Half a million Saudis under 35 are illiterate, statistics show

A number of experts considered this to be a high rate taking into account the huge budgets allocated for education and literacy campaigns

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A total of 524,435 Saudis aged 15-34 have not received any education, according to the kingdom’s Central Department of Statistics.

In a report published by Makkah daily on Monday, the department said the citizens in this group were made up of 270,972 males and 253,463 females.

They account for about 5 percent of the 10 million citizens in this age group.

A number of experts considered this to be a high rate taking into account the huge budgets allocated for education and literacy campaigns.

Other experts said the number consisted of many mentally and physically challenged people who were not able to enroll in schools.

Thoraya Al-Arid, an education expert and Shura Council member, said a number of family and societal factors had to be taken into account.

“Many low-income families are not usually keen about the education of their children,” she said.

She also blamed behavioral problems, including the use of drugs, to be among the factors preventing young men and women from having access to a proper education.

Al-Arid noted many girls were married while at the elementary school, thus preventing them from receiving any education.

“Large families may ignore their children’s education because they cannot bear the financial costs,” she said.

Al-Arid said the non-existence of a law making it obligatory on parents to educate their children is one of the factors that caused illiteracy among young men and women. She called for drafting a law that would allow the imprisonment of fathers who do not maintain a minimum level of education for their children.

“In the West, the father who fails to provide his children with education until the secondary stage will be punished,” she said.

Al-Arid also called for raising the age of marriage for girls, making education compulsory until the intermediate level and implementing rules preventing the employment of children.

Abdulaziz Al-Dakheel, chairman of the Saudi Society for Social Studies, said: “The number of the uneducated Saudis seem to be reasonable when we take into account the large number of autistic and children with special needs who cannot go to schools.

“The number of rehabilitation centers for disabled children is little and these centers are only found in big cities and towns. This also adds to the large number of the uneducated.”

Al-Dakheel called for making education obligatory until the intermediate level.

“Fathers who leave their children uneducated should be penalized under the law, especially as the government has been lavishly spending on education,” he said.

Ahmed al-Mofreh, member of the education committee at the Shura Council, said the literacy programs of the Ministry of Education have greatly reduced the number of uneducated citizens in the Kingdom.

“The adult education programs, the literacy campaigns and the summer education camps will further reduce the number of illiterate citizens,” he said.

Mofreh said most uneducated citizens live in villages and hamlets involved in agriculture and animal raising and they prefer doing these jobs to going to school.

“You cannot convince these people to quit their jobs or leave their places to go to school,” he said.