Educational reform has been encouraged by the Saudi government as part of their Saudization employment initiative. Public education is free to all Saudi citizens through school (administered by the Ministry of Education) and university (the Ministry of Higher Education). The state school system is not usually accessible to foreign nationals, leading many parents to place their children at private international schools.
The school year in Saudi Arabia typically runs from September through to June and consists of either two or three terms depending on the type of school. The day usually begins early and ends early, so working parents may need to make childcare arrangements for the afternoons.
As the standards of education in Saudi schools have increased, so has the demand for university places and in response the Saudi Arabian government has opened a number of new establishments in recent years. The creation of private universities has also been encouraged to take some of the pressure off government universities. International students are welcome at Saudi universities, but it is fairly rare for the children of expats to continue into higher education in the country, particularly given that when boys turn 18 they are no longer covered by their father’s Iqama.
While Saudis are funded through university, foreign nationals must pay their way. The government does offer some scholarships to non-Saudis, although some of these offers may be subject to the student passing an Arabic exam.
Universities in Saudi Arabia typically offer associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates. Courses last for different lengths of time depending on the qualification level and subject. Undergraduate courses usually last four years, but some subjects may take up to six years. Although many institutions are segregated and there are some limitations on the types of course that women can take, enrolment rates for females are high and there are now some mixed universities.
Research is a growing area for Saudi universities and is attracting considerable investment. For most information, consult the relevant university directly.
State primary education begins at the age of 6 and lasts for six years, before three years of intermediate education and three years at secondary school. The curriculum is religious with teaching almost entirely conducted in Arabic and schools are segregated by gender. Exams are taken every two years to monitor progress. At secondary level, children have the option to go down a general educational route or to attend a more technical or vocational establishment. International schools tend to follow the structure of their home curriculum and offer qualifications to the same framework.
Preschool and childcare options
Preschool education is not compulsory in Saudi Arabia, but it is popular with Saudi families and expats alike and is increasingly viewed as an important period in a child’s development. Some employers provide dedicated pre-schools or crèches for the children of their employees as private enrolment can be very expensive. Alternatively, some families chose to hire a full-time nanny as labour rates are low and this can sometimes be the most cost-effective form of childcare.