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Education and SchoolsBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Saudi Arabia - Education and Schools
Education is now considered one of the pillars of development by the Saudi Arabian government. In the past, education was not emphasized, and only the rich could educate their children to university level. The reality has changed, and today’s schools in Saudi Arabia enjoy top tier teaching amenities, good staff and a curriculum that matches global standards.
Schools in Saudi Arabia are either public, government-funded institutions or privately owned academic centers. Both private and public schools strive to meet the education standards of the Western world, and qualifications from Saudi schools are recognized outside the country.
Most public schools in Saudi Arabia are funded by the government. Their curricula are comprehensive and include plenty of co-curricular activities as well as exchange programs. Despite this, many expats shy away from public schools for their children, for several reasons.
To begin with, public schools in Saudi Arabia teach their curriculum entirely in Arabic. All subjects, even mathematics, are taught in Arabic, and English is taught as an optional foreign language. Religion also plays a big part in these schools, as every pupil is expected to be a Muslim. In addition, public schools rarely enroll international students apart from those of Arabic descent. The schools also tend to be single-sex, so not ideal for an expat family with sons and daughters.
This does not mean it is impossible to enroll non-Muslim students in public schools. However, children may feel alienated by the system, as special treatment is given to Arab-speaking students. The curriculum will also prove difficult to learn unless the child enrolls for Arabic classes prior to attending school.
Public schools in Saudi Arabia teach Islamic ideologies, so your child may feel pressured to convert to Islam. He or she is likely to feel separated from the familiar expat community they come from. Public schools in Saudi Arabia discourage students from switching schools. The child is expected to enroll from pre-school through to high school learning the curriculum and assimilating to the Arabic culture and language.
Fortunately, Saudi Arabia has a list of private schools which enroll expat students from all over the world. You can expect to find private schools that cater to British, German, French, Japanese, Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and even Egyptian students. Private schools in Saudi Arabia are often run by international organizations from English speaking countries.
The private school curriculum is not as strict as that of public schools. In addition, pupils in private schools can freely interact with their teachers or tutors, adding to the conducive learning environment. The dress code in private schools is relaxed, and most of these schools are co-educational. The curriculum is taught in English, unless the private school caters to a specific nationality which has a different language.
As so many expats are moving to Saudi Arabia, the demand for private school education is on the rise. This means that getting a spot in any of the private or international schools for your children might be difficult. It is not uncommon to see long lists of student waiting for a spot to fill or enroll in the next academic year.
Some private schools experience a high rotation of teachers. Tutors often move to other locations to teach, or change jobs to a different school. Therefore, the teacher-pupil relationship may be disrupted. An additional disadvantage of private schools is their high fees. Private schools may seem affordable during the initial stages of enrollment. However, charges will grow as your child advances to A Level.
Expats working in Saudi Arabia often receive an education allowance from their employer to cover part of the fees for private schooling. Negotiating an education allowance is one of the most important things to consider in your salary package. The alternative would be to first school your child in a public school before moving them to private schools; preferably at the high school or university level.
Enrolling In Private Schools
It is advisable to send in your application to a private school well in advance, before the next academic year. Your child will be asked to submit a completed application form together with academic reports from previous schools. You and your child may also have an interview with a board panel. In other private schools, your child will have to sit for an entrance exam to gauge their academic ability.
Choosing A School
The first thing to consider when choosing a school for your child is how long you are staying in Saudi Arabia. If your work contract is temporary, private schools are a good choice. Those in Saudi Arabia for a longer period may have to juggle between public and private schools if they are on a strict budget.
Do a little research before enrolling your child in any school. If there is a particular school you are considering, how long has it been around? Does it have a great reputation in terms of their curriculum and the school as a whole? Does the school favor a particular nationality of students over others? Are the school examination qualifications accepted globally?
Educating your child in Saudi Arabia is a long-term commitment. Therefore, it is important to think through the fine details before choosing a school for your child.
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