About This Research:

Glasgow Research & Consulting undertook qualitative and quantitative research across parents in Riyadh and Jeddah in early 2020. Key findings were:  

Education plays an important role in Saudi Arabia’s drive towards growth and development, evident in the key role it plays in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which is built around three primary themes – a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation.

Several reforms in the sector have been introduced with hopes to “repair” an outdated system and provide quality education in the country. The primary education system dates back as early as the 1930s but has seen a significant transformation in recent years. Resonating with the government’s vision, parents are today emphasizing the need to provide their children with quality education, helping them become global citizens. This research discusses the decisive patterns of parents in Saudi Arabia in their quest to find the ideal school for their children.

Presently, while parents are pleased with the overall quality of private schools in the country, they feel there is room for improvement. The survey identified Saudi nationals as well as those following the Saudi National Curriculum to be the least satisfied with the current education scenario, while Asian expatriates and those following the American curriculum appeared to be most pleased.

This paper has studied the different factors that are crucial for parents in their decision making as well as suggestive measures to improve the current quality available in primary education in the Kingdom.

Sources of Influence:

In the process of deciding a school, the most influential source of information in the selection of a school is word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends/family, with 88% parents surveyed choosing to do so. This is closely followed by direct contact with the institution through campus visits. Just about half the total surveyed number of parents opted to check on the school website, with even fewer relying on online search or social media. Mothers play the active role in gathering information regarding the right school, the study indicates, as they claim to better understand the child’s needs, although the final decision is mostly taken by fathers.

Making the Right Choice:

The strongest driver of deciding on a school was the “quality of teachers” – their experience, skill sets and their perceived moral integrity. A second key factor is the reputation of the institution as well as the school’s accreditation, academic facilities and curriculum. Following these two were fees, location and transport and extracurricular activities – in that order. Despite Standard Saudi National Curriculum being followed by the largest proportion of children in the Kingdom, it has been observed that international curriculum has the highest consideration. Of these, American and British take the lead spots.

Role of Education:

The study shows a clear indication that education plays a crucial role in the growth of a society and elevating the standard of living in the Kingdom. This begins in the classroom where parents feel it is partly the duty of educational institutions to mold a child’s overall development by providing the necessary means and resources.

Currently, parents are dissatisfied on certain aspects of what is offered at schools. They have pointed out a lack of disciplinary regulations and insufficient activities to help in a child’s overall personality development.

A traditional approach combined with a disciplined culture appears to be the need of the hour. While the use of pen and paper is being urged, parents had the view that schools must adapt to changing times and emphasized on the role of technology in creating innovative pathways such as the inclusion of ICT (Information & Communication Technology) lessons in class.

Also high on the priorities is the need to build a positive learning environment where teachers remain alert and aware of the children’s progress by taking an active interest in their development. This they feel will imbibe confidence in their wards which will eventually help them face the world with no fear and adapt within a globalized economy.

They hope to see more engagement with the schools to help bring out the best in a child including activities like accessibility to the school leadership team, higher frequency of parent-teacher meetings, and more updates from the school. Prospective parents are also expecting schools build a positive and safe environment for children and make their learning experience more enjoyable, usable and easy to absorb.

As quality of teachers is a primary concern, it was observed that existing parents felt there was a lack of quality English speaking teachers. However, potential parents emphasized the importance of improving spoken English at school/home used by children while former parents acknowledged the vital role that the language played in a global platform and the importance of speaking and understanding capabilities. There was also evident preference in a mix of teaching nationalities and cultures in the school environment.

Parents have also emphasized on the inclusion of sports and extra-curricular activities as well as suggested smaller sized classrooms in order to offer better attention to children.

In terms of curriculum, many have voiced the need to include more on Islamic values agreed by both parents. More mothers have, however, suggested offering a foreign language as an option for students as well.

Interestingly, there were also suggestions from existing parents, in particular fathers, that schools take a hand in educating mothers with regards to self-directed teaching at home. This tallies well with the pro-activeness that mothers take in the initial placement of their children in a chosen school.

Lastly, although location and transportation fared lower in the list of factors on deciding a school, more than half the parents surveyed feel their child shouldn’t be travelling more than 30 minutes, one way.

This is What They Want:

Parents acknowledge that private education comes at a high price, but are equally unwilling to accept anything short of the top-notch in academics, both on the teaching and learning capacities. In a gist – an ideal school in Saudi Arabia would include a combination of national and international curriculum with an equal focus on both sport and extra-curricular activities as well as importance given on Islamic values; state-of-the-art academic facilities including incorporating new technology in classrooms; a multicultural, experienced, and skilled teachers who will also possess high moral integrity; a diverse student body, and located in a premium neighborhood not too far from home.