institutes for health, 102 primary teacher’s colleges for women, 18 primary teacher’s colleges for men, and 11 major universities, including 109 colleges and 9 institutes (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2006).

Studies’ programs that are offered by the universities and colleges include masters and doctoral degrees programs in several fields. Similarly to other components of the system of education in Saudi Arabia, higher level of education is developed and evaluated in relation to the general plan of national development. It is considered to be essential in the fulfilling of the potential of the greatest resource available in the Kingdom – its human capital.

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Special education programs in Saudi Arabia were launched in 1960 by the Ministry of Education. In particular, the Al-Noor Institute was opened in Riyadh for blind male students. Later, in 1964, similar school was established for blind girls. Moreover, at the same year, a special school for hearing impaired people was also established in the country.

Girls’ Education in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been a forefront among many countries in the provision of equal education opportunities at all levels for both men and women. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has provided a notable level of education for women. Data shows (Table 1) that there is no gender discrimination in the school system of Saudi Arabia.

It is clear from the table that in many aspects girls’ education has even outweighed boys’ education. Moreover, at the higher level of educational system, the share of female students has exceeded fifty eight percent. Even though majority of those female students have their majors in human science and education, an increasing number is enrolled in economics, medicine, pharmacy, accounting, administration and computer studies. Furthermore, a lot of female students have majors in basic sciences and agriculture.

Scholarships and Governmental Support

King Abdullah has implemented in 2005 a program providing government scholarships for young Saudi citizens to study in the Western universities abroad. Scholarships cover tuition and living expenses of students enrolled at both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Around 5,000 students in Saudi Arabia have received government scholarships to pursue their studies abroad during 2007-2008. Those students who have received scholarships mostly continued their education at the universities in the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. More than 15,000 students from Saudi Arabia are studying in the United Kingdom, including 25% of women (Wagner, 2010).

Social Impact of Education on Saudi Arabia

Education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a considerable social and economic impact on the development of the country. Even though 58 percent of all students are women, having a strong educational background does not guarantee them having a job after graduating from the university. This can be due to the limitations that women face regarding selection of majors for their studies. Women are disqualified from studying journalism, engineering, and architecture. These spheres are predominantly reserved for male students (Cordesman, 2003). Therefore, this limits women’s access to certain kinds of jobs available at the labor market (Baki, 2004).

Hence, limitations and restrictions of the system of education in Saudi Arabia are brining social and productivity crisis due to the situation with female employment and lack of transformations in the country. Moreover, existent system of education in the country is limiting male productivity and competitiveness of male labor force on the international labor market. Therefore, a lot of labor immigrants are coming to Saudi Arabia bringing social and cultural tensions in the society.


To sum up, Saudi Arabia is considered to be the leader among Islamic countries in the framework of introduction modern educational standards and principles. Education system in the kingdom consists of pre-elementary, elementary, intermediary, secondary and higher educational levels. Schools are separated for men and women. As a result this brings social and cultural implications for the economic development of the Saudi Arabia.

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