Compulsory Education in Saudi Arabia Essay

            Saudi Arabia is home to two important Holy Places for the Muslim people - Compulsory Education in Saudi Arabia Essay introduction. Makkah and Medina are sacred religious sites that are integral to the Muslim religion. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is an important model for the way that Muslim people are required to behave with regards to religious customs, education and technology (Al-Hariri, 1987, 51). In a time when parents are increasingly concerned about sending their children to school, it is important to consider the main Islamic doctrines that are taught to children at school. These values and beliefs are central components to the rich culture and societal values of the Muslim people in Saudi Arabia (Al-Hariri, 1987, 51). This paper will examine compulsory education in Saudi Arabia and what kind of implications and impacts this type of education has on students as well as society as a whole.

            Compulsory education is a system of schooling designed to require students to attend school for a certain period of time. The law makes schooling obligatory so students of particular ages are required to attend school (Hancock, 1879, 457). The purpose of compulsory education is to ensure that children are taught important societal values and facts while also protecting them from being forced into the workforce at a very young age (Hancock, 1879, 457). Education is an important aspect of Islamic culture and dates back at least thirteen hundred years (Halstead, 2004, 517). Islamic scholarship dominated the world with respect to every known academic discipline and established many universities years before Western civilization followed suit (Halstead, 2004, 517). Despite this intense focus on education, Islamic society is reluctant to create a philosophy of education that will drive compulsory education in Saudi Arabia (Halstead, 2004, 517).

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            The Arabic religion does make distinctions between education, schooling, teaching, training, instruction and upbringing so their educational beliefs differ from what is typically considered a good model for compulsory education (Halstead, 2004, 519). There are three Arabic terms that translate to education. One emphasizes knowledge, another emphasizes growth and maturity and the last one emphasizes good manners (Halstead, 2004, 519). These societal values are important for Saudi Arabian children to learn but society does not necessarily embrace the idea of formal schooling being essential for children attaining this type of education. In fact, up until recently, Saudi Arabia has not relied on a formal education system in order to educate children. However, changes in society and culture have made it necessary for this type of schooling to become a reality in Saudi Arabia (Trial & Winder, 1950, 121).

            The most important aspect of education in Saudi Arabia is the religious component of Islamic culture (Trial & Winder, 1950, 121). The basis of Islam is the Koran (Trial & Winder, 1950, 121) and formal education provides the avenue for which Saudi Arabian children learn the important religious and cultural values outlined in the holy book. The collections and sayings of the prophet Mohammed are second to the Koran. Each of these is referred to as a hadith and they make up the remaining important religious and cultural beliefs relied upon in the Islamic faith (Trial & Winder, 1950, 121). This modern version of education has its roots in Bedouin ideals that date back to the beginning of Islamic rule in Saudi Arabia. Traditional and formal education was in place during this early part of education in Saudi Arabia (Trial & Winder, 1950, 122). However, it differs from modern compulsory education. For example, the emphasis of traditional education focused on historical information about Saudi Arabia and Islam and did not rely on becoming literate. Traditional education also ensured that Islamic people were able to recite the Koran as well as a great deal of folklore and poetry. Finally, the Bedouin people were extremely knowledgeable in survival skills and were able to make their home in the harsh desert of Saudi Arabia (Trial & Winder, 1950, 122). This type of education remains important to Saudi Arabian people but this focus on education has shifted to include a more modern and formal model of compulsory education.

            Not too long ago, formal education consisted of a limited series of courses in religion, elementary mathematics and language and was usually only offered to male children (Trial & Winder, 1950, 122). A child’s education began at home and focused on the word and continued until a child was six years old at which point he would be enrolled in a school that as in a mosque or an extension of a mosque. This formal education centered on the Koran and the entire curriculum was religious based (Trial & Winder, 1950, 122). Girls were invited to attend the religious components of education but the rest was viewed as unnecessary for females. Finally, the wealthy relied on private tutors to educate their children in religious, literature and versification (Trial & Winder, 1950, 123). This early version of formal education gave way to the current model of education in Saudi Arabia.

            Compulsory education has been so slow in development because of the economic and geographic make up of the Arabian Peninsula. This area is a vast desert and is sparsely populated unless the scarcity of water, the low economic performance and the inability to grow many crops are taken into account (Sayigh, 1971, 40). Despite the discovery of oil and the profits and technology it brings to this region of the world, educational development has been extremely slow in comparison (Sayigh, 1971, 41). As Saudi Arabia has changed with the discovery of oil and has become a rich cultural city, it still continues to rely on traditional values and beliefs that stem from the Islamic faith (Sayigh, 1971, 41). As a result, compulsory education has not been relied upon as the primary way of educating Saudi Arabian children until very recently. The nomadic and tribal nature of the people in this area of world has not presented the need for formal schooling until the present. The shift from this nomadic way of life has resulted in the need to provide an education to children while also continuing to remain true to Islamic values and beliefs (Sayigh, 1971, 43).

            Education still only reaches a small portion of the children living in remote areas of Saudi Arabia. Compulsory education has not been offered or required and the skills that are taught are extremely limited. The availability of formal schooling is sporadic throughout the region and the educational skills that children do acquire are not necessarily gained through attending school (Sayigh, 1971, 43). One reason why Saudi Arabia has been so slow in embracing the idea of compulsory education is because the society is reluctant to accept a new way of doing things (Sayigh, 1971, 43). This reluctance has led to a country that does not include consistent schooling based on a country wide philosophy of education. Combined with the focus on religious beliefs and values, the Saudi Arabian people are just beginning to realize the value of compulsory and formal education in teaching religious beliefs but also in teaching academics such as mathematics and language.

            Another stumbling block that Saudi Arabia faces with regards to compulsory education lies in Western opinions about what type of education Saudi Arabian children receive (Propkop, 2003, 77). This has been of particular interest since September 11 when many people began to criticize the educational system in Saudi Arabia (Propkop, 2003, 77). Further, the resistance to implement any kind of school reform helps solidify the perceived connection between education and extremism within the educational system of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian people are quick to defend their schools and are reluctant to make any changes to produce a model of compulsory education that can be compared to Western civilization (Propkop, 2003, 77). While many may consider the beliefs and ideals taught to Saudi Arabian children extreme, the focus on formal schooling continues to revolve around religious beliefs (Propkop, 2003, 77).

            Most recently, the ulama, or Muslim scholars with enough authority to influence politics have caused the structure and curriculum of schools to remain steadfast in religious principles (Propkop, 2003, 78). For example, after the Mecca uprising in 1979, the ulama were able to allocate money to build mosques, create missionary activities and procure curriculum that was heavily influenced by the Islamic religion. As a result, one quarter of students studied in religious institutions and focused on Islamic studies (Propkop, 2003, 78). Perhaps the most important change to modern education in Saudi Arabia occurred through the influence of the ulama with regards to the education of females. While the government still resisted the idea of providing an education to girls, it allowed the ulama to oversee education of females. The ulama provided a way for girls to gain more educational freedom in Saudi Arabia by allowing them to be included in the formal education system (Propkop, 2003, 78).

            The educational system in Saudi Arabia provides instruction in religious, moral and intellectual areas and is designed to produce citizens who are aware of their rights and obligations to society (Al-Hariri, 1987, 53). This education is free at all levels but is not yet compulsory. The government does encourage all children to attend educational institutions but they do not demand it under Saudi Arabian law (Al-Hariri, 1987, 53). The Islamic view of education currently states that education should be free and accessible to individuals who wish to take advantage of it. While education is not compulsory in Saudi Arabia, there is a heavy emphasis placed on the importance of education for all people. The educational system is designed to include six years of elementary school, three years of intermediate school and three years of secondary school (Al-Hariri, 1987, 54). The purpose of such a system is to enable Saudi Arabian students to learn the beliefs and values of the Islamic religion while also gaining a high quality education in mathematics and language (Al-Hariri, 1987, 54). Ultimately, formal schooling is not compulsory in Saudi Arabia but this does not remove any of the importance of education that the Saudi Arabian people incorporate into their culture.

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