The ongoing, comprehensive overhaul of the Saudi schooling system saw a raft of reforms introduced at the start of the 2021/22 academic year. At the heart of initiatives related to secondary education is the drive by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to prepare students for both tertiary education and the labour market. Changes to the curriculum and teaching methods are designed to support enhanced student-teacher interactions and, in turn, student outcomes. Meanwhile, structural changes to the academic calendar will make for a more rigorous school year, intended to boost instructional time and provide students with more opportunities to nurture a lifelong-learning mindset, and apply and practice new knowledge and skills.

Teaching Hours 

The traditional two-semester school year in Saudi Arabia was replaced by a three-semester structure in 2021/22. The school calendar now contains a minimum of 183 teaching days – around 29 more than under the previous structure – with each semester lasting 13 weeks. A higher number of contact hours is intended to enhance student performance, knowledge retention and skills development, while promoting engagement with extra-curricular activities, volunteer work and e-learning initiatives.


Central to Vision 2030 is the economy’s transformation into one driven by knowledge, information, technology and innovation. Areas like ICT, aerospace, military and biotechnologies are targeted to lead that transition and provide high-quality employment. Therefore, a strong education system capable of cultivating the necessary skill sets and intellectual capacities is vital. The MoE and its partner entities subjected the national curriculum to a two-year evaluation that started in 2019 in order to identify gaps and weaknesses. As part of the review, international best practices, scenario analysis and other indicators of student performance and instruction methods were used to propose recommendations to improve the learning environment and delivery of quality education.

Fit for Purpose

As a result, the inaugural year of the three-semester system included the introduction of a new curriculum intended to shape youth into citizens better equipped to contribute to the Kingdom’s economic aspirations and boost its global competitiveness. Students are now presented with five education pathways for secondary education: general, computer science and engineering, health and life, business administration and sharia. The general learning pathway will be available at all schools, while the remaining four carry limited availability and are offered at specific schools.

There is also a strong focus on digital literacy and a significant e-learning component. The MoE partnered with leading international e-learning companies to launch the Flexible Learning Pathways platform, which offers specialised education and training programmes across a plethora of sub-categories.


Also new to the high school curriculum are critical-thinking classes – compulsory for grades nine and 10 and optional for grades 11 and 12. Pockets of resistance to this element of the redesigned curriculum have surfaced, with some parents, teachers and religious leaders raising concerns that it could instigate a divergence from traditional Saudi values. However, the government believes that cultivating critical-thinking and problem-solving capacities among high school students is key to preparing them for the rigours of university research, as well as also in fostering innovation and a greater entrepreneurial spirit among the population.

The new subjects and systems present pedagogical challenges, necessitating continual training for teachers and fresh, innovative approaches in the classroom to raise student engagement and attainment levels. It will be important to effectively adopt the use of digital learning tools, complementing the focus on e-learning and contributing to the Kingdom’s efforts to establish a more modern and competitive approach to education.