Criticism of the Saudi Education System and Reform Proposals

The Saudi education system has been criticised. One observation was, "The country needs educated young Saudis with marketable skills and a capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship. That's not generally what Saudi Arabia's educational system delivers, steeped as it is in rote learning and religious instruction."

The study of Islam dominates the Saudi educational system. In particular, the memorization by rote of large parts of the Qu'ran, its interpretation and understanding (Tafsir) and the application of Islamic tradition to everyday life is at the core of the curriculum. Religion taught in this manner is also a compulsory subject for all university students. Saudi youth "generally lacks the education and technical skills the private sector needs". Indeed, such control has stifled critical thought, and as a result, the education system does not necessarily foster innovation and creativity; both of which are essential to development.

A further criticism of the religious focus of the Saudi education system is the nature of the Wahhabi-controlled curriculum. The Islamic aspect of the Saudi national curriculum is examined in a 2006 report by Freedom House which concluded that "the Saudi public school religious curriculum continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the 'unbeliever'. The Saudi religious studies curriculum is taught outside the Kingdom in madrasah throughout the world. Critics have described the education system as 'medieval' and that its primary goal "is to maintain the rule of absolute monarchy by casting it as the ordained protector of the faith, and that Islam is at war with other faiths and cultures".

The consequence of this approach is considered by many, including perhaps the Saudi government itself, to have encouraged Islamist terrorism. To tackle the twin problems of extremism and the inadequacy of the country's university education, the government is aiming to modernise the education system through the Tatweer reform program. The Tatweer program is reported to have a budget of approximately US$2 billion and focuses on moving teaching away from the traditional Saudi methods of memorization and rote learning towards encouraging students to analyze and problem-solve as well as creating a more secular and vocationally based education system.