State or Private School?

How to make the right choice

State or Private School?

Note that in many cases state schools aren’t an option, and that the vast majority of non-Arab expatriates send their children to private schools.

  • If you’re non-Muslim, you might not be allowed access to state schools. Even if you are, local Arab children and children of Arab expatriates are likely to have priority over other foreigners for places, which might be scarce.
  • How long do you envisage staying in the region? If you don’t know, assume it will be for two years, in which case you should opt for a private school. If you think that you will be in the region for many years, you might consider a state school to teach your child the local culture, although very few expatriates send their children to state schools even in these circumstances.
  • Will cultural differences cause problems? Sending your child(ren) to a state school will to a large extent remove them from the expatriate community.
  • What about religion? Islam is the fundamental way of life in the Arab world and pressure might be exerted for your children to convert. Muslims believe that all of us are born Muslim, some people moving away from the ‘truth’ later.
    If your work prospects indicate a long-term future for your family in Saudi Arabia, you might see your child’s integration into the local community as important. A later switch to private education, however, might prove difficult and stall your child’s development.
  • Note also that naturalisation and citizenship are very rarely granted to foreigners, even in the long-term, so your child(ren) are unlikely ever to be assimilated fully into the local culture.
  • An obvious obstacle is the use of the Arabic language in state schools. The curriculum is entirely Arabic-based (English is taught only as a foreign language), although with very young children this isn’t a problem, as they adapt so easily.
  • Will you be able to help your children with their education, particularly in view of the language barrier?
  • Is special or extra tutoring available in Arabic?
  • What are the school days and hours?Are they similar to the hours you do at work? Will school holidays align easily with your periods of leave?
  • Do you want your child to attend a co-educational or single sex school? In the Arab state system, schools are single sex, whereas most private schools are co-educational.
  • You should also consider the advantages and disadvantages of private schools in the Gulf. If you decide to educate your child(ren) in the state system, you must visit the Ministry of Education offices for information about availability, qualifications and procedures.

Further reading

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