Saudi Arabia to add self-defence and national unity to public-school curriculum

Education ministry says teachers are prepared as the kingdom returns to full-time, in-person classes in August

One of our Schools’ Playground After Renovation. Courtesy Ihyaa

Saudi Arabia will introduce subjects including digital skills, Islamic studies, national unity and self-defence to its school syllabus next year, adding integrated, independent and smart-learning tools to its education system.

Life and family skills, critical thinking, social studies, and English at the primary level will also feature in the new curriculum, the education ministry said.

“We look forward to Saudi graduates becoming global competitors,” Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad Bin Mohammad Al-Sheikh said. "Change in the educational process will accelerate high school graduation. It would be more beneficial to dispense with some of the existing curricula.”

Educational reform is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 programme that comprises goals and strategies for the kingdom’s long-term economic success. Teachers will take development courses during the summer to enhance their training capabilities.

Speaking to The National, students and their parents described the move as "revolutionary" and a "game changer, much-needed for the future generations."

“I cannot believe my daughter will be learning self-defence in school," said Hala AlSharif, a Saudi national living in Jeddah. "This has been a life-long dream for me, to get our kids into self-defence, learn critical thinking and things that can help them navigate through life with mental and physical strength. I am so happy that the future generations of Saudi Arabia will be raised to succeed in life and be prepared with tools for the future.”

Digital skills are extremely important at all levels, said Salma Ahmed, a high school graduate, living in Jeddah.

“Ever since we moved to e-learning, it showed how important digitisation is for survival," Ms Ahmed said. "I'm happy it will be integrated with other life-changing subjects."

Schools and universities across the kingdom will return to full-time, in-person classes with a new semester allocation starting in August this year, the Ministry of Education said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We have time to vaccinate and plan,” Dr. Al-Sheikh said. "The teachers are prepared for all circumstances, and they have proven it during the pandemic.”

The new academic calendar approved by the council of ministers will comprise three semesters, each lasting 13 weeks. There will be 12 school breaks, for a total 69 days, in a year, as opposed to one long summer break.

Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh June 15, 2008. Tens of thousands of Saudi students from elementary, middle and high schools have started their one-week mid-term exams.  REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA) - GM1E46F1C6L01

“In between each semester there will be a week-long vacation,” Dr. Al-Sheikh said, adding that this change will also be useful for teachers. “The long summer vacation was boring for the teacher and the student.”

The ministry modified some titles, replacing school leader with school principal, and student advisor with student mentor.

“We encourage vaccination for students and will provide an educational and protective environment,” Dr. Al-Sheikh said, adding no student will be forced to take the vaccine.