Education System in Saudi Arabia: Overview

  • ACIO
  • November 24, 2023

While Saudi Arabia boasts one of the world’s largest economies, the country is grappling with questions about the long-term viability of its affluence. To rectify the situation, the country is modernising the education system and upskilling the Saudi populace, both of which are deemed critical for the country’s economic transition.

The government is pursuing far-reaching education reforms. They include the rollout of modernised school curriculum that emphasise critical thinking, teacher retraining, the construction of new schools, as well as the decentralisation of Saudi Arabia’s rigid, centrally steered school system. This ensures that Saudi youth are “equipped for the jobs of the future” in a knowledge-based economy.

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A Brief History of Education System in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia’s educational system has undergone remarkable development. In the late 1700s, education became a top concern to promote Islam’s spread and its doctrines. In the region, public schools in the form of “Kuttabs” were established, which were wholly religious and led by an Imam or religious leader. The majority of the curriculum consisted of rote memorising of the Holy Qur’an, with reading and writing as a secondary priority. As a result of this educational system, not everyone was fully literate, but many could read and recite a significant portion of the Qur’an.

Before the 1930s, there were only a few private primary schools in the country and no public education system. In 1936, the first Saudi high school was established to educate students for higher study in other countries. The country’s founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, had initiated an enormous initiative to create schools in the Kingdom by 1945. Six years later, in 1951, there were 226 schools in the country with 29,887 students.

In 1954, the Ministry of Education was founded, followed by the Ministry of Higher Education in 1975.

In 1957, Riyadh established the first university, which is currently known as King Saud University. The private schools for girls named Dar al-Hanan and Nassif were established in Jeddah by Iffat, the spouse of Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

Following that, in 1964, the first government school for girls was opened, and the Saudi government began to establish more state-run girls’ schools, a move which religious fundamentalists protested. Later the government and people noticed that illiterate women had difficulty finding husbands, as many men preferred foreign women due to their higher education levels. As a result, the Saudi government decided to grant women the right to seek an education and established a distinct girls’ school system.

Saudi Arabia’s Current Education System:

  • Education in Saudi Arabia is managed by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporate (TVTC). The Supreme Committee for Educational Policy, established in 1963, is the top body in Saudi Arabia for administering and regulating the education system.
  • Saudi Arabia’s education system is generally divided between public and private schools. Private schools in the kingdom are further divided into Saudi private schools and International schools.
  • As per the data released by the International Schools Consultancy (ISC), there were about 203 international schools in Saudi Arabia till January 2015. Those schools cater to expatriate students from France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, and the Philippines and follow different curricula (e.g., American, British, International Baccalaureate, and the Indian – CBSE curriculum).
  • Furthermore, for schools, the Saudi education system is divided into three tiers:
Stage Grade Years Duration
Primary Education 1st – 6th 6 to 12 years old 6 Years
Intermediate Education 7th – 9th 13 to 16 years old 3 Years
Secondary Education 10th -12th 17 to 19 years old 3 Years
  • There are several public, private, and foreign nurseries (for 0 – 3 years old) and kindergartens or pre-schools (for 3 – 5 years old) across the Kingdom. However, these are neither obligatory nor gender-segregated, and lessons are taught by women only.
  • All public schools in the Kingdom are free, gender-segregated, and follow the Arabic curriculum while putting a heavy emphasis on Islamic studies, and that’s why they majorly cater to Saudi citizens and resident students.
  • In Saudi Arabia, primary education is mandatory for all students aged 6-12 years, and English is introduced at the start of grade 4th in public schools.
  • After completing intermediate school, students can enrol in secondary schools with a specific specialisation, such as the arts, sciences, or commerce, or choose a certain vocation program.
  • Throughout the Kingdom, there are numerous private schools. Some follow Saudi’s national educational curriculum, while others offer international curricula.
  • Though most private schools are run privately, the government gives free textbooks and an annual financial help package to private schools. In every private school, the government also picks and pays for a certified director.
  • After secondary school, students in government schools take the General Aptitude Test (GAT) – a verbal and quantitative exam required for admission to many Saudi universities. Students who want to study at a university overseas must meet the admissions requirements of the college and nation to which they are applying.

Post-Secondary or Higher Education System in Saudi Arabia:

The universities are made up of colleges and departments that offer diplomas, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in various scientific and humanities fields. Distance learning is also available at some colleges and departments.  In addition to government agencies and institutions providing university-level education, private colleges and community colleges are linked with universities and girls’ colleges.

CBSE Saudi Arabia:

CBSE stands for Central Board of Secondary Education and is the front-runner education board established & run by the Government of India. It is the most preferred curriculum for Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia. There are more than 60 (tentative) CBSE-affiliated Indian schools in Saudi Arabia.

Just like in India, CBSE is responsible for conducting two board examinations every year for grades 10th & 12th in addition to prescribing exam conditions, patterns, duration and issuing qualifying certificates to all the qualified candidates via schools in Saudi Arabia as well.

The two examinations conducted by CBSE Saudi Arabia are AISSE (All India Secondary School Examination) for grade 10th & AISSCE (All India Senior School Certificate Examination) for grade 12th.

As a part of CBSE’s recently-introduced Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) program, the board administers the AISSE during March and April.

AISSE Saudi Arabia:

The AISSE Completion Certificate, Marksheet, and Migration Certificate are given to successful candidates to continue their future education.

The exams cover five subjects, including English, a Language (Native or Foreign), Sciences, Mathematics, and Social Sciences, each contributing 100 marks, totalling 500 marks. The score helps students determine their stream – Science, Commerce, Arts/Humanities or any other stream.

AISSCE Saudi Arabia:

The All India Senior School Certificate Examination is a higher qualification exam pursued by CBSE students. AISSCE scores are accessed by Universities while deciding whether or not to admit students to various degree programs.

CBSE syllabus Saudi Arabia:

All the CBSE-affiliated schools in Saudi Arabia are instructed to follow the prescribed NCERT syllabus.

CBSE Saudi Arabia students are eligible to appear in various national and international Olympiads. In addition, science stream students are eligible for competitive exams like IIT-JEE (Mains + Advanced) & NEET-UG. Upon successful qualification, based on their marks & cut-offs, they can pursue higher studies in reputed institutes, universities, and colleges of their choice across India and abroad. Both NEET and JEE exams have examination centres in Saudi Arabia for students to take exams near their homes.

The education system in Saudi Arabia indicates the popularity of the CBSE-based Indian curriculum. For NRI students residing in Saudi Arabia and preparing for various competitive exams like IIT-JEE, NEET-UG, and Olympiads, ALLEN Overseas is the leading coaching institute that provides 360-degree support to its students in their journey towards success. With our physical and hybrid classroom program centres, you can start your academic journey towards excellence near your home locations. For any queries, comments, or doubts, get in touch with us, and we’ll gladly assist you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What percentage of Saudi Arabia’s population is educated?

A: The literacy rate of adults (above 15 years old) was reported to be 98% in 2020.

Q: What are the school timings in Saudi Arabia?

A: School timings vary depending on the school, curriculum and grade, but typically, the Saudi school starts at around 7 AM and ends at 3.30 PM.

Q: How long is the summer break in Saudi Arabia?

A: Most schools in Saudi Arabia offer around 12 weeks of summer holidays from early June to late August.

Q: Are phones allowed in Saudi schools?

A: No, mobile phone usage is strictly prohibited in schools of Saudi Arabia.

Q: Are the board exam paper is same for Indian and NRI students residing in Saudi Arabia?

A: No, though the paper pattern, marking scheme, exam syllabus and difficulty level is same, CBSE provides a different set of question papers for NRI/ Overseas students.

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