Saudi students, parents and educators are preparing for the new academic year, which begins September 1st.
Several changes will occur including the introduction of English language courses into the fourth grade public school curriculum, pay raises for private school teachers and tuition increases.
Shaher al-Jeddawi, programme director at a public school in Jeddah, said introducing English language courses in fourth grade is a major step "towards raising the level of education in general".
"The project this year applies to 4,200 schools out of the kingdom's 33,000 existing schools," he said, adding that preparations began two years ago when English classes were introduced in the fifth grade.
Next year, English will be introduced in all schools, al-Jeddawi said.
He said the "Schools of the Future" initiative will also begin this year with the opening of 300 "model schools" throughout the kingdom. According to al-Jeddawi, educators in these schools will emphasise the use of laboratories and modern teaching methods in line with technological advancements.
They will also give particular attention to athletic facilities, libraries, cafeterias and recreational activities. The project is scheduled to be expanded into other regions in Saudi Arabia, he said.
"This fulfils the Education Ministry's goal of developing the educational sector," he said, noting that there are 400,000 new students this year, bringing the total number of students to five million.
The Saudi government also mandated that private schools raise teacher salaries this year, under a programme titled "Uniform Employment Contract for Saudi Teachers".
The programme aims to raise the proportion of Saudi teachers in private schools and encourage Saudi youth to work in these schools. The majority of Saudi teachers seek positions in public schools because of the job security, according to Mustafa Badr, a superintendent at a private school in Jeddah.
"The Human Resources Development Fund will finance 50% of these raises," he said. "The minimum salary will be 5,000 Saudi Arabian riyals ($1,334) with a transportation allowance of 600 riyals ($160). The measure applies to over 30,000 male and female private school teachers."
"This step is very important considering that teaching is one of the most appealing professions among Saudi youth because of the nature of the work and the extended leaves teachers get during the year, particularly for female teachers who represent 85% of all working women in Saudi Arabia," Badr added.
Schools that do not increase salaries risk sanctions from the Labour Ministry which could deprive them of government services, such as approval of visas for foreign teachers, he said.
Saudis must constitute no less than 20% of the total number of staff for the school to receive financial support from the Human Resources Development Fund, Badr said.
Jumana Badr, a mother of three children who attend private school, said tuition and the high cost of school supplies are a major headache for her and her family, especially with this year's increase in teacher salaries.
"The run-up to the academic year is one of the most difficult periods for us, especially since the start of the academic year comes on the heels of the month of Ramadan," she said.
Badr estimated that stationary and other school supplies for each of her three children costs 1,000 riyals ($267) at the least, and tuition this year rose from 10,000 riyals ($2,669) to 13,000 riyals ($3,469) for a middle school student and from 8,000 riyals ($2,135) to 10,000 riyals for an elementary school student.
Badr said she enrols her three children in private schools for a variety of reasons.
"First, I am not sold on the quality of education in public schools and second, I do so because of social tradition, given that the majority of our relatives and acquaintances enrol their children in [private] schools," she said.
"Private schools have many attractive qualities, including the commitment of their staff and teachers, the extra languages and subjects they teach, their teaching methods, sports facilities such as stadiums and pools, and recreational activities such as field trips," Badr said.