Two weeks ago, Al-Hayat published a story titled, “The Ministry of Education prohibits schools from coordinating with lecturers, to protect students intellectually.” The story said that to protect students from any extremist or radical ideologies, the education departments of the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia banned schools from coordinating with any preacher to give lectures to students during a school day. According to the story, the Islamic Awareness Administration in the educational department is the body in charge of coordinating between the lecturer and the school and determining the mechanism of the subject to be taught and the timing of the lecture, etc.
Surprisingly enough, a week after this story was published, a local newspaper published another story according to which an educational institution honored a prominent preacher who is well-known for his controversial positions and views. This preacher is probably the most active on the media scene and the most interactive on Twitter. He was honored after he participated in a tour during which he gave a number of lectures. He concluded the tour with a lecture addressed to the employees of the educational administration.
The move of the Ministry of Education is not the first of its kind, as the call has been reiterated over the past years. Sometimes, schools were compelled to obtain official approval prior to any lecture, and other times the ministry would specify the scholars who are allowed to give lectures without prior permit. These would be members of the Council of Senior Scholars. Other scholars would first have to obtain an official permission from the relevant authorities.
The goal of all of these steps, procedures and reservations is to protect students from being affected by any extremist theses or militant opinions that may be raised by some preachers. It is an important goal that the ministry ought to give enough attention.
But in the course of its strenuous efforts to find appropriate mechanisms to avoid falling into the forbidden or into what it fears would result from some of those events, has the Ministry of Education ever thought about the importance or urgency of such mechanisms in the school environment? And how important it is to replace them with what is more important for the student? I do not want to confiscate the right of those preachers or lecturers to contribute to these mechanisms, and I do not aim at limiting these educational activities, as some might mistakenly think. However, since our educational system focuses on religious and Sharia sciences at the expense of other sciences, and as mentioned by Ahmed Alissa in his book about education reform, the number of individual religious class sessions students attend over 12 years of study is equivalent to 3,488 for those who choose the Sharia science section in the last two years of high school, and 2,976 for those who choose the natural sciences section. For its part, the mathematics section only gives 1,408 courses for students of Sharia sciences, and 1,792 for students of natural sciences. These numbers may go a little up or down depending on the study plans.
A study titled “How to Succeed in Educational Reform” has been carried out, focusing on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as a case study. The study showed that the proportion of religious courses in primary education in Saudi Arabia stood at 31%, followed by Oman with 20%, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait with 13%, while the natural sciences and mathematics received 20% in Saudi Arabia, 22% in Kuwait, 25% in the UAE and 26% in Oman.
If we compare this figure with Jordan, whose educational system is relatively successful, according to the study, we find that the percentage of religious courses is 10% versus 36% for math and science.
Oman and the UAE have started to gradually adopt a new educational system. In terms of the proportion of courses, math and science will constitute 35% of the overall courses in Oman and 29% in the UAE, in exchange for 12% and 9% for religious courses respectively.
Given our religious curricula, and besides that these have focused on core issues, Sharia and national tenants, they have focused on every detail of the subjects contained in the lessons. They have even tackled the details that could be extensively addressed in some of the religious lectures. They tackled the duty of both society and the individual in the promotion of virtue. They addressed chastity, desires and temptations, ways of prevention, accountability, repentance, the seriousness of sins and transgressions, the risk of smoking, the prohibition of listening to songs, musical instruments and singing, the seriousness of alienation, the personality of the young Muslim and the attacks he faces from cultural and media forums accusing him of promoting deviant ideas, false doctrines, impudent movies and the concept of Islamic media, etc.
In light of all those lessons and quantum of courses, is it not our right to wonder about the importance and necessity of activating those lectures and educational activities during the school day? Is it not more important to activate more educational programs and activities with a number of currently important issues? There are numerous issues to be tackled. But quite frankly, if these programs were limited to circulars and brochures and a matter of give and take in a traditional and boring way, if they were not activated and offered through modern methods characterized by creativity and which keep pace with the contemporary student mentality, through figures who are admired by a major part of the youth, then these programs will fail to reap any benefits.