Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia

Article excerpt

SAUDI ARABIA: THE COUNTRY

Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab country of the Middle East, with a population of approximately 30 million citizens and an average age of 25.3 years (Almutairy, Davies, & Dimitriadi, 2015; Alrashidi & Phan, 2015). The country, founded in 1932, was impoverished until the discovery of oil in 1938 (Alshehry & Belloumi, 2015). Saudi Arabia in 1960 became one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Alamri, 2011). Endowed with vast fossil fuel resources, Saudi Arabia is one of the world's largest holder of crude oil reserves as well as the world's largest exporter of oil, making energy exports the most important component of the country's gross domestic product (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015; Alshehry & Belloumi, 2015). The immense revenue coming from oil makes the country one of the leading economic powers and the fastest growing economy in the Middle East and North Africa (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015).

Saudi Arabia is located within Southwest Asia, and is bordered by eight countries: Jordan and Iraq to the north; Kuwait to the northeast; Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the east; Oman to the southeast; and Yemen to the south. Saudi Arabia occupies 80% of the Arabian Peninsula, and has a strong relationship with the Gulf countries (i.e., Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). This close relationship resulted in the establishment in 1981 of the Gulf Cooperation Council to strengthen regional economic integration among these six countries (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015; Niblock, 2004).

The religion of Islam was born in Makkah (Mecca) and Medina in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia holds the two holiest places for Muslims (Almasjed Alharam in Makkah, and Almasjid Alnabawi in Medina). Saudi citizens are predominantly Muslims, and Islam is the core of most Saudi's culture, beliefs, and customs (Alshehry & Belloumi, 2015). Arabic is the official language in the country as well as being the major language of more than 200 million native speakers in the Middle East (Versteegh, 2014); this is in addition to Muslims around the world who learn the Arabic language for Islamic practices, including prayers.

EDUCATION IN SAUDI ARABIA

In 1953, Saudi Arabia established its Ministry of Education, charged with overseeing all schools across the country that are required to implement the government-directed curriculum (Deraney & Abdelsalam, 2012). Saudi Arabia has been successful in establishing broad access to education, which has resulted in high adult literacy rates (Saqlain, Al-Qarni, & Ghadi, 2013). General education consists of three stages: primary, intermediate, and secondary (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015). Saudi Arabia has long been able to provide free education to Saudi students from primary school through higher education levels, with the government allocating a large portion of the country's budget to education (Alamri, 2011; Algarni & Male, 2014; Aljabre, 2012; Al-Seghayer, 2011). In addition, undergraduate students receive financial assistance and free housing from the government in most Saudi universities.

Because the mixing of genders is not allowed within Saudi Arabian schools and most educational settings, schools are segregated based on the gender of both students and teachers, which forms the basis of a single-sex school system (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015). Thus, schools are divided into other schools, some for males and some for females. Likewise, Saudi universities consist of two geographically separated campuses: one campus serves male students, and the other, female students (Alshahrani & Walker, 2016). This separation is due to religious and cultural norms of the society that are upheld by governmental laws and policies (Almutairy et al. 2015; van Geel 2016). However, it has been shown that male and female students receive the same quality of education and governmental financial assistance (Smith & Abouammoh, 2013; Taylor & Albasri, 2014). …

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