Last week, the Saudi Ministry of Education issued a number of official directives in a bid to restrict school trips and prohibit extremists from exploiting them, as part of the implementation of a new framework for school trips.
The decision by Dr. Abdullah Obaid, the Minister of Education, indicated he had received a letter from the Minister of Interior, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, containing a number of remarks to the ministry’s apparatus on school trips and visits.
The directives stressed the importance of “confirming the trip’s program is clear and that is has been reviewed by the concerned authorities. The school will also have to provide assurances that trips will not be modified. Those guilty of altering a trip after it has been approved will be punished.”
The Education Minister’s directives are indeed very clear. The violations we hear about and witness has many implications. Here are two examples:
In a secondary school in Mecca, a teacher decided to organize a trip for 30 male students, without the administration’s knowledge or approval. The teacher only informed the activities’ supervisor about the time, date and location of the trip. When the latter visited the venue, he didn’t find anyone there. The following day, he learned the students had spent their time in the teacher’s own house.
Without judging the teacher’s intentions, the reckless disregard of the laws and regulations of the Ministry of Education, in these critical times, raises a number of questions. It requires a further analysis of the motives.
The second example is about female students. One teacher has indicated that, in recent months, it has become increasingly prevalent to attract young girls, aged 18 and less, to religious lectures. Older females are forbidden to attend, under the excuse that the presence of their sisters or mothers will embarrass the girls and stop them from expressing their opinions. Religious studies teachers on a volunteer basis usually organize these sessions.
Irrespective of the flimsy justifications offered to cover up such suspicious acts, parents bare some responsibility and should be more cautious about who to trust, especially without any official papers from the school.
Of course, I am not suggesting that every religious gathering, outside the official framework, is suspicious.
I apologize for not including any quotes from male and female students on this issue. But this is a sensitive subject and young people are reluctant to come forward. But some of the stories on the misuse of school trips are undisputable; these trips might start with encouraging students to fight in Iraq and end by insisting they distribute illegal leaflets.
The other important point in the Minister’s directives is the one which stated the need to immediately “communicate with the minister of education regarding any suspicions on school trips and, if necessary, give a detailed report.” This last sentence shows the Ministry’s seriousness in stopping in putting an end to this phenomenon which exploits young people and ruins their dreams. I call on the Ministry to assign a special telephone number and an email address that it will distribute across schools in Saudi Arabia , in order to facilitate reporting any suspicious individuals or trips. Not every one has the courage to declare their name in such a situation.