Saudi Arabia: Literacy and the Written Word


As a child I cherished the nightly routine of my mother reading to me before I went to bed.  She would select a children’s book and depending on the size would either read the entire book in one setting or a chapter an evening.  My mother would read the book imitating the voices of the different characters with great afflictions and enthusiasm.  She read the gamut from Grimm’s Fairytales to Rebecca of Sunny brook Farm to Black Beauty and beyond.  Those nightly stories only cemented my own love to read as I grew older, learned my alphabet and how to pronounce and understand words on my own.  Of course I continued this tradition with my son and the same is done with my grandsons.  Books are treasure and expand the imagination and the curious mind.

Youth literacy rate is defined as the percentage of people between 15 – 24 years of age who can, with understanding, read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life.  According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Institute for Statistics, the total percentile for boys and girls combined is as follows:

Year    Value

1992   87.86

2000   95.91

2004   95.85

2009   97.60


Whereas for adults (male and female) counted as the percent of 15 years old and above is:


Year Value









The good news is that the literacy rates are increasing.  But an underlying question however is whether Saudis actually read books?

I think Saudi woman sums up the lack of reading by Saudi nationals in a blog post she wrote back in May 2008 on the subject.  The overall majority of Saudi citizens simply do not choose to read whether in Arabic, French, English or other languages unless it is the Holy Quran or some other type of an Islamic book.

Reading non-fiction or fiction remains an anemethia.  The majority of Saudi children do not experience their mother or father reading books to them as a young child.  They will experience having the Quran read to them and learning verses of the Quran as a small child.  Nothing wrong with that.  Yet I feel the lack of having books read and then reading them later in life fails to wake up and stimulate the mind to the fulleset.

I have also spoken to Saudi students abroad and the teachers who teach them.  As part of their English language learning experience prior to beginning  University, the Saudi English student is expected to read assigned books and both discuss the book and write a book report.  This has been a difficult task to the student who has not had the experience of growing up  with such tasks as part of his or her education or life.

Most all-Arabic bookstores in Saudi Arabia are text books, Qurans and Islamic books.  Jarir bookstore does offer more variety and not only with books.  It also carries many electronic supplies too.  Jarir offers a variety of books in both Arabic and English.

In concluding this post, I’d really like to hear from Saudis.  Were they read to as children?  What did their parents read to them?  How often and what kind of books do they like to read now?  Yes, I know that many magazines are popular but I’d like to hear about the books.  As a Saudi, do you feel comfortable and confident to write a review about a book you have read?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: