Education and Schools in Saudi Arabia
The state education system in Saudi Arabia is, for the large part, weak and poorly administered when compared with that of the Western world. Furthermore, only locals and naturalised Arabs are allowed to send their children to Saudi public schools; expat children in Saudi Arabia do not have the option to enrol.
There are a number of international schools in Saudi Arabia that offer diverse curricula. Expats living in the Kingdom either choose to send their children to a private international school or opt to send them to boarding school back in their home country.
Private international schools in Saudi Arabia
A portion of the Saudi Arabian international schools are governed by embassies while others are privately organised and host multiple curricula under a single roof. It is not necessary for expat children to attend the school sponsored by their country of origin, although the logistical transition between the old and new education systems tend to be the easiest in this situation.
Unlike Saudi public schools, where boys and girls are segregated, international schools are usually co-educational. For the most part, international schools are not selective; but in some cases, embassy-run institutions do give preference to their respective nationalities as a priority. The American and British schools both adhere to this principle.
The ever-increasing expat community in Saudi Arabia ensures demand for these schools is very high; thus, it is best to make application for registration as early as possible to obtain a suitable slot. All schools will charge a non-refundable registration fee for this service. Admission requirements vary between schools, and parents are advised to contact the school of their choice directly for clarity on what is required.
Expat families in Saudi Arabia should aptly consider cost, curriculum and convenience when weighing the advantages and liabilities of schools in their city of choice.
Fees can range from the frighteningly expensive American and British international schools (SAR 50,000 to SAR 75,000 per annum) to the cheap, small, sub-par organisations (SAR 8,000 per annum). In addition to basic fees, parents will be expected to cover other costs such as uniforms, text books and extra-curricular activities.
Despite the exorbitant costs of international education in Saudi Arabia, the high turnover rate and general shortage of suitably qualified teachers leaves something to be desired in the standard of secondary school education that students receive. A lack of qualified, experienced and professional teachers contributes to poor administration and thus a struggling academic environment.
Parents should expect to pay for additional tutoring to make up for deficits in their children's schooling. Local headmasters can make tutor recommendations, or alternatively, it is advised to create postings in the classified sections of English publications. The price range for tutors is SAR 100 to SAR 200 hourly.
The school year in Saudi Arabia runs from September to June, and is normally divided into two or three semesters, depending on the school. The school week is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. School hours in international schools are usually from 7am to 3.30pm. Schools days will be shortened during the holy month of Ramadan.