The ideas of Plato, the writings of John Locke and the musings of Immanuel Kant may soon be the buzz of classrooms in Saudi Arabia as schools across the kingdom begin teaching philosophy and critical thinking for the first time.
In an attempt to promote freedom of thought and tolerance among students, Saudi Education Minister Hamad Al Sheikh announced last week that the new courses were being added to the high-school curriculum.
“The Ministry of Education seeks to solidify the values of tolerance and human understanding in student circles, which act as a pillar to strengthen tolerance in society through multiple practices targeting the student’s personality, thought and behaviour,” Mr Al Sheikh said. The news received rave reviews in schools and universities as well as positive feedback from social media users.
“It allows us to teach children new perspectives that help [them to] think for themselves, with deeper understanding and empathy for the world. This makes us better-informed global citizens, which is what I think Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants us to be,” said Ferah Baker, 38, a doctor in Jeddah.
“He wants future generations to achieve the potential they are capable of and is giving them the freedom and opportunities to be just that.”
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On International Day for Tolerance, Mr Al Sheikh said that the ministry had paid great attention to developing curriculums that link closely to national values and cultural commonalities to promote dialogue and tolerance.
“Our culture and heritage is of the utmost importance to us. We are extremely proud of our language, art and history. It is extremely important to give the values of love and tolerance to children at an early age,” said Ahmed Albukhary, 62, a retired professor in Jeddah.
“This is a great way to implement this at school, so children who aren’t getting it won’t miss out. Furthermore, knowledge – especially critical thinking methods and philosophy – help grow your mind. It adds depth to your character and helps build it. I think this is a beautiful decision and a step towards building a better world. In fact, all countries should implement it,” he said.
Rania Jaber, a philosophy major who lives in Dammam, said she was sad to have missed out on the opportunity to study philosophy at school.
“We didn’t have creative or critical thinking as part of academia in university,” she said.
“I am happy that my younger siblings and future generations will be able to learn this at grass-root levels and actually excel in fields we didn’t have access to before. I was lucky to be financially strong and so could travel and study philosophy and arts. Now people who don’t have the means can study and excel in these fields. It’s not just a change in the education system, it is a life-changing move and an emotional moment for students like me.”
Many parents also said they supported the decision so their children could learn these subjects in the kingdom rather than having to travel overseas to study them.
“We usually send our children abroad to study subjects that are unavailable here. They are able to gain experience and bring back a fresh perspective. Now, with Vision 2030, we can build that here. We look forward to being a world-class destination known for academic excellence and what a great way to begin – with philosophy and critical thinking,” said Majid Abdulaziz, a lawyer living in Jeddah.