The Saudi Arabia’s education system, since its inception, has gone through an astonishing transformation. When the Kingdom was established in 1932, education was available to very few people, mostly the children of wealthy families living in the major cities, which is usually the case in every beginning stage of such histories.
Today, Saudi Arabia’s education system includes 25 public and 27 private universities, with more planned; some 30,000 schools; and a large number of colleges and other institutions. The system is open to all citizens, and provides students with free education, books and health services.
While the study of Islam remains at its core, the modern Saudi educational system also provides quality instruction in diverse fields of arts and sciences. This diversity helps the Kingdom prepare its citizens for life and work in a global economy.
Education is a requirement for every Muslim, both male and female. The Holy Qur’an and the Hadith [teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad] repeatedly emphasize the importance of learning.
In the centuries after the birth of Islam, Muslim states established schools, universities and libraries that were unique in the world. At a time when Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, the Islamic world became a center for learning, making major contributions in the areas of astronomy, physics, art, philosophy, and medicine – a period known as the “Golden Age.” Methods pioneered by Muslim scholars and scientists during the Golden Age became the foundation of modern sciences, and were taught in European universities up to the 18th century.
Formal primary education began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the country’s founder, had begun an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students.
The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, followed by the Ministry of Higher Education in 1975. The first government school for girls was built in 1964, and by the end of the 1990s girls’ schools had been established in every part of the Kingdom. Today, female students make up over half of the more than 6 million students currently enrolled in Saudi schools and universities.
In the light of the above mentioned, the Saudi Arabian Educational System has positively shown to the world certain features it has imbibed and should as such be seen as its contribution to the world educational system in general and the Muslim world in particular. Some of the most prominent aspects to this regard are:
1. Moral/Religious Based Integrated Education: One of the most visible features of the Saudi Education is the merging of religious based morals and ethics in education. As Muslims they believe that true morals and ethics can only be derived from the religious perspective whereby an individual will not have to be supervised or watched over by another person or supervisor to carry out his or her duties judiciously. This is because in Islamic religious teachings, one believes that Allah the Almighty sees and watches over him and will have to account for all he or she does before the Creator. This is a fact that sincere personnel trained under this kind of system are always the best in performance and self-reliance. To this regard, it has proved that it is very much possible for single sex schools and educational institutions to hold and run all through the different levels of education. This is a fact that contradicts the widely acclaimed views of the West and some international bodies and yet collaborates the old educational system adopted by the Catholic Church.
Since Saudi educational system has been able to show to the world that a medical doctor can also have a significant portion of his holy Qur'an of heart, or an engineer having sound authentic fundamentals of his religion and duties to his or her God etc., I see that if such educational system is accepted and put in place in other countries, the rate of corruption and pervasiveness found in our educational systems and students of nowadays will be drastically reduced. After all, Saudi being counted annually as one of the most peaceful and crime free nations in the world will speak for this.
2. Wide Reaching Global Scholarships: Another contribution the kingdom has made to the global educational system is its wide range scholarship which it gives to almost all nationalities of the world. It does not segregate in its scholarship opportunities. In fact, whenever a country is found not to have representatives in its scholarship programme, such countries are given priority concern and immediate attention. This is the major reason it has become difficult to find a country in the world that does not have a number of its citizens studying in the kingdom.
This goes a long way to let the world know that Islam and the kingdom put so much emphasis on education. This has been the characteristics of Islam and real Muslims right from the inception of the religion hitherto. There are some schools in the kingdom specifically established for full scholarship programmes for foreigners with only a very insignificant percentage of indigenous students allowed in.
3. Free Education and health Care: I have not seen all over the world a country that provides absolute free education with monthly stipends and free health care system to its citizens like is obtainable in Saudi Arabia. Right from the primary school level up to PhD degree, Saudis and hundreds of thousand of foreigners studying in all government established schools are under total free education with monthly stipends and comprehensively free health care system. The cost of running and maintaining such a system can never be overestimated.
4. Financial support: The Kingdom has never for once relented in its financial support to so many Muslim countries and even non Muslim countries of the world. In its scholarship scheme, it has given preference to most populated Muslim countries as well as extended its bilateral bonds to so many of them. Huge sums of money and other items are always been donated by the Kingdom to any Muslim country with afflictions or in need. This same treatment it exercised to even the non Muslim countries too.
In short, the kingdom through these brief four points briefly referred to has contributed a very sound and solid educational model system that is praiseworthy and can be emulated by the world. Nations are to be inclined more to what services they give and provide for the people and not what benefit like taxes etc. they can collect from them. May God continue to bless, guide and protect the Kingdom of Saud Arabia. Ameen.