One of every four Saudis is enrolled at the Kingdom's more than 26,000 schools that provide free education for all.
Education is a topic that has always been close to the the heart of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. Having grown up during the years leading to the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and later having served as the nation’s first Minister of Education, he has an intimate view of the state of education in the past, the progress achieved thus far and what needs to be done in the future to meet the needs of the nation.
Saudi Arabian institutes of higher learning employ state-of-the-art facilities and services to provide quality education in a variety of fields.
Fond of reminding listeners that Saudi Arabia’s most important asset is not its vast reserves of hydrocarbons, but its young people, and that developing this asset is a cherished duty of the government, King Fahd has led the Kingdom’s efforts over the past five decades to establish a modern educational system capable of meeting the country’s needs.
Appointed the first Minister of Education in 1953, then-Prince Fahd accepted the daunting task of laying the foundations of a modern educational system in a country with fewer than 30,000 students attending 226 schools; there were no universities. Woth the broad objectives of Saudi educational policy as making education available to all citizens, increasing the quality of education to meet the economic and social needs of the country, and eradicating illiteracy, he set about implementing an ambitious program. Within a short time, the ministry was opening hundreds of new schools a year and had founded the Kingdom’s first university, now known as King Saud University, in Riyadh. While education was previously only available to a few residents of large urban centers, it was soon available to all, even those living in small towns and villages.
A network of libraries established throughout the country provides access to books and research materials.
The transformation in education that has occurred in the past half century is truly astonishing. Today, Saudi Arabia’s nationwide educational system comprises more than 26,000 schools, eight universities, and a large number of colleges and other educational and training institutions. Almost one of every four people in Saudi Arabia is currently enrolled in an educational institution, from kindergarten through university, and from adult education to vocational training. Some five million people are enrolled in the educational system, which boasts a student to teacher ratio of 12.5 to one, among the best in the world.
Young Saudis learn computer skills at an early age to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Open to every citizen, the system provides students with free education, books and health services. A measure of the government’s substantial commitment to this sector is the allocation of about 27 percent of the total budget for fiscal 2002 for education, an amount totaling 54.3 billion Saudi riyals (14.48 billion U.S. dollars).
Some 2.5 million female students are enrolled in 13,000 schools,
including 73 colleges.
While the first government school for girls was built in 1964, there are now 13,000 educational institutions and 73 colleges for girls, and female students today comprise half of all students enrolled in Saudi schools and universities.
By the 1970s, the basic educational requirements of the Kingdom had been met through the establishment of schools in all parts of the country. In the first 20 years of his rule since becoming monarch on June 13, 1982 , King Fahd has pushed forward an educational revolution that has established undergraduate and postgraduate programs in most disciplines at Saudi universities and colleges, and has also led to an improvement in the quality of education.
The Saudi educational system produces graduates well qualified
to fill positions in the national economy.
As part of his efforts to raise the quality of education to a level that meets the needs of society in the new era, King Fahd introduced new provisions for the Higher Education Council and the University System in 1993. He also introduced new measures that seek to promote greater cooperation among Saudi institutes of higher learning and to increase the involvement of the teaching staff in the operations of faculties and colleges. In addition, the administration of the educational system has been enhanced by delegating more authority to regional educational boards.
Students at Saudi universities and colleges receive hands-on training
in scientific disciplines.
Over the past two years, King Fahd has implemented other measures to further improve the quality of education. One is an ambitious school computer project that seeks to provide a computer for each student and also establish a network that connects all schools and universities to facilitate teaching and research. Implemented with the active support and participation of the private sector, the project will also provide computer training for more than 111,000 teachers. Another is a national program to select and encourage the brightest and most talented students.
At the same, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education have recently introduced efforts to review, and, if necessary, reform the educational system and the curriculum, further improve the quality of education, and prepare young Saudis for the demands of the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government, with the active support and cooperation of the private sector, has in recent years introduced a variety of projects to upgrade the quality of training and education offered by Saudi vocational training institutes. As an example, an educational development program for electronics was set up in 1997 to provide ongoing educational programs for teachers and instructors. The program also provides training for students who plan to become instructors and offers scientific seminars in electronics to attract students. Similar projects are being introduced in other fields of vocational training.