Updated Review of Saudi Textbooks 2023-24

Image of king Salman and his son MBS next to their quotesThis IMPACT-se report examines the textbooks of the 2023-24 academic school year to identify curricular changes. It pays particular attention to content highlighted in IMPACT-se’s study of the Saudi curriculum from previous years. The analysis includes a comprehensive review of 371 textbooks from the Saudi Arabian national curriculum, published between 2019 and 2024. This allows for an evaluation of both the latest curriculum developments and the evolution of educational content over the past five years. The study focuses on subjects of the Humanities, namely Arabic language, Islamic and Social Studies, Life and Family Skills, Critical Thinking, Geography, History, and Literature. The contents of the textbooks are analyzed according to UNESCO-based standards of peace and tolerance.

Negative portrayals of infidels and polytheists have been toned down and decreased in number, as well as the depictions of various practices of Shi’a and Sufism to be heretical. In continuing with trends highlighted in previous IMPACT-se reports, all problematic examples promoting jihad and martyrdom have been removed or altered. Considerable improvements in regards to gender have been made, though textbooks maintain a traditional approach to gender roles in society and at home. Significant amounts of homophobic content have been removed. However, cross-dressing is still prohibited. The curriculum reveals Saudi Arabia’s dedication to the Palestinian cause. Portrayals of Israel and Zionism have progressed further. Students no longer learn content which defined Zionism as a “racist” European movement that aims to expel Palestinians, or that Zionism’s “fundamental goal” is to expand its borders and take over Arab lands, oil wells and Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, Israel is still not recognized on maps, but in some instances the name ‘Palestine’ which featured across the entirety of Israeli territory, has been systematically removed. The Holocaust is absent from the curriculum, and Israel is still referred to as “the Israeli occupation” or “Israeli occupiers” in the context of the 1948 War. Several problematic examples still appear in some textbooks. Report

Updated Review of Saudi Textbooks 2022–23

Image: Mosque on the outskirts of Medina, Saudi ArabiaIMPACT-se’s latest review of the Saudi national curriculum evaluates textbooks currently taught in the 2022–23 school year, and looks at any changes made compared to previous editions. The report examined the entire humanities corpus over the last five years, totaling 301 textbooks, and including 80 textbooks for the current 2022–23 school year. Our findings reveal an overall trend of improvement and reform, building on the gradual removal of problematic content in Saudi textbooks since IMPACT-se’s 2020 report. A significant number of examples teaching harmful material on Jews and Christians, violent jihad, gender, and homosexuality have been removed, and negative portrayals of infidels have been moderated. The depiction of Israel and Zionism also shows some progress despite the existence of negative material, with an entire chapter containing harmful material on Israel removed. Textbooks criticize the ideologies of terror groups, and other concepts which as perceived as challenging the Saudi government. The importance of peace, tolerance, and respect for the Other are emphasized, reflecting a move toward moderation, openness, and peaceful development.  Report

Review of Changes and Remaining Problematic Content in Saudi Textbooks 2021–22

Image: Skyline of RiyadhIMPACT-se has released its 2022 annual update on Saudi textbooks, depicting an overall trend of improvement following major reforms since 2020. Whereas only a decade ago, focus was put on encouraging students to prepare for jihad and martyrdom, the majority of references to violent jihad justifying and praising violence and murder on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad have now been removed from the textbooks. And while some problematic content such as negative depictions of Jews, Zionism and Christians remain or have even been made worse, others, particularly instances of the kind of antisemitism based on modern European tropes, have largely been removed.   2022 Review

A FURTHER STEP FORWARD: Review of Changes and Remaining Problematic Content in Saudi Textbooks 2021–22Saudi Textbooks Show Dramatic Improvements

IMPACT-se — September 2021
This latest IMPACT-se report on the Saudi Curriculum shows further dramatic improvements to Saudi Arabia’s school textbooks, continuing the significant changes seen in mid-2020 and documented in IMPACT-se’s last Saudi textbook report. Over the last year, textbooks have been moderated in several key areas. The greatest changes have been made to lessons dealing with Jews, Christians, non-believers, and violent jihad; twenty-eight lessons featuring demonization of the Other and religious intolerance were removed or heavily modified. While problematic material remains in Saudi textbooks, these represent profound changes in these categories.  Report

Review of Saudi Textbooks 2020–21

IMPACT-se — December 2020
This follow-up report of Saudi 2020-21 textbooks by IMPACT-se shows that while many problematic examples have been removed from the curriculum, some still remain. The removal of the problematic content however, should certainly be seen as a significant improvement and an encouraging development, representing a step toward moderation. Our sense is that the Saudi kingdom, along with some other countries in the region, is gradually moving in a direction that could bring it in line with UNESCO-derived standards of peace and tolerance—contingent on whether the remaining issues are addressed.  Report

The Winding Road to a New Identity: Saudi Arabian Curriculum 2016-19
IMPACT-se — February 2020

This interim report on Saudi Arabia’s national curriculum covers 2016-19 textbooks, analyzed by IMPACT-se according to UNESCO-derived standards of peace and tolerance. The Saudi curriculum, at this stage, should be viewed as a reflection of the efforts being made to transform an exclusively traditionalist Islamic society into one that incorporates more Western economic values and its pre-Islamic heritage. However, while the curriculum tries to evolve with such inherent contradictory elements, the radical orthodoxy of the Wahhabis remains dominant. The narrowing of the gap between the kingdom’s modernization goals and their practical application—both within the curriculum and throughout Saudi society—is in the beginning stages of a work in progress. Interim Report  Executive Summary

Research Update Reveals Lack of Change in Saudi Curriculum
IMPACT-se — July 2008

The Saudi Arabian school curriculum has recently been at the eye of a media storm due to the controversy surrounding the Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia, and the pledge made by the Saudi government in 2006 to remove texts promoting intolerance, hatred and extremism from its curriculum by the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. In July, IMPACT-se completed an update on its 2003 report on the Saudi curriculum. Its findings are striking: Significant progress has yet to be made, in stark contrast with the Arabian kingdom’s effort to present itself as a leading moderate power in the Middle East and the proponent of the 2002 Arab peace initiative.

Full Research Update (pdf, 668 kb)

sa2003The West, Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabian Schoolbooks
By IMPACT-se — January 2003

This report, undertaken with the cooperation of the American Jewish Committee, presents the official Saudi worldview, to which school students, between the ages of 6 and 16, are exposed.