Dean Slaughter, thank you for that kind introduction. This is our way of getting back into Princeton, where I briefly spent some of my misspent youth. I am glad to be here again at this prestigious university. My brother, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, got his degree here in 1965, as did his son Khalid in 1994. He always speaks highly of his time here. I also hold fond memories of the late Professor Hitti with whom my brothers and I had weekly classed in Arabic, at his home, while we attended school at Hun and Lawrenceville.
My father, the late King Faisal, and my mother, the late Queen Effat, were very keen about ensuring that their children receive the best education. Naturally, a school such as Princeton was top on his list. At that time, there were not any colleges of this distinction in the Kingdom. We were still emerging from a nomadic society into modernization. So they were also very adamant about seeing that Saudi Arabia could someday provide its children, boys and girls, with a first-rate education.
During his last interview on American television, King Faisal said that he hoped that in the future Saudi Arabia would become a wellspring of understanding, culture and knowledge – not just for the Arab and Muslim world – but for all of humanity. Even though King Faisal passed away some 30 years ago, his hope for Saudi Arabia is the legacy of his family and it carries on.
Shortly after his passing, my brothers and sisters and I founded the King Faisal Foundation to invest in education as he would have wanted. The foundation has made many contributions in three decades. Many of its programs have come to great fruition. Today, along with several international partners, including Americans, we are in the process of establishing the first truly multi-funded private, non-profit Saudi university in science and technology.
Al-Faisal University, as it is known, was formally chartered in 2004 and is scheduled to open in 2007. This will be nothing less than a world-class, multi-national university to educate the next generation of Saudi leaders with an international curriculum. When my mother died six years ago, she left behind the first privately funded nonprofit college for women in Saudi Arabia, Effat College. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of Saudi Arabia.
Today, we are making investments in education to bring our citizens to the forefront of the global community. This is our goal, and what I would like to share with you today.
It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is blessed with oil, but we recognize that it is a finite resource. We know our best and infinite resource is our people, and to diversify our economy and improve the quality of life of our citizens, we need to educate and train our youth in new areas where they can develop, grow and innovate.
King Abdullah wants our citizens to make the types of contributions to humanity that the Arab world once did during its Golden Age. In fields such as astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, medicine and architecture, Arab scholars once provided the world with advances that form many of the underpinnings of the modern age.
For Saudi Arabia, there is certainly work ahead, but we have solid foundation, because we have already come a long way from the days when the Kingdom had few, if any schools as you would know them today.
I know when the late King Faisal and my mother Queen Effat had children, they realized, as their children grew up, that they wanted them to have a good education. They desired for their children an education that was beyond what was considered acceptable at the time, which was at the traditional local schools throughout the Kingdom. Instead, they decided to build a school that would not only be for their children, but would be for the children of the society in general.
So in 1942, my parents built a school in Taif, a city in the mountains in Saudi Arabia, which, when I attended, had a plaque at the top of the entrance that said: “The Model School for Boys and Girls.” As you can imagine, this was quite a revolutionary step in Saudi Arabia in those days. Regrettably, I must admit that I did not graduate from the Model School of Taif. I was shipped off at age 14 to continue my studies here in America at a boarding school here in New Jersey – Lawrenceville, I’m sure some of you are familiar with it.
I recall that a year after I left in 1959, the Model School in Taif moved to Jeddah, where new modern facilities were constructed. I’ll never forget when the late Queen Effat and the late King Faisal were looking over the plans of the new school, which included a planetarium – this did not even exist in any of the universities in the Middle East at that time – and I was telling myself, if they are building the school here so well, why are they shipping me off to America?
What my parents wanted for me then – a world-class education and exposure to and an understanding of the diversity of the world – is exactly what the Saudi government wants for its citizens now. We have committed to three critical steps to ensure this.
First, Saudi Arabia is upgrading its own educational system. The Kingdom is reviewing all of its education practices and materials, and is removing any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education. Not only are we eliminating what might be perceived as intolerance from old textbooks that were in our system, but we are implementing a comprehensive internal revision and modernization plan. New curricula emphasize critical thinking, math, and science, and these curricula also emphasize the teaching of true Islamic values. They also stress the positive skills necessary for good citizenship and productivity. They teach how to safeguard peace, the environment, health and human rights.
In every level of education – from grade school, to high school to college – the government has gone so far as to sponsor lectures that promote moderation and tolerance. Even kindergartners are made aware of the importance of tolerance and peace.
Education, of course, does not end with schooling, and these messages further extend to society as a whole. There are messages promoting peace on ATM receipts, billboards, signs at sporting events, and even on radio and television programming. These are all dedicated to informing our citizens that intolerance, violence and extremism are not a part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture, and heritage and traditions.
There is no place for intolerance in a world where cooperation is the only key to success. This is why we are taking steps to ensure our education system keeps pace with the demands of our citizens, our economy, and those of the world community.
Second, Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in its educational system to prepare its citizens for life and work in a modern, global economy. For 2006, Saudi Arabia allocated 26 percent of the state budget to general and higher education, as well as to technical and vocational training. Over the next five years, the Kingdom will be building some 2,600 new schools, 50 new technical colleges, and more than 100 training institutes to prepare Saudis for the Kingdom’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization. This is in addition to a number of new universities being built.
Preparing our workforce for the opportunities and challenges ahead is the purpose of many new government programs. The Ministry of Labor, for example, has been conducting forums to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between professionals and those responsible for the development of human resources. Professional development opportunities are also expanding for women who actually graduate in larger numbers from college and graduate schools than their male counterparts.
Women are an important part of Saudi society, and they are becoming an increasingly critical part of Saudi economic development. In fact, women now have been elected onto the boards of professional organizations, including the Saudi Engineers Council, the Saudi Journalists Association, and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I know where they will go next. These women, who have the support of their peers and communities, are reaching new levels every day. They will not only run us at home but they will also guide and direct us in public life. I am certain that they will do a better job than men have done so far.
And third, ladies and gentlemen, Saudi Arabia is taking steps to broaden the horizons of its citizens and emphasize the value of cultural exchange. An ancient Arab proverb says: “What is learned in youth is carved in stone.” This applies to the values by which we make our most basic decisions in life, as well as to how we work with our neighbors when issues arise among us.
As you may know, King Abdullah has launched a student scholarship program aimed at impacting this concept at the most basic level – human interaction. Saudi students are being sent to attend colleges and universities abroad to learn, make friends, and experience foreign cultures. The Saudi government has already offered more than 10,000 students full four-year scholarships, with most coming to the United States.
Saudi Arabia has long been successful with building relationships this way. For more than 60 years we’ve had a mutually beneficial relationship, and I proudly say that it has been a relationship of people to people. Over the years, literally hundreds of thousands of Saudis have traveled to the United States seeking education or health care, to conduct business or simply to visit. This has made all the difference in bridging the gaps of understanding between our cultures when difficulties have arisen. As well, thousands of Americans have traveled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to live and to work there.
When taken together, these three steps form the basis of a world-class education. We’re promoting cooperation. We’re giving our citizens the tools and knowledge to succeed. And we’re letting our youth explore the world and form friendships that will benefit them down the road.
If our citizens possess the skills and understanding to compete effectively with their global peers, then they will be active contributors to the global community. They will be promoters of peace and tolerance throughout the world.
And perhaps then we will become the wellspring of understanding, education and culture for humanity that we aspire to be.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much.