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State School Systems for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Submitted: July 2014

State-funded education in Saudi Arabia is in Arabic only and strictly segregated, with separate schools for boys and girls. State schools are only open to Muslims; however, since curriculums are heavily laced with Islamic indoctrination, this makes little difference. Hence state education in Saudi Arabia will only be appropriate for a minority of expats.

Free kindergarten education is available for children from the age of three. Kindergarten education is not compulsory. The curriculums vary, but are generally centred on hygiene, development of social abilities and structured play.

Primary education is compulsory from ages of 6 to 11, though it is possible for a child to start if they are aged 5 years 9 months or more at the beginning of the first term. The curriculum has a heavy emphasis on Arabic and Islamic studies; other subjects such as maths, history and geography are also taught, along with English in some schools. Boys also take physical education, while girls study home economics instead. Education policy in Saudi Arabia is derived from Islam, with over a third of the lesson periods devoted to religious study. The official textbooks are compulsory for all schools and are widely interspersed with vaguely relevant Koranic verses. All this means that, for example, teaching creationism as it is stated in the Koran is official Saudi policy and evolution is blasphemy.

At the end of Grade 6 (11 years old) children must pass an exam to gain an Elementary Education Certificate in order to move on to intermediate school. Intermediate schooling takes place between the ages of 11 and 14 and prepares children for the choice between going on into general secondary education (academic), specialized secondary education (technical) or Islamic secondary education. In some intermediate schools it is necessary to pass tests at the end of each year in order to move up a grade. The curriculum is the same as that at primary school, but includes science and English. As in primary school, Islamic studies have the lion’s share of the timetable. At the end of Grade 9 (14 years old) children must pass an exam to gain an Intermediate Education Certificate in order to move on to secondary school.

Secondary schooling lasts for three years until the children are 17/18 years old. In general secondary education further streaming takes place at the end of the first year depending on results of tests. These tests will decide which children progress into two years of scientific education, and which remain in general literary education. At the end of three years children must take a competitive General Aptitude Test or a Standard Achievement Admission Test in order to move on to University.

Islamic secondary education concentrates on religious studies, and is only open to boys. At the end of three years children must pass an exam to gain a general Religious Institute Secondary Education Certificate in order to move on to a university specialising in Islamic studies.

Specialized secondary education is divided into vocational, commercial and agricultural education with quite different curriculums for each type. At the end of three years children must pass an exam to gain either a Secondary Vocational School Diploma, a Secondary Commercial School Diploma, or a Secondary Agricultural School Diploma.

State schools generally have two terms a year with short break in the winter and a long break for the summer months. The school day starts early at around 7am and finishes at around 3pm. The weekend is Friday and Saturday.



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