Education has become basic in all societies and nations across the globe. Today, every country devotes large resources to provide education to its citizens. It is generally agreed that education has great benefits to society as well as individuals, both economically and socially.
However, the education systems in countries tend to vary in many ways since they are continuously developed based on the cultures of the societies to meet the needs of the nations and societies. It is therefore important to understand the unique features of different education systems to be able to borrow important aspects and modify them to improve education systems.
Education in the US and Saudi Arabia has several similarities and differences which make the education systems unique. My main interest in the study is to understand the extent to which religion has influenced education in Saudi Arabia.
Being an Islamic country, education in the country is highly influenced by Islamic religious practices and cultures, and this has led to the relatively low literacy rates in the country as compared to the US. Similarities in the two education systems exist in terms of government spending on education, education for people with disabilities or special needs as well as the freedom to choose the school to attend.
However, the differences in the education systems exist in the stages of education, the influence of religion in school, as well as, literacy rates. The US and the Saudi Arabian governments spend significant resources on their education system. Currently, Saudi Arabian is investing heavily in the education sector to improve education facilities and infrastructure and to improve girls’ education in the country.
The Saudi Arabian government has increased awareness of the benefits of education to Saudi Arabians, and this has increased the need to improve the education system as well as facilities. For example, the World Bank reports that in 2004 alone, Saudi Arabian government dedicated about 27.6% of its expenditure, which translated into 6.8% of the country’s GDP, to the education sector (World Bank 12).
The Saudi Arabian government provides free basic education at elementary and secondary education in all publicly funded schools. This also happens in the US where the federal, state and local governments provide free compulsory basic education in public schools to learners up to grade 12 (U.S. Department of Education 8).
In both systems, the government subsidizes books, meals as well as transportation to school going children. Again, the US federal government provides scholarships and loans to post-secondary school students (Broder 43). Saudi Arabian government also provides finances to students learning in public universities.
Again, in both systems, the learners have the freedom to choose the school to attend to. Learners have the right to join home school, public or private school. Many factors influence the parents’ choice on the school to take the child to. Some parents prefer to enroll their children in public schools since they are either subsidized or free, while there are those who prefer private to the public because they believe that private schools offer better quality education.
However, there are others who believe that they can tailor the curriculum to best suit the needs of their children, in their opinion. In the US, there are schools for the special needs learners who are taught by special education teachers trained in adapting curricula which best meets the needs of such learners.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is a federal law, requires government-funded schools in all the states across the US to provide education services which meet the needs of learners with special needs. Saudi Arabian government has also established special schools for special needs students.
They have special educational facilities as well as special education teachers trained to meet the needs of these learners. The education systems of the two countries are different although learners complete the same number of years in school. Saudi Arabia follows the 6-3-3-4 curriculum (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Economics and Planning 6), while the US follows 4-4-2-2-4 (Rury 12).
University years may vary depending on the degree course or program. Some courses take four years while others may take as long as six years. One major difference that exists between the two education systems is sex segregation. In Saudi Arabia, education is segregated by sex in that boys attend different schools from girls.
According to Dilek (22) education in Saudi Arabia is based on the Wahhabi interpretation of the Qur’an which emphasizes on strict observation of segregation of sexes. The kind of education provided to boys has been superior as compared to that offered to girls for a very long time although things have begun to change. The government has embarked on improving girls’ education.
Girls were only provided with an education that suited their gender roles in society (Hamdan 46). However, in the US, girls and boys have equal opportunities for education attainment (Rury 7). Another major variation exists in the influence of religion on the education systems. Islam is the core of the Saudi Arabian education system.
According to Johnson (2), the education curriculum is based on the Sharia law where one major aim of education is to encourage learners to become religious citizens. Thus, education at the secondary level focuses mainly on Islamic as well as Arabic studies. In contrast, education in the US does not focus on religion although religious subjects are part of the curriculum.
The US is a multi-religious country and therefore does not emphasize on a particular religion. One variation that exists between the US and Saudi Arabian education is the attitude towards education. In the US, education is mandatory and almost universal at elementary and secondary levels. School districts provide funding and meet to discuss the curricula, teaching as well as other policies.
However, in Saudi Arabia, the government does not enforce mandatory school attendance (Hamdan 43). The government only encourages children to attend free elementary and secondary schools. The variation in attitudes has caused significant differences in literacy rates. The literacy rates for the US stands at 99% for both men and women, while that of Saudi Arabia is about 79.4% for females above age 15 and 89.1% for males above age 15 (World Bank 6).
The low literacy rates in Saudi Arabia has increased the concern of the government, and as such, has established mechanisms to reduce the literacy rates especially among girls and adults through literacy programs (Hamdan 43). The US has maintained improving its education programs to ensure that as many people as possible access education.
The education systems in the US and Saudi Arabia have similarities and significant differences which make the education systems unique. Both have education systems which have been influenced by the different cultures in the two countries.
The education system is heavily influenced by the Islamic religion while that of the US is influenced by the diversity in its cultures, high level of democracy and modernization in the society. As a result, education in the US is mandatory at the elementary and secondary level while that of Saudi Arabia is out of choice. This has created a significant disparity between their literacy rates.
Broder, David. College affordability about future. Burlington: Free Press, 2008. Print.
Dilek Cindoğlu. Virginity tests and artificial virginity in modern Turkish medicine. In Ýlkkaracan, P. (Ed.) Women and sexuality in Muslim societies. Istanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights, 2000. Print.
Hamdan, Amani. “Women and education in Saudi Arabia: Challenges and achievements”. International Education Journal 6.1 (2005): 42-64. Print.
Johnson, Richard. Single sex education for expatriates in Saudi Arabian financed schools. In Motion, 19 October, 2010. Web. 30 October, 2011.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Economics and Planning. Achievement of the Development Plans Facts and Figures Twenty-Fifth Issue 1390-1429H 1970-2008G. 2008. Web. 30 October, 2011.
Rury, John. Education and Social Change: Themes in the History of American Schooling. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.
U.S. Department of Education. Structure of U.S. Education. U.S. Network for Education Information. U.S. Department of Education, 2005. Web. 30 October, 2011.
World Bank. World Development Indicators/Edstats database. Washington DC: World Bank, 2008. Print.