5 Whether KSA Should Mandate English Language Learning in School Name Affiliation


Whether KSA Should Mandate English Language Learning in School






Whether KSA Should Mandate English Language Learning in School

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a long history of teaching the English language as a foreign language. However, the debate as to whether English language learning should be mandated still goes on, and there is no consensus. Currently, English is taught as a core subject in both public and private schools (Mahboob & Elyas, 2014). English is the medium of training for organizations such as Saudi Aramco, Saudi Airlines, and the Saudi Telecommunication Company. The MoE’s manual for teaching ESL stipulates that the goal is to allow the public to attain competencies to communicate satisfactorily in spoken and written forms according to needs. However, there are concerns that t mandating the teaching of English will introduce alien ideologies, with some considering it the language of infidels.

Proponents of mandating English learning argue that there are benefits of introducing a new language early among learners. Sociolinguists hold that early learners have a better chance of learning a new language than adults (Alsairi, 2018). Language learning among young ones is accompanied by physical action and an environment to which they can relate the language. However, this is not the case among adults who lack a physical response to the new language, implying the absence of motivation to learn.

The MoE has undertaken notable initiatives to entrench English learning. For instance, Royal Decree 171 of 2014 mandated the introduction of English as early as grade 6 (Barnawi & Al-hawsawi, 2016). One subsequent decree introduced English as a core subject in the 4th grade, and there were efforts to enhance English education at the secondary school level. However, implementation has often shown that actors are apprehensive over fears that overindulgence would diminish local language and knowledge.

Mitchell and Alfuraih (2017) observe that the introduction of the English language curriculum in 2004 coincided with teaching the language at the elementary level sought to attain transfer of knowledge and the Islamic faith. The authors further observe that in 2006, the Ministry of Economy and Planning termed English language teaching as one of the Kingdom’s development strategies. The recent Tatweer Project (2008-2012) considered STEM and English Language Teaching (ELT) critical to attaining a knowledge-based economy and competitive workforce. In a survey in 2016, Mitchell & Alfuraih, 2017) reported that 70/% of English teachers perceived themselves as requiring English proficiency classes. This situation was interpreted to represent a need to build the capacity of the teaching fraternity.

There have been efforts to ensure that English learning fits the local context. Alsudais (2017) notes that the Department of Curriculum design under the MoE provides an English curriculum that promotes Saudi Arabian society’s beliefs, values, and traditions. Textbooks used as often referred to as English for Saudi Arabia. The English curriculum aims to allow students to acquire the competencies required in diverse real-life situations. However, limited time for instruction, shortage of learning resources, and insufficient teaching methods have impeded the teaching of English.

Mandating English in KSA has to consider the capacity of teachers to deliver instructions. Shah et al. (2013) note that non-Arab English teachers in Saudi Arabia face significant challenges. They are ill-equipped to handle particular pedagogical and sociocultural issues that emerge in the process of teaching. Some textbooks also do not reflect the learners’ cultures and, coupled with the teachers’ lack of cultural awareness, can lead to provocative situations. The failure for content to fit into the local context leads to unmotivated learners and is the cause of low achievement in English learning.

These articles demonstrate that there is a case for mandating English learning in KSA. The commonly cited benefits are to improve the competencies of students in the language, prepare a future competitive workforce and impart skills fit for various life situations. While some of the articles assert that content has been localized and there are agencies to ensure that English for Saudi Arabia fits within the cultural context, others express concern over incorporating alien ideologies and the lack of cultural awareness among non-Arab English teachers. What comes out is that mandating English learning would demand a comprehensive program that particularly empowers English teachers to enhance their capacity to teach effectively.


Alsairi, M.A. (2018). Earlier is better: learning English in Saudi Arabia. English Language Teaching, 11, 1, 141-149.

Alsudais, A. (2017). Teaching English as a foreign language: the case of Saudi Arabia. European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies, 5, 9, 18-27.

Barnawi, O.Z & Al-Hawsawi, S. (2016). English education policy in Saudi Arabia: English language education policy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: current trends, issues, and challenges. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-46778-8_12

Mahboob, A & Elyas, T. (2014). English in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. World Englishes, 33, 1, 128-142.

Mitchell, B & Alfuraih, A. (2017). English language teaching in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: past, present, and beyond. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 2, 317-325.

Shah, S.R. et al. (2013). Factors impacting EFL teaching: an exploratory study in the Saudi Arabian context. AWEJ, 4, 3, 104-123.