Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Boys and girls together in the same school. What looks like a real revolution that shatters the old Saudi tradition of the absolute division of the sexes has started with the permission given by the Committee for private and foreign education to 15 primary schools for girls to admit even male children.
This is an experiment, as it is currently limited to private schools, the first three classes and outside of lessons. "The boys - explained, the committee chairman, Muhammad Hassan Yousif to Arab News - can mingle with the girls in all school facilities, garden, courtyard and coffee shop and even join them in the morning ceremony."
The official added that the Ministry for Education - which is part of the Committee - has given the schools texts to be distributed among children and added that some schools have already begun to expand the initiative. Difficulties, in his view, could emerge for pupils who after the third year will enter the regular primary schools for boys. "They will have only male teachers and this could create problems for those who are accustomed to female teachers".
According to the assistant undersecretary for education, Saad Al-Fohaid, the experiment will not be extended, for the time being, to state schools.
The initiative, despite all its limitations, is a clear sign of King Abdullah’s desire for cautious modernization. It comes on the heels of the inauguration, on 23 September, of the avant-garde King Abdullah University Science and Technology (KAUST). Wanted by King Abdullah in person and situated in Thwala, 80 kilometers from Jeddah, in the north, the University (pictured) provides for the simultaneous presence of male and female students. These, as well as teachers, have fewer constraints in clothing and can drive a car, activities forbidden to women, without incurring the punishment of the muttawa, the religious police, who are not allowed on campus according to the university statute.