Overhauling the ‘Retarding’ Saudi Educational System

The most important and noble service a Saudi prince can ever deliver is transforming the progress-impeding and intolerance-propagating Saudi educational system.

educationThe selection of the former governor of the Asir and Mecca regions, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, can potentially propel the academically backward country from its current nomadic status into a new era of enlightenment and scientific advancement without which the country will slip further into the gutters of darkness and clutches of religious extremism.

The price the Saudi people pay for the poor education they receive is their dependence on people they are brainwashed into disrespecting, demonizing and hating.

The result of a bigoted and non-scientific-based educational system is that Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s richest countries, still imports its nurses, doctors, engineers, surveyors, pilots, stewardesses, laborers and most of its food, medicine, clothing and electronics from foreign countries, some of which are poorer and younger than the Saudi kingdom.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal is educated, a poet, painter and has advocated non-governmental investment in the educational system. He has also advocated support for private learning institutions which reflects his disdain for the religious establishment’s crippling opposition to teaching of liberal arts and scientific disciplines which, by his definition retards Arab societies.

“It is obvious that the main handicap that retards Arab societies, in general, is the low quality of education and the inability of its prevailing systems and means – such as prompting and keeping by heart – to qualify humans to be able to advance a society pursuant to a scientific rule that adopts contemporary means and technology, and to fulfill the urgent need for training the educated on thinking so as to reach the right decision.

Prince Khalid’s assessment of the wrenching Arab scientific and technological backwardness can only be matched by Arabs’ abysmal backwardness in democracy, respect for human rights, religious freedom, freedom of expression, free press, marginalization of women and discrimination against religious minorities, including Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no country in the Arab world that has suffered more from these detrimental elements than Saudi Arabia which Prince Khalid’s family has conquered, named after itself and ruled single-handedly since its inception.

Given Prince Khalid’s literary credentials, experiences, disdain for the religious (or irreligious) establishment’s manipulations and control of the Saudi schools’ curricula and his outspokenness against intellectually choking educational systems, one can only assume that he was selected by King Abdullah to cleans and transform the Saudi educational system. However, Prince Khalid can only succeed if he puts the people’s interest and advancement before or at least at the same level as those of the autocratic ruling family and its extremist religious establishment.

During a meeting with Sheikh Abdullateef Al-Asheikh, the chief of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – the dreaded religious police – Prince Khalid is quoted as saying,

“We are all responsible for education and every official in this country should contribute to education reform…Education should be our shared project to help raise a generation able to compete in the production of knowledge in all disciplines.”

One can only wish Prince Khalid success in his most important assignment upon which the sustainability and security of the country depend. However, in order for him to succeed, he should be empowered to rid the educational system of all input, supervision and interference by the religious establishment, especially the Mufti, in the educational system. The religious police must be banned from entering any school from kindergarten through university. Prince Khalid should be empowered to increase public input in all decisions related to education.

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In addition to scientific-based curricula, all learning institutions, including the incubators and wholesalers of extremists like Umm Al-Qura, Imam Mohammed and Madina Islamic universities, should include courses on human rights, pluralism, non-Muslim faiths, women’s rights and equality under the rule of law. Teachers and experts in individual fields should control the creation of curricula without Prince Khalid’s and other officials’ interference and intimidation. Compulsory gender segregation must be removed and banned forever. As a graduate of Oxford University, Prince Khalid can appreciate freedom and openness of an educational setting where men and women students sit together as equals to discuss, compete and socialize.

Prince Khalid’s determination to cleans, modernize and advance the Saudi educational system will be in vain unless corresponding social, political and religious reforms are put in place in the country. Saudi students will excel when they are motivated and driven to succeed in the new model Prince Khalid is promising to create. Students have to realize that their labor will be rewarded with dignified jobs based on merit, ability and contribution to the well-being of society as opposed to an oppressive and reactionary system.

The prince’s job is cut out for him and his success will depend on whether he has the moral courage and political will to expose the root causes of the country’s educational backwardness.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.