The Saudi Ministry of Education has issued a strict warning stating the following: “It’s forbidden for male and female children to mingle in private and foreign schools that accepted males as students in their primary classes. Therefore, these schools must totally separate [male students] from female students, whether in facilities, playgrounds or toilets.”
I would like to ask the ministry whether this a form of punishment just because these children go to these particular schools. It’s clear that the public education sector did not implement the idea of having female teachers for male classes, although it did admit that parents tend to approve of this. It’s also clear that those schools that did implement this were the foreign and private schools. But the ministry does not leave the opportunity for other systems to follow a path other than its own.
The ministry always convinces us that it’s committed to a firm path in education - a path that rejects the movement of one step forward towards modern educational methods, whether it comes to teaching English in primary classes or whether it comes to developing its curriculum. Math and Science are still taught in Arabic according to theories that do not harmonize with modern educational systems. There’s also the absence of music and theatrical activities at the ministry’s schools.
A friend of mine told me that when he moved to Canada from Saudi Arabia, his children, who are in secondary school, took a test to gage their levels. Their score was very low. It was almost equal to the level of elementary students.
Many years pass by and the sister can’t even remember when she last sat with her brother to engage in a long, spontaneous conversationBadria al-Bishr
I will not talk about the ministry’s curriculum here. But I will talk about the concept which the ministry of education insists to instill as a solid concept in education. It’s the concept of preventing males in private and foreign schools from mingling with females of the same age, considering it’s Haram (prohibited in Islam).
The confusion divided families and made male students ask themselves if sitting with their sisters is allowed or not. My children used to return home and solve a homework question asking them: “What would you do with your sister or mother if she rides with a driver (the family’s male driver)?” The answer is of course: “It’s unacceptable.”
Our conservative Saudi society used to make sure that the family is present in one room. Properly covered women and men would sit in one room and strengthen family ties. For example, when a man visits his relative, the latter’s wife would cover her face, serve coffee and sit with them and engage in conversation.
But today, the sister no longer sits with her own brother due to the segregation taking place among families. The brother now sits with males in one room and the sister sits in another room with women. Many years pass by and the sister can’t even remember when she last sat with her brother to engage in a long, spontaneous conversation. Years pass by, and as a result of this separation, a man may not even recognize his female cousin if he sees her.
You ask why? It’s because of the Ministry of Education’s decision that even children must not mingle.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on September 7, 2013.
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies. Twitter: @BadryahAlbeshr