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.
Today, Saudi Arabia’s education system includes 25 public and 27 private universities, with more planned; some 30,000 schools; and a large number of colleges and other institutions. The system is open to all citizens, and provides students with free education, books and health services.
While the study of Islam remains at its core, the modern Saudi educational system also provides quality instruction in diverse fields of arts and sciences. This diversity helps the Kingdom prepare its citizens for life and work in a global economy.
Education is a requirement for every Muslim, both male and female. The Holy Qur’an and the Hadith [teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad] repeatedly emphasize the importance of learning.
In the centuries after the birth of Islam (632 AD), Muslim states established schools, universities and libraries that were unique in the world. At a time when Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, the Islamic world became a center for learning, making major contributions in the areas of astronomy, physics, art, philosophy, and medicine – a period known as the “Golden Age.”
Methods pioneered by Muslim scholars and scientists during the Golden Age became the foundation of modern sciences, and were taught in European universities up to the 18th century.
Formal primary education began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the country’s founder, had begun an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students.
The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, followed by the Ministry of Higher Education in 1975.
The first government school for girls was built in 1964, and by the end of the 1990s girls’ schools had been established in every part of the Kingdom. Today, female students make up over half of the more than 6 million students currently enrolled in Saudi schools and universities.