Thursday, 27 August 2015

Looking For Schools in Saudi Arabia

One of the searches that expat parents do before they leave their country of origin to relocate to Saudi Arabia, is to find schools, and preferably good ones, for their children.  It used to be a daunting task because not much information was out there.  Your best bet was to become a serial expat forum member asking loads of questions that had been asked before and being sent to numerous links for answers hidden in their depths if you could be bothered scrolling that far.  The other day I came across Kurrasa.   Kurrasa has made the job of finding schools in Saudi so much easier.  Not only does the site provide a comprehensive list of all schools in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and other cities in Saudi Arabia, they are also working on providing a wealth of information about each school

Kurrassa lets you know the grades taught at each school, their location and contact details, whether the school is an international or national school, and a co-ed or single sex school.  You can delve further into each school and find out mission statements, admission policies, school facilities, school fee costs and, for most, photographs.

The most important part of the site for parents though, is its parents review segment.  The site is still relatively new on the Saudi information scene so the reviews are in the throes of being built up, but I think it's still possible to get an idea of the running of the school from the information currently available.  The reviews would be aided by a star system if there weren't a few minor glitches to the set up.

The site also offers a section for potential teachers to provide their CV's and, from what I could tell, this is one of the drawbacks of the site at the moment in that, those looking for work are putting messages regarding their intention to teach in the parent review segment.  The other people messing up the star rating system are parents with questions who, instead of contacting the schools directly, are posting their queries on the website review area.  It appears that, in order to complete your message, you have to offer a star rating.  This means a number of schools are receiving single star ratings possibly where they shouldn't be.  So if you use the site, read the reviews carefully to weed out the schools suffering a low star rating because teachers looking for work are using the wrong section, (and, quite frankly, the inability to read and correctly use a  website would make me immediately cross them off my 'potential teacher' list), or parents with queries are doing the same.  Despite this minor, though irritating drawback, (I think it's irritating),  I can see the Kurrasa website very quickly becoming a valuable resource for parents searching for schools.

Of course the quality of education available in this new and foreign land is just one of the concerns confronting expat parents intending to uplift their offspring and move them overseas.  A number of other considerations are just as important especially if you have children who are not that excited, or are perhaps nervous, about the move and have a few ideas of their own about what is important regarding their schooling.

The language in which the classes will be instructed can be a major issue.  Your child may be less than happy to be sent to an English speaking school when they aren't very good at the language.  I know one family whose older son is at a French school while their younger daughter is at the American School because their son did not want to have to learn English to complete his senior years.
If you are looking for a specific curriculum, such as American, British, French or even Australian, Indian, Filipion or Pakistani, that will influence, and in some cases limit, your choice of school.  And if you don't find a school with a similar curriculum to that at home, your children run the risk of being bored or feeling overwhelmed.  We found this an issue when we first moved overseas to Australia.  Our daughters spent the first year repeating work they already knew because of the difference in curriculum between New Zealand and Australia.  On the one hand the class work was quite boring for them, on the other they could spend more time being social and still get good grades.

Whether or not all subjects are available in the school is especially important if any of the children are in higher levels and doing specialist subjects because they are looking at admission into specific international Universities further down the track.  In such cases, I always think its a good idea to talk to the school and the teacher of the subject, to make sure what you're getting is exactly what is required.

The cost of the school fees is important to know up front for your budgeting purposes because, contrary to popular opinion not everybody who comes here is on a megabuck contract and schooling, especially at international schools, can be expensive.  Make sure to ask the school about additional costs like uniform, textbooks and extra-curricular activities as well.   Some companies are happy to make school registration a part of your employment package.  It always pays to ask if your company is one of those.

What sort of after school activities are offered is a question parents often don't think to ask.  If your kids like to keep themselves busy and active with sports or chess clubs they may be disappointed with what is available here.  Unlike western countries, Saudi Arabia doesn't have a lot of out of school clubs for children to join - this is especially the case for girls.  So, if your daughter is a budding waterpolo player she may have to find some other recreational activity while here - unless she starts her own girls waterpolo competition.

Another consideration is location of the school from where you live.  The traffic in Riyadh at busy times can be horrendous.  Having to get your child up in the wee small hours just so they get to school on time is stressful for everybody.   If you live in a compound, especially one that is a fair distance from the school, compound management may not be happy to provide a bus run to your school of choice across town.  In this case you will have to sort out transportation yourself.  As women can't drive that job is left to Dad or a driver.

The larger international schools offer education from Pre-school through to Grade 12.  Having your younger children attend the same institution as the older ones can be an issue if you live a fair distance away.  A number of families on our compound found that the mothers were constantly in the compound vehicle taking children to, and retrieving them from, school.  This is because school hours for younger children end a few hours earlier than for their older siblings.  The parents made the decision, and I can understand why, not to leave the collection of any of the children solely to the driver.  So mothers, who are not allowed to drive in Riyadh, and tired youngsters would make the trek each afternoon back to school to pick up the older children.

Those are just a few of the things parents have to consider when it comes to the schooling issue for children in Saudi Arabia.  If you want to know more about your school of choice I suggest you contact the school directly as early as possible to ask all your questions.

As there are a large number of expats here, demand for the more popular schools is high, so I also think you should apply to register your child as soon as possible.  I understand the registration fee is non-refundable in most cases.  Best of luck in your search for schools in Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

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