History of Education in Saudi Arabia

History of Education in Saudi Arabia

In today’s world, education and schooling play an extremely important role, as those who are educated will have the tools required to make thoughtful intelligent choices in their lives. Educational theories are constantly changing and improving leading us to be more hopeful and excited for the future of education around the world. The first and arguably most important element of schooling is the teacher. Teachers need to be very open and willing to use the theories to create lessons that will engage the students and help them all to learn as much as they can in the best way that they can. In this paper I will discuss the importance of using theory in education. I will explore the role of theory in the classroom and how this affects the students in terms of learning. In this project I will focus on education in Saudi Arabian schools. I will explore the history of education and the changes in the education system and teaching methods from generation to generation.

I received my schooling in Saudi Arabia between 1992 and 2008 in the city of Alqusimm. Before I started elementary school I used to go with my father to the school where he was a third grade teacher. I would sit in the classroom with him and watch him teach and watch the children do their work. I was so excited to start school when I watched him working. When I started school, I was so excited but I soon became very bored because we simply listened to the teacher talk and then read the books she told us to read. Art class was my favorite as we were able to express ourselves in our own way through drawing, painting, etc. Through middle school and high school it was the same thing. The teachers lectured to us and we read the books they told us to. They did not use any interesting pedagogical methods or any interactive learning activities. At university, in my undergrad, I was able to register in the classes I was interested in and I worked in groups and had different projects to work on. This was a little more interesting but still the professors used old lecture type teaching methods and they did not seem to bring in many new exciting ideas to get us interested in the subject matter. After graduation, I volunteered as a teacher at a high school without any knowledge of different teaching methods or resources. I used the same teaching styles that I saw and experienced in school as a student. I lectured and gave the students readings. I did not have access or knowledge of interactive methods of teaching.

I came to Canada in 2010 and started studying English. I was exposed to several teaching methods and resources used in the adult classroom. The teachers were using group work, question/answer, games, etc. The students were interacting with the teachers and conversing. Following completion of language school, I started studying in the Master of Education Lifelong Learning program as well as teaching at the Saudi School. The Saudi School is a place Elementary aged children go to learn Arabic. Each time I learned about a new theory of education, I took it to my classroom and applied it. Over time I saw that my students were getting more excited about learning as was I. I saw that the students were interacting and were learning quickly. They were coming to class each week with more energy and more excitement than the week before.

In the second year of my program, I became the principal of the Saudi school. By this time I was more familiar with the different theories of education and how to effectively apply them in a classroom setting. I encouraged all teachers to apply various educational theories to the curriculum in the entire school. I held learning sessions for the teachers on how to teach using theories and how to create an environment where the students are interacting in class. I provided materials for the students to be able to create art projects and for the teachers to be able to play educational games with students. In addition to educational information and resources for the classroom, I wanted to give the students some tools and information to be able to succeed throughout their lives. For example, to connect every day experiences with health literacy, I invited a dietician and a dentist to come talk to the children about how to take care of themselves. I also provided lectures for the students about self-confidence and self-esteem.

I have been fortunate to be able to use a range of educational theories in the classroom and to see the results. Critical pedagogy, in my experience, is more important than books and technology in helping the students learn. It allows the students to think, to ask, to talk about and to understand the information being taught.

I hope that this paper can contribute ideas that could ultimately improve the education system in Saudi Arabia. I would like to submit my project to Innovations in Education and Teaching International for publication. This journal requires that all references be in APA style and the writing be in Taylor & Francis Style #1. I will begin by discussing the formal and informal education in the history of Saudi Arabia.

History of Education in Saudi Arabia

Education in Saudi Arabia originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Education was very simple and developed as collaboration between volunteer teachers and the children’s families. The goals were to teach the students reading and writing. In the Arabian Peninsula there were two kinds of teaching,Kuttab and Home Schooling. According to Saleh AL-Abdulkareem, (2004), “Kuttab is a style of small classrooms, open for all people from different levels in the society in equity” (p. 21). Parents didn’t pay the teachers, but may have offered money or food. Students studied the Qur’an, reading, writing, arithmetic, and morals (AL-Abdulkareem, 2004). The other kind of education was Home Schooling. It was for wealthy families. The parents chose good teachers and planned an advanced curriculum(AL-Abdulkareem, 2004). Similar to today, when students were finished their regular schooling, some went off to, “ Makkah, Madenah, Iraq and Syria” (p. 22) for further education (AL-Abdulkareem, 2004).

As explained by Saleh AL-Abdulkareem, Saudi Arabia is in the center of the Arabian Peninsula. Education is not a new thing for the people who live there. In the beginning, Kuttab was the main form of education. “Saudi Arabia’s education system 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” (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, 2013). In 1925, a more formal educational center, “the Directorate of Education” was established. A few months later formal education began with 700 students who attended 12 “princely and private schools” (Al-Abdulkareem, p.25) in the capital. The name was later changed to Public School. “The beginning was so hard, and everything needs to be brought from outside the country, including teachers, textbooks, notebooks, pencils, and even chalks and blackboards” (AL-Abdulkareem, p.25). By 1951, the countryhad over two hundred schools. The Ministry of Education was developed two years later on December 24, 1953 (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher Education Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, 2006). This allowed for the expansion of public education throughout the country. It happened so quickly that the Ministry decided it was necessary to implement school districts. “In 1958, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia along with other members of the Arab League agreed upon a uniform educational system that provided for a 6-year elementary, a 3-year intermediate and a 3-year secondary cycle with a separate higher education program” (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission,2006, p.1).

The System of Education in Saudi Arabia and Formal Schooling

The current system of Education in Saudi Arabia is similar to that of the systems in North America. Formal education starts in grade one at six years of age. Kindergarten for children begins at age four, but it is optional. Elementary school is from grades one to six, Middle school is from grades seven to nine and High school is from grades ten to twelve. According to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission (2006), at each level there are two semesters consisting of 15 weeks each and two weeks for exams. Students learn many subjects such as, math, science, history, Islamic studies and Arabic. Since 1960English is a required subject throughout secondary school (Abdulkareem, 2004), but since 2011 children have started learning English in grade four (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Education, 2011). After high school students can go on to study at university. Some degrees take five years and others take four.

Informal Learning

Informal learning takes many forms from the previous generations to today’s generation, for example: storytelling, observation and technology. In this section I will discuss various informal learning methods. I will begin with storytelling.


One example includes storytelling, “Telling stories is one of the ways that we can begin the process of building community, whether inside or outside the classroom” (Hooks, 2010, p.49). “Stories are told for entertainment purposes, and often to teach lessons and provide morals” (Tingoy, Guneser, Ongun, Demirag&Koroglu, n.d., p.1).When I was a young girl my dad told me many stories that his dad had told him. One I recall is one that was about collaboration. He broke a stick and it broke easily. He then took many sticks together and he couldn’t break them. After he did this he told me when you work with a group you are strong.There are many kinds of storytelling that have been used in order to educate informally. Some these include, proverbs, fairytales, parables, fictitious stories and stories of experience.

In addition to parents using storytelling to pass on moral and social lessons to their children, storytelling has been a strong part of Islamic and Arabian history since the time of Muhammad when he was teaching people the lessons from God. The Hadith is a collection of stories from important people who spoke with Muhammad and taught his lessons years later. When Islamic history is taught, it is the stories that were told which are among the most important lessons.

When used in an educational setting, storytelling is an interactive activity that can help students with “listening, reading and comprehension” (Tingoy, et al, n.d., p. 2) as well as writing and other expressions of feeling and imagination. According to Tingoy, et al, n.d.), when storytelling is used as an educational tool, students often learn while having fun and without realizing that they are studying.

OberservationChildren learn through observation more deeply than simply repeating what they have heard or reproducing actions they have seen (Rogoff, Paradise, Arauz, Correa-Chavez &Angelillo, 2003). Rogoff, et al (2003) suggest that children learn how to use language appropriately through observation with proper forms of respect and personal pronouns without excessive intervention from adults. This holds true for reading as well. For example: at the Saudi school the dentist who visited brought in a set of teeth and demonstrated how to properly brush the teeth. After her demonstration, she allowed time for the students to try brushing the teeth with their friends watching. My four-year-old daughter, who attended the demonstration, later explained to me how to properly brush her teeth. She remembered this from the demonstration and participation at school earlier that day.

It has been found, however, that not all observation is educational for children. If the child does not expect that he or she will be asked to be involved in the activity or quizzed on the information, it is not as likely that he or she will learn as well as if the opposite were true (Rogoff et al, 2003).

Children from different cultures have different levels and opportunities for learning through observation (Rogoff, et al, 2003). Some cultures depend heavily on observational learning (Rogoff, et al, 2003). For example;Rogoff et al (2003) described a Mexican indigenous tribe who expect their children to learn by watching their parent’s actions and then join in, gradually taking on more responsibility in the joint activity. However, at school the teacher was expected to take the lead in the classroom and the children were not expected to actively participate (Rogoff, et al, 2003).


Experience is earned, not learned. People build experience from their parents, their lives and their practical day-to-day activities. Experience helps people solve problems because they have awareness of different situations from their lived experiences and from the stories of others. “And ultimately there is the awareness that knowledge rooted in experience shapes what we value and as a consequence how we know, what we know, as well as how we use what we know” (Hooks 2010, p.185).Experience is useful in all aspects of our lives, as well as for the teachers and students in the classroom. As an example, when I was a teacher for the first time I didn’t have a good background in knowledge about the classroom. I was trained for one year, but I still needed more practice. I didn’t know what the students’ needs were; I just prepared the lessons and homework. I had no idea about theories and didn’t know how to engage them. Once I started my graduate program and I worked at the Saudi School, I began to apply what I learned in my program at the school where I was doing my practicum. I was able to see results right away; the students were engaged. Over four years of working at the Saudi School (two years as a teacher and two years as the principal) I was able to create a more enriched experience for myself in the classroom as well as for the students and teachers at the Saudi school. My thinking has changed and so have my ideas about teaching and engaging students.

In Saudi Arabia, teachers in the past didn’t receive a good education, didn’t attend university, and only received basic training in reading and writing. However, these teachers had a lot of great experience. They had been teaching for over 25 years and that taught them the most effective and best ways to teach by working through a variety of different situations and experiences. People who were taught this way still received a good education as is evident in the strength of their reading and writing in Arabic. For example, there is a man in my hometown who never received a university education. He was educated by Kuttaband now runs a small writing business. He is asked by many people to write professional letters. His teacher’s experience facilitated his learning and allowed him to become great at what he does. “In the intent participation tradition, experienced people play a guiding role, facilitating learners’ involvement and often participating alongside learners—indeed, often learning themselves” (Rogoff et al, 2003, p. 187).

Schools in Saudi Arabia

Classroom Specialists

Education in Saudi Arabia is available to everyone: children, adults and people with disabilities. They provide services for people with disabilities and there are special schools for them to attend. Everyone is entitled to a good education. In 1960 the Ministry of Education opened an institute for blind male students and four years later one was opened for female students. In the same year a school was opened for the hearing impaired. In 1971 an institute was opened for girls and boys with mental disabilities. (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission, 2006). “Presently there are 10 schools for the blind, 28 schools for the deaf and 16 schools for the mentally challenged”.(Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission, 2006, p.7). Some schools have students with a mild disability and those students are in the regular classrooms integrated with other students.Otherwise there are regular schools for children with disabilities and teachers are asked to take training or a diploma in how to best teach these students. Teachers make individualized plans for these students called Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), which allow students with disabilities to participate in regular curriculum and regular classroom activities and lessons with some program modifications and supports to assist the student and teacher (Rutherford &Quinn, 1999). There are also private schools that will assess children and then create a program related to their needs.


As Kellner (n.d.) explains, the world “is undergoing one of the most dramatic technological revolutions in history…” (p.1). It is changing the way people work and communicate (Kellnern.d.). In the past people had to go to the post office to send a letter, but now they can send it in seconds through email. “This Great Transformation poses tremendous challenges to educators to rethink their basic tenets, to deploy the emergent technologies in creative and productive ways…” (Kellner, n.d., p.1). For instance, when I provided a self-learning program in the Saudi School, the students searched the Internet, were creative, paraphrased and imagined. I saw how the students became creative by reading a story and paraphrasing it in their own words and then added to their project by using information they found via technology.

“Technology affects education at all levels” (Lacina, 2013, p.118).In the past there was no technology or equipment, and only simple materials. Teachers tried to create educational materials from things around them. For example, my father’s uncle told us that when he was a student, the teacher let him write in the sand. He said he could read what he wrote and do math in the sand. A few years later they started to use wood to write on. Later still, textbooks and paper came during my generation. We used pencils and pens. Technology was available, but we did not have access to it. Now a days students study computer science and they use a computer lab. According to Linda Wilson (1996/1997), there are many books available on how technology and the Internet can be used to enhance learning in the classroom. Technology works with all ages and all learning styles.Technology plays a role in our lives as children and adults. It is usedin the classroom and outside of school. According to Means(2010), “Teachers and students use technology more frequently outside of school than they do during class time” (p.285). Through my experience I applied a self-learning project to allow the students more independence. Their teachers gave them a historical story and divided them into four groups. They were then asked to go to the computers to search for information. During the next class they were asked to put their information together to create one story. In this example, technology was used to allow the children to explore a variety of versions of the story.As Bergen (2002) explains, students are motivated to use computers for learning activities and collaborate with their peers, including those with disabilities.Technology affects children’s learning because they watch television and play games online. Computers are portable and children always have access to them. According to Clements, D. H., &Swaminathan, S. (1995),“Technology can change the way children think, what they learn, how they interact and how we assess them”. Computers give learners access to a world of information they may not otherwise be able to access. For example, when I came to Canada I heard about Victoria Day and I didn’t know what this day meant. I went to the computer and searched Google and even though I did not get the entire information about this event, but I did have a good idea about what it was all about. Technology is not the main way of learning, but it is a good helper. “Researchers are exploring better ways to use technology in early childhood education-ways to make the computer more than just a tool for doing what we have always done” (Clements &Swaminathan, 1995, p.275).

Gender Roles

Education is provided for women and men. They receive the same education, curriculum and system, which are legislated under the Ministry of Education. However, they study separately. Saudi Arabia has separate schools for females and males. The female schools are managed my women and only employ women, as well male schools are managed by males and employ only males. According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, (2013),the first girl’s school was opened n 1964 and now schools for females are found throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Girls now have the same opportunities that boys have and can study and practice any profession they choose. Women also receive the same salary as their male counterparts.

Teachers Training

The first teacher’s college in Saudi Arabia opened in 1953 with 35 students and six teachers (AL-Abdulkareem, 2004). “The new minimum requirement for teaching in all education levels is a 4-year bachelor’s degree”. (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission, 2006, p.11). The teachers get jobs depending on their majors. If they major in Math in university, they will become math teachers at school. In university there is a broad curriculum and teachers receive courses in their major as well as in teaching methods.(Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Higher education the Saudi Arabia cultural mission, 2006)

Lives and needs of people have changed. Teachers that are trained in traditional ways in a Kuttab, have skills that do not match the needs of today’s society. In today’s world there needs to be more of a focus on theories and teaching methods in teacher education. For example, when I did my practicum I utilized the theories I learned in my Masters program throughout my work with teachers and students. I did not do professional training with the teachers. Instead, I gave lectures, heldone on one meetings and held a round table discussion. I listened to them and they listened to me. At the end of the practicum I realized how much the theories changed the teachers’ teaching style, as well as student learning. As explained by Ursula Lindsey (2010), there needs to be more of a focus on math and science as well, rather than the rote learning that is prominent in Saudi Arabian schools today. As a result, many university graduates have degrees in religious studies or humanities and are not prepared for the jobs that are available. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the issue, “is the fact that there aren’t enough well-trained Saudis in the kind of jobs that are needed.”(Ursula Lindsey, 2010, para. 10). To face this problem, the government decided to retrain teachers at the schools to allow them to have the skills to meet people’s needs.

Mr. Sfakianakis, of the Saudi bank, says government officials are well aware of the need to improve mathematics and science proficiency, and that about 30 percent of the Education Ministry’s budget is going toward retraining teachers in primary and secondary schools with that in mind (Ursula Lindsey, 2010, para. 23).

Review of Literature

According to Khan (2011),“Teaching is a profession. It requires great deal of expertise in order to justify teaching which is believed to be a tri-polar activity which includes input-activity-output” (p. 112). They have a mission to teach information and maintain high standards of education throughout the generations. The teachers now are totally different than the teachers in the past, but have the same goal. In the past, teachers were responsible to teach the students, to let them know what is wrong and what is right and they shapethe students’ thinking. Nowadays teachers teach students, but in different ways. They will be good teachers if they achieve their teaching goals from day-to-day and from year-to-year.

Teachers should allow the students to discover for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They help the students to develop their thinking in a modern way, that is suitable for the new generation. Teachers in the past they had modest qualifications. At that time teachers depended totally on their experience, but todayteacherscomplete a bachelor’s and sometimes a master’s degree in education to discover new theories, to develop their education and to develop their teaching style. “Teacher professional development means teachers’ learning, how they learn to learn and how they apply their knowledge in practice to support pupil learning” (Postholm, 2012, p. 405)

As Postholm(2012) explains, teachers learn by collaborating together, which allows them to learn from each other. They learn by reflecting on their own practices and by observing and reflecting on others’ teaching. The learning can occur formally through meetings between teachers and parents, or informally by talking with colleagues and students’ families (Postholm, 2012). During my practicum in Saudi School, teachers developed their teaching style and they learned from each other. I provided a program entitled “Knowledge Exchange” in where each teacher had to visit three other teachers throughout the year to observe their style of teaching in the class. They had a form to fill out stating weaknesses and strengths. We noticed how much teachers were able to develop their styles and by talking to each other they were able share ideas and become better teachers. As Khan (2011) describes, teachers are those who have the experience and skills to train learners for not only careers, but life as well. “It is the teaching that ultimately makes the citizen of the country.” (Khan, 2011, p.112) For this reason, teachers’ education and development must address the issues of guiding learners in their academic and non academic achievements. Teachers need to help them to think critically and allow them to become good problem solvers and to enable them to develop their ways of thinking and build their awareness of their personality (Khan, 2011).

According to Postholm(2012),“Dewey (1916) believed that people who continually participate in development situations also learn to learn.” (p. 407). Humans develop their personality, values and beliefs through their experiences. A student teacher may learn what kind of teacher they want to be, through reflection on their experiences. Nowadays, students are looking for new teaching methods. As a student I was taught by traditional methods and now I see that the new methods are more effective. I believe this because you can be more creative, more independent in your thinking, and more engaged in the classroom.

Teachers can improve their teaching methods by practicing in their classes. Postholm (2012) explained, “Hence, it is important to adopt a meta-perspective on the interaction processes in the classroom to facilitate for learning and to deal with expected and unexpected input”(p.408).

Experience is very important for teachers. Even if they have basic qualifications, one can learn a great deal from a work placement. Teachers in the past did not have a high level of qualification, but did produce successful students. Through your work you will get more awareness of teaching, targets and achievements. Also, experience is very important in supporting Pre-Service Teachers (PSTs’) in getting a job. Anderson &Stillman(2013) say, “First, scholars have long emphasized the potential for experiences in the field, including student teaching experiences, to play a crucial role in building PSTs’ multicultural capacities, equity-oriented knowledge bases, critical inquiry skills, and reform-mindedness.” (p.4)

Teachers who are participating in their own learning understand how to discover new meaning of concepts when they establish a new relationship between knowledge and experience. For both teacher mentor and PST, their teaching depends on their understanding of their students. They must have a deep understanding of the culture and context of their learners (Anderson &Stillman, 2013). Every teacher wants to be an effective teacher. In order to achieve this they need understanding and skills. According to Zabel&Zabel (1996), “schools need teachers who are prepared to work effectively” (p.8). Some of the skills Zabel&Zabel (1996) discuss to help teachers to be effective in their classrooms are self- esteem, passion and strength, the ability to collaborate with people around them, the awareness and understanding of classroom contexts and problem-solving regarding interruptions of instructions.

According toVrijnsen-de Corte, den Brok, Kamp& Bergen (2013) research has found that teacher learning indicates“continuous professional development of teachers is crucial for improving the quality of education”(p.3). By teachers continuously learning, it improves the education of the learners. Learning doesn’t decline but instead flourishes. During my practicum I implemented the theories I learned from my Masters program. It helped the school flourish; teachers and students had more energy and everyone in the environment wanted to add something to improve the development of the school, the students’ learning and the teachers’ teaching styles.

As Vrijnsen-de Cortea, et al. (2013) discussed,Professional Development schools are creating learning environments where student teachers are working in a practical atmosphere to enhance their learning. In turn, experienced teachers also receive professional learning and take on the role of mentor to new teachers, so every teacher works together to produce a new learning experience. “By carrying out practice-based research, teachers are assumed to be able to self-develop knowledge about the causes and consequences of their actions, to find answers to specific practical problems and questions, and to provide evidence of what works in practice and why” (Vrijnsen-de Cortea, et al., 2013, p. 5).Vrijnsen-de Cortea at.al (2013) explained that the role of teachers has developed into that of a researcher and creator of improved curriculum. It seems that teachers as researchers have changed the style and methods in the school environment. The reason for that is to better understand their students’ learning processes. Their teaching is based on the discoveries of their research (Vrijnsen-de Cortea, et al., 2013).

Theoretical Framework

What is a theory? Brookfield, (2005) argues that, “A theory is nothing more (or less) than a set of explanatory understandings that help us make sense of some aspect of the world” (p.3).). “Educational theory is expected to predict and transform, to look beyond what the teacher and educators are capable of seeing in their day-to-day work. To be able to do so, the educational sciences have to draw upon the entire human cultural heritage, human social practice, the entire human social experience” (Kraevskii, 1991, p.47). Theory can be useful in helping us figure out the world and how it can be changed for the better (Brookfield, 2005).

Critical Theory

Aliakbari&Faraji (2011) suggest, “Critical theory is concerned with the idea of a just society in which people have political, economic, and cultural control of their lives” (p.77).Aliakbari&Faraji(2011) believe that the starting point of Critical Theory is freeing people and giving them the tools to change their lives through education. “… Critical theory tries to transform oppressed people and to save them fro