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The education system within Saudi Arabia lies under the authority of the Ministry of Education. At the pre-primary level, children from the age of 3-5 years attend kindergarten. However, at this level, it is not compulsory for children to attend kindergarten and most of them still are enrolled to the first grade. Therefore, kindergarten is a private affair and does not lie under the typical public education funding and supervision. As of 2007, 100,714 children of which 51,364 male were and 49,350 female which can be interpreted as a gross enrollment percentage of 10.4% for girls and 11.1% for boys (Abi-Mershed 17-9). These statistics also indicate the great gender disparity that existed in the Saudi educational system. At the primary level, education lasts six years that culminates in students attaining the Elementary Education Certificate (Sedgwick 21). As of 2007, the number of boys and girls enrolled at the primary level almost equal indicating positive results in attempts to balance gender in schools.
At the intermediate and secondary level of education, it takes approximately three years. The number of males and females at this level is also roughly equal. Secondary education is considered the last phase of universal education. There are also technical secondary institutes that offer technical and vocational learning and training programs in the fields of agriculture, industry and commerce. The higher education level in Saudi Arabia lasts 5-6 years for medicine, engineering and pharmacy course while humanities take about 4 years (Zuhur 12). The country has about 23 public universities, private universities, affiliate colleges and girls’ colleges. Most of the students in these universities study humanities and social sciences, which is a similar trend across Arab countries such as Egypt, UAE and Djibouti (Abi-Mershed 17-9). By 2007, a total of 368,165 females and 268,080 males were registered in higher education institutions (Yackley-Franken 302). The government also promotes cross-cultural exchange exercises, such as the King Abdullah scholarship, although the large influx of young people to the England has been severely repressed by the same government.
Within Saudi Arabia, the education of girls and women forms a separate and significant part of the whole education system. The rationale behind the inception of this department was that women were not exposed to the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts. However, the females who attain any form of education are still limited at the higher education levels where they cannot pursue some courses such as architecture, engineering or journalism. Saudi Arabia leads in the number of women in higher education when compared in a pool having Gaza, Jordan, West Bank and Lebanon. The government paid more attention to girls’ education between 2002 and 2007 resulted in the increase in the number of girls, in most universities, as can be witnessed in the government’s contribution toward the building of the Princess Nora University that is a women-only institution (Abi-Mershed 17-9).
The Irish education system is far more refined and elaborate when compared to that of Saudi Arabia. In Ireland, the primary level of education is very elaborate. The curriculum is child-centered, and this means that the needs of the student can be met accordingly. The teachers are also highly skilled in interacting and dealing with learning issues among children while in Saudi Arabia, the teachers are less skilled and posses general teaching skills. The primary school teachers at Ireland also employ flexibility in selecting their teaching methods. In Saudi Arabia, the teaching methods are extremely strict, rigid and inflexible. The education policies in Saudi Arabia are also gender biased.
Although the Saudi Arabian education system is sufficient to cater for the needs of all the young people up to the university level, there are some weaknesses in the system. The education system is dominated by the study of Islam where all students undergo memorization of the Quran and its application in everyday life. Religion is compulsory for all students at the university level. The result is that Saudi graduates lack the technical skills to serve the needs of the private sector. Stifled critical thought is detrimental to the creativity and innovation that is required among students. The Wahhabi-controlled curriculum is also disadvantageous to the learners in Saudi Arabia that instills an idea of hatred for the unbelievers such as Christians. Excerpts from reading material of fourth graders revealed the negative racial remarks referring to the Jews as apes while the Christians are swine (Sedgwick 32).
The Irish education system also focuses more on examining children at the lower stages for instance, having two vital public examinations for the secondary stage. Irish schools have no examination at the primary school level. There are however similarities in the education systems of Saudi Arabia and Ireland. In both systems, the government plays a crucial role in funding, coordinating and overseeing the learning activities (Kaymakcan et al 29). The Irish educational system also has an additional section for adults or young people who dropped out of school or who are under qualified. Such kinds of people are offered alternative programs that can assist them to bridge the gap between school and work.
Abi-Mershed, Osama. Trajectories of Education in the Arab World: Legacies and Challenges. London: Routledge, 2010. Accessed on 8 October 2012. Retrieved from http://ccas.georgetown.edu/87188.html
Kaymakcan, Recep, and Oddbjorn Leirvik. Teaching for Tolerance in Muslim Majority Societies. Istanbul: Centre for Values Education (DEM) Press, 2007. Print
Sedgwick Robert. Education in Saudi Arabia. World Education News & Reviews. 2012. Accessed on 8 October 2012. Retrieved from http://www.wes.org/ewenr/01nov/practical.htm
Yackley-Franken, Nicki. Teens in Saudi Arabia. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books, 2007. Print
Zuhur, Sherifa. Saudi Arabia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print