The Problem with Jeddah Schools
I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while now. Indeed, it completely baffles me how hard it is to find a children’s school in Jeddah. When we were in Libya just after the revolution in 2012, we were expecting to have troubles finding a decent school for our kids. It turned out it was very easy and we found amazing schools in Misurata and Zawia. When we moved to Jeddah, we never ever imagined it was going to be a nightmare! Not in a million years did we imagine that Jeddah, the 2nd largest city in a huge and rich country like Saudi Arabia, would be giving us any trouble.
Schooling young children is proving to be a huge challenge. Not just for me but for every parents I have talked to. Basically, while Jeddah has tons of schools of various kinds (Saudi schools, International schools, religious schools…) it is far from easy to get your kids into them.
There are so many constraints such as transportation, costs, waiting lists, entry exams, languages, location… Jeddah is a very big city, that spreads over 70 or more Kilometers from north to south. Depending on where you live, you may have to send your children far away to school. Some school offer a school bus for children who live close to the school, but of course you have to pay for that and it is quite expensive. And if you live far, not only will it be (very) expensive, but children will need to be picked up quite early in the morning. My children currently have to wake up at 5am every day so that they can be at school on time to start lessons with their class.
I can hear you… “why is she sending them so far?” Well, it’s not that simple. Where I live, they are only local private Saudi schools. We tried them last year and it was a disaster. The level was basically 2 years below what my boys were supposed to learn. Out of 5 hours of school, only about 1 hour was dedicated to learning, the rest was for various activities and playing. To give you a concrete example: when my oldest was 5 years old, the program for maths for a WHOLE YEAR was the numbers from 1 to 20. That’s it!!! The level for literacy was not better as he was only supposed to learn the letters of the alphabet. My child himself could feel it was all wrong, and he would come back from school everyday, totally dejected that nothing exciting or challenging had been offered to him. We got them out of there after only one semester and they went back to being home schooled.
If transportation or the education level is not an issue, then there is often the challenge of meeting the huge financial demands imposed by Jeddah schools. Between registration fees, monthly fees, school material fees, uniform fees (I was asked to pay 500sar for 2 polo T-shirts), educational outings fees and so on… many families are left with a very limited number of options to choose from. Many schools are simply too expensive. I know, I have a good salary but still, the cost of private education in Jeddah is very very high. And in case you’re wondering, government schools in Saudi Arabia are only opened to Saudi children.
If these are not a problem for you, you’ll still have to work around the waiting lists (up to 2 years for some popular British or American International schools). Some international schools have entry exams and only admit the top children. Some even base their waiting lists on results of such exams. So parents can never really know if or when their kids will be able to get in. That is so hard when you have a 4 or 5 years old. How are they supposed to deal with the pressure or understand what is at stake? Finally, if you are not sending your children to a Saudi private school, you need to chose a “language school”. Jeddah has got LOADS of possibilities in that regards. If you wish to register your child in an English speaking school, you’ll have loads of options, but it turns out we don’t want an English school as we are headed (as some of you know) to Tunisia next so our children must become fluent in Arabic and/or French. Yep, you gotta add that the list of factors to consider when you choose a school.
Basically, it’s not a piece a cake. And then when you have finally registered them, be prepared for a very different approach to parent-school communication. They don’t seem to understand that parents must be informed of things that happen. They sometimes also forget to ask for permission for very important things (such as vaccination – true story!). You will need to be very patient with the teachers or you will simply lose your mind.
If you’re looking for a school for your kids and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend this blog/Facebook page. It is called Jeddah for Kids and for many years, they have worked very hard to list everything regarding kids and families in Jeddah. This is their list of private and international Jeddah schools on their website: https://jeddahforkids.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/private-schools-in-jeddah/
For their Facebook page and support group, click the picture below:
It is annoying to think that finding a school was easy in Libya. It is unsettling to think that it would be easy for us in Tunisia. You have no idea how many times we talk about moving to Tunisia for the boys. And when I think that next year, the fees will be even more expensive, and that they will rise every year… really makes me think hard. I actually know a few families who have left Saudi Arabia because of the problem of Jeddah schools. And who knows… maybe this is what will push us out too. That or the many other measures that Saudi Arabia is currently implementing against expats.