I have long been wanting to write about schools in Riyadh. I found no useful information when I was researching about schools back in England. So, I hope the information provided here would be of use to a lot of people who are still deciding to whether or not to move to Riyadh or Saudi in general.
International schools in Riyadh.
First, like I said in my earlier post, there are plenty of international schools in Riyadh. These are English-medium schools following either British, American, Canadian, Australian or Indian curriculum. There are lots of international schools that follow Indian curriculum and run by Indians. I have heard some positives about these schools. But, average international schools, with the exception of British and American international schools, can’t afford to bring qualified teachers from overseas. So, because they mostly employ local people with fluent English proficiency but not necessarily trained to teach a group of children a certain subject, the standards are low. Also, the whole system puts so much emphasis on memorizing and not necessarily to research or project-based learning. So the education approaches and methods used are very different. Thus resulting in not encouraging innovative thinking or creative writing etc.
Below is the list of schools in Riyadh that was recommended to us,
- American international school
- British international school
- Manarat international school
- Rowad international school
- Multinational international school
Some schools have both International and Arabic section. For example, Manarat and Rowad, they have 2 sections. They run both English and Arabic private schools on the same premises and the tuition fees differ slightly with Arabic section being a little cheaper.
Private Arabic schools.
Also, there are lots of private Arabic schools, called Ahliy schools. Most of these schools are administered and run by non-Saudis. For example, there are lots of private Arabic schools that follow Egyptian or Jordanian curriculum. Since we wanted to register our children at Arabic school, some friends recommended us the following schools. They have children currently attending these schools and they are really happy with progress etc.
- Dar al Arqam private school
- Ahad private school
Both of them have primary, secondary and high school sections. They have Boys school and Girls school totally segregated but the school buildings not too far apart from one another (makes the school run easier). Also, schools run two programmes- Tahfeed programme or regular school programme. If a child enrols in Tahfeed programme, all the other subjects are shortened so they spend a lot of time memorizing Qur’an at school. For example, they get taught main concepts in Maths, English and Science but they skip lots of pages in their textbooks and workbooks. Instead, they will be spending more time memorizing Quran and they have a specific schedule to follow (like a target to accomplish each year)
Now, most of these schools are located in north of Riyadh, so around exits 7, 8, 9 and 10. These areas are very popular with western expats, especially due to main schools being located in one of these areas. Once you register your child, you would have to arrange transport. You only have 2 options: school bus or private driver. Either way, it is best to live close to schools. As I mentioned before, transport is the biggest hurdle in Riyadh. Basically, transport costs could add up to more than the school tuition fees annually. Most school buses charge around 6000-10000 SAR a year for two way transport, depending how far you live from school. Alternatively, you can arrange your own driver (any taxi driver you have used before and trust your kids with, or someone you know from school etc). If parents have more than 1 child attending the same school, arranging private driver may work out better both in terms of cost and time (school buses take longer time as they map out the route for picking and dropping 20 or more kids in one go)
Nurseries and kindergardens
There are some day care services catered to western expat working couples. I have also observed most people arrange their own day care: leave your child with someone you know. A lot of the time, the information is passed by a word of mouth, someone at work recommends someone they know or have used before etc. I have come to know two British sisters who opened registered nursery/day care in their houses. You can’t arrange none of these unless you are in Riyadh.
And you can’t arrange none of these online or with phone conversation. You have to visit every place/person in person and speak to them in person, fill out applications on site (no online version for anything).
Registering your child at school in Riyadh.
This is the most difficult task parents have to undergo. Basically, if your child doesn’t start school here from age 4 or 5, no school can admit your child directly. All children wanting to enrol at any school (international or Arabic) in Saudi after the age of 5, they have to register through the Ministry of Education. So, you go to school, your child sits a placement test. Your child is allocated a place in a certain grade according to their ability. And then they will say, you have to take the following documents to the Ministry of Education and complete the whole enrolment procedure there:
- Child’s birth certificate
- Child’s passports
- Child’s iqama
- Parents’ iqama
- Passport size pictures
- Immunization certificate
- Previous school reports attested by the Saudi Embassy in your home country (this is the biggest pain as most parents don’t have school reports or they have not been attested by Saudi Embassy in London. Basically, you won’t find this information anywhere until you arrive in Riyadh and directed to go to the Ministry of Education)
- If your children have been homeschooled and therefore can’t provide a school report, a letter explaining your situation and stating the education law in England that says home-educating is legal etc. I have a template letter, so do contact me if you need one.
If the Ministry of Education is happy with all the documentation, they will issue Approval Letter to state that any school can admit the children listed on the letter. So, you have to take this letter to a school of your choice and register them.
One more thing, it may take a month or even longer to have all the documents ready. But schools don’t give any discount because your child missed X number of days in Term 1. As long as you register in Term 1, even if they attend 1-2 weeks of school before Term 1 ends, you still have to make the full tuition fees payment for that term. So, the best is do your research and have all the documents ready before your arrival ( for which you will have to follow my blog lol). Or in our case, school started in August. Our children missed 2 months of school. If we send them to school now, we still have to make the full payment for term 1 for three of them. So, the best is, to wait until term 2 (mid January) and register them then so we are not paying for the school days they have missed. Meanwhile, you can get a tutor that comes to teach them at home, or register them at Tahfeed at one of Dar’s (Arabic+Qur’an classes that run in most mosques or education centres etc).
I hope this information will be of benefit to many more parents who like me spend hours searching the internet about schools and administering procedures in Saudi only to find nothing and left feeling frustrated.
May Allah make things easier for all of us and allow us benefit from the system here and make the most of our stay. Amin ya Rabb.