Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education (MoE) has approved a physical education program at girls’ schools starting in the coming academic year.
Education Minister Ahmed Al-Issa issued a decree on Tuesday, under which classes will be gradually implemented starting in the 2017-2018 school year.
Schools with the means to provide gyms of the required standard must also provide sufficient and qualified instructors suited for the task.
The move is linked to the goal of boosting sporting activities among all members of Saudi society, one of the targets of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.
The education minister’s decision includes the formation of a supervisory committee to implement the program, headed by Haya bint Abdul Aziz Al-Awwad, the undersecretary of education for girls.
The committee is to develop a document containing objectives and performance indicators for the program, in addition to preparing an interim operational plan and working with universities.
The decision comes after three months of intensive studies by a specialized team commissioned by the minister to review all directives and recommendations in this regard.
Lina K. Almaeena, a Shoura Council member, said the move was one of the benefits of the Vision 2030 and National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 initiatives.
“I’m very happy with the issue of the decree and this is a historic day for all Saudi girls in the Kingdom,” she said.
“I’m very thankful to the MoE and Princess Reema bint Bandar, deputy at the General Sports Authority. I’ve been working for over a decade in the private sector and private schools and this is a historic decree for all schools, public and private.”
When asked whether the decree was timed well, Almaeena said: “I’m an optimist and rather than looking back, we should all look forward. We don’t have the logistics, location or setting and a decree such as this is not as easy as many believe it is. They certainly took their time to review all recommendations in terms of technicalities for implementing health education programs in girls’ schools.”
Sultan A.J., a banker and a father to a 7-year-old boy and 5-year old girl, said he was “extremely optimistic” about the news.
“I now know that my daughter will have the same opportunities as my son when it comes to sports-related activities in school,” he said.
“I already have my young daughter in an afternoon school program to keep her active and she loves playing gymnastics and swimming. With this decree I’m sure my daughter will finally enjoy her time in school along with her school friends and build a good understanding as to what being healthy is all about.”
Fitness and health trainers have also welcomed the decree, with many having provided private classes to young girls for some time. “Keeping young girls active not only helps with their physical shape but also enables them to think more toward a healthier lifestyle,” said Nouf Hamadallah, a certified health and fitness trainer in Jeddah.
“My two daughters love to dance and stay active; I’m fortunate that my girls’ school has a physical education class but it’s a shame others don’t. With this decree, more young girls will have the chance now to grow to love something that is new but will help them keep healthy and stay strong as they grow. Not only do my girls learn from me, they have the opportunity to learn from their school as well; now all Saudi girls can have that same chance.”
Many Saudis and expats living in the Kingdom have shown their support for the MoE’s decree — but there are some who do not agree.
“I don’t think it’s right for a young girl to take a sports class in school, she will grow harsh and rough, which goes against her delicate nature,” said Mohammed M.S., a longtime banker. “I won’t deny my daughter’s participation in any (physical education) related activities in school but I will draw a line somewhere.”
Many young girls in Saudi Arabia are big fans of local soccer teams and US basketball teams as well as some legendary tennis players.
Maymoona Sultan, a ninth-grade student in Riyadh, loves playing tennis and has attended a summer camp over the past two years.
“I hope my school opens a tennis class since the game is not only very active, it’s extremely fun to throw a ball around and test your strength,” she said. “My mom told me about the decree and I’m happy that more girls will get to understand about sports and health like me.”