Why the Intelligent Kids are NOT Making the Cut in Saudi Arabia’s School

There are a number of highly intelligent students in Saudi Arabia at all levels.  Sadly though there are concurrent factors which are continually impacting and preventing these students from making the cut in school.  As a result, these intelligent students are failing exams and in some cases not making the grades to successfully move on to the next term or grade whether in elementary, high school or university.  These Saudi students are not unique but the factors seem to be more predominant in the Kingdom which is negatively impacting on the natural ability and intelligence of these students.


To begin with the students usually start their school day in the Kingdom very early; oftentimes they may have to get up between 0500 or 0600 hours with school starting anywhere from 0700 to 0730.  Therefore it is not surprising to learn that many of the students come home, grab a quick snack or lunch and go to sleep.  It would not be so bad if they only took a cat nap or less than an hour’s sleep but in many cases they will sleep for two to three hours and sometimes more.  This in turn results in the student’s inability to relax and doze off to sleep at a decent hour which would correspond to a good night’s rest before getting up to start their school day.  Additionally because they came home and slept they usually do not get around to touching any homework or studying until after they have awakened from their long nap.  Not surprisingly before turning to their studies they like to chat on their mobiles or use the internet to interact with their friends.  Homework and studies are forgotten.  Before the student can realize where the time has gone it may be around 0300 hours.  This is when she or he turns to study and get any homework done quickly.  He or she will just begin to drift off to sleep when the alarm goes off and it’s time to start the school day all over again.  Of course the student is exhausted and therefore inattentive and unable to concentrate resulting in poor marks.


As I mentioned in the start of this posting, it is not that the student lacks the intelligence.  He or she is probably a very smart student and with the proper discipline and right regime could easily be at the top of the class.  Unfortunately the culture in the Kingdom further promotes the lack of discipline.  Any student who has to begin his or her school day by getting up at 0600 should be going to bed for a  good night’s rest by 2200 hours at the latest.  But when you factor in a culture where many shops and stores are not opened until 2000 hours or where dinner may not be served to a family until 2100 or 2200 hours the pattern of not enough sleep begins to be set.

 As a mother I can also relate to how a parent must feel seeing his or her child come home from school exhausted and not want to disturb them catching up on needed rest.  Yet in order to get the student better regulated and adjusted, stronger discipline should also be enforced.  I do not think the falling spiral of the intelligent student rests solely with the student.  The parent must also shoulder some of the responsibility too.

18 Responses

  1. I think what you have raised is such an important topic. We, as parents need to take up our side of the responsibility with dedication. I also find it very strange that children here are awake most of the night- out with their parents, shopping eating at fast food outlets. It may not be true for all but certainly for a greater majority.
    Carol, I need a favour. I am looking for some women- Saudi who find it hard to get jobs after graduation. I am working on a story of women unemployment here and if you could hook me up with somebody, it would be great Or any information you might have on it would be highly appreciated.

  2. It should also be noted that like most kids anywhere these days, some of the kids may not be out the late hours at the shopping centers, but will be in their rooms away from parents eyes with their mobiles and computers in use other than their studies.

    Sabah — please email me with more details and background!


  3. I think families must learn to work with the factors that result in this situation. Getting up very early in the morning is a practice that will continue, because the first prayer of the day- Fajr- is due at dawn.

    Sleeping in the afternoon is likely to continue because the extreme heat of afternoon limits the kinds of activities one feels like doing, especially after having awakened early for prayer.

    Speaking of activities, the lack of them can quickly result in lack of discipline.

    When I was living in the Kingdom, I did not discipline my kids as well as I would have in the States, because I had very little leverage. I could not say to them, “If you don’t do your homework NOW, Baba won’t take you to “malaahee” (the amusement park) on the weekend.” We had so few entertainments that I didn’t have the heart to restrict them in the name of discipline.

    Frankly, I don’t know why people don’t stay awake after Fajr (instead of going back to bed), and make use of an extra hour or two to do homework. Later in the day, after the noon meal, limit the nap, and do the day’s homework before the evening’s socializing.

    Bedtimes should fall eight or nine hours shy of the next day’s time of Fajr prayer. That’s my recipe! I’ve been wanting to suggest it for years!

  4. […] American Bedu,  seems like someone who likes to read a lot. […]

  5. Marahm,

    Although I do not have school kids at home, I am in the habit of simply staying up from fajr onwards. I find it much easier to simply stay up rather than go back to sleep for less than an hour before the alarm would go off. I use that morning time as my quiet time to enjoy a cup of coffee (and post my daily musing) before heading off to the office. Sure, I come home tired but manage to make myself stay awake until retiring at a decent hour. This, at least, is what works for me.

  6. Saudi students are falling asleep in class due to being dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn to get to school. Why? So that their fathers can take them. They need to finish early, by 1pm so that their fathers can pick them up on their way back home for lunch. Now, if women could drive, that might just solve a lot of problems here!

  7. Carol,

    I have an observation that may explain the issue you described. In Arabic there is no word that captures the meaning of discipline as you use the term. What you get are words that capture the other meanings like punishment and conformation. Even the word routine was not represented in Arabic until recently, where people added the English word to their dialects. The concept is definitely foreign to the Arabic world, Saudi Arabia included.

    This is not a new issue. I was in the same boat as todays kids over 30 years ago. I did not have the daily discipline to study. I only did well in exams because we cram studied for a month as we got close to finals. What was interesting is I learned to be disciplined on my own by my junior year of college in the US. I think that was part of what you can gain by going to school in the US. I can definitely show the impact of discipline as my grades improved by a full 0.5 grade points even as subjects got harder in 1 year.

    I think there is also another issue where intelligent kids may feel out of place in Saudi. The education system has an over reliance on memorization. This makes kids with analytical skills become under achievers by definition. The system is not focused on creating a Saudi Einstein.

  8. I’m still reading every post you’ve written and love how your blog is developing, but it took the topic of sleep(lessness) in the Kingdom to coax me out of shadows…
    I agree with “Saudi in US” completely on every point made, and I’ve seen Saudi (mostly male) students routinely fail miserably their first (and sometimes second) years in foreign universities until they finally catch on to the way the rest of the world does things.
    I can’t tell you how lambasted I am within our family circle for insisting on maintaining decent bedtimes for my kids. I begin with baths and toothbrushing at 6:30 pm so they’re in beds between 7:30 and 8. I even try to maintain regular patterns during short vacations, letting them wake and sleep a bit later though.
    This has socially excluded us from many family activities because other kids aren’t waking up until after Isha prayer many times!!! Not only did they miss at least 3 prayers, but they’re just getting revved up after my kids are sleeping.
    All my SIL’s kids have been busted for sleeping in class on several occasions. If it weren’t for the self-discipline required to maintain fasting and prayer, you’d think the concept of self-discipline was lost on the average Saudi, not just students.

    PS. My condolences on the passing of Max. I’m happy you were able to find a vet as I’ve not been able to do that for my old Maine Coon, Amira, who’s now 14+ yrs.

  9. Now i realize it is vacationi time still but I was kind of surprised to see the student-age visitors in my home still up, having not been to bed yet, as I was leaving for work this morning. Not surprisingly, they do not awaken until right before or when I come home from work around 6pm. All I can say it is going to be quite a transition back to the schooltime hours for them.

    Saudi in US: Thanks for highlighting what I (and probably others) see in action but have not “connected the dots” like you do. This is where the insider view such as yours teaches us who are here but still looking in to further understand why there are such differences.

    Yes; the rote memorization style of learning saddens me. I have been exposed however to some facilities where PBL (problem based learning) has been introduced which immediately pulls in and engages the student.

    SSW: Oh my gosh…I was fearing that you had thrown out your computer so I am thrilled to see you are here. Appreciate the condolences. You may want to try calling Dr. Majed to see if he can recommend a vet in your area?

    All, thanks for the enjoyable comments and dialogues.

  10. Miriam,

    Good point in that I am aware of a few families whose routines must start earlier than what they would overall prefer in order to accomodate driver situations.

  11. Salam, I have been having thi problem for years now and my oldist is only 3. Trying to get the sleeping patterns adjusted for arab visitng life is hard for parents. The parents that don’t seem to know the effect on the child by keeping him up all night and letting him sleep all day. I’ve been having really hard time recenlt with my daughter in the pre-school. Trying hard not to let her sleep more than an hour or half hour after school. If I mess up and she sleeps longer then i have to take her out of the hosue and do something to exhaust her for a good bedtime and then the next day start all over again. It’s frutraiting i have to fight this daily. Routine ROutine routine!!! It’s needed to keep one’s sanity! Not just in SAudi, all over the MIddle East, Lebanon and UAE where I’ve lived i”ve struggled with this!

  12. AmericanMuslimaWriter: Thanks for sharing. You bring up a good point on how to implement the healthy routine as well as trying to exhaust a child who slept too long earlier. I’m wondering if there are any natural remedies that would help? I’ve always heard about drinking hot milk; that is supposed to relax one and help them sleep. I’ve never tried it myself. Anyone else have any suggestions?

  13. I think this nocturnal culture exists with not just the saudi’s but with all arab guys. I have lived with arab guys during uni days. Basically there is no schedule.. neither for going to bed.. nor for meals in a day. That in turn reflects on their performance in class/life. It also has adverse affects on the health/development of individuals. The reason behind it all is the kind of upbringing they receive.. I am with disciplining the parents as well as the kids! .. going to bed on time .. n eating proper meals throughout the day!

  14. I’ve been around the ME region a lot and must say I have observed this pattern more widely among Saudis. I like that idea….Discipline the parents!

  15. my 5 year old has to get up at 6:30 am because the bus comes at 7:30. she does not come home until 3:30 or 4 and then has a quick snack and some downtime watching cartoons. if she has homework she does it before dinner and then after eating dinner, it’s time to get ready for bed. she must be in bed by 7 or 7:30. they do not take naps at school and i find this disturbing as this is a very long day for a 5 year old. i wonder if the schools that run on the american school system here in egypt allow nap time as i see it as a must.

  16. Wow Ilka! That is an intense schedule for a 5 year old! I’m sure as a mom this has got to be difficult for you too!

  17. It seems the problem of early school starts exists in the US also: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/14/opinion/14kalish.html

    Given the structure inherent in a day due to prayer times, I’m surprised that meal times and bedtimes seem to lack a similar degree of structure.

  18. Hi Jessie and welcome!

    You’re right; the same discipline and structure certainly does not apply to meal times and bedtimes. I wish it would, it would make life much simpler.

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