Saudi women are finally in an era where it has become possible for them to enter uncharted territory, especially when it comes to employment. Earlier this week, the kingdom announced that - for the first time in its history - it will be hiring female educators to teach boys in 1,460 state-run schools across the country.
Speaking to Arab News, assistant director-general of education in Jeddah Suaad Al-Mansour said the decision reflects the Ministry of Education's aim at improving "the efficiency of the educational system and ensure that every child has access to quality education."
"This project will bridge the gap young boys used to face after moving from kindergarten to primary school. The classes at early childhood schools are specially designed to fit their needs at this age, and being taught by women will give them a more fruitful learning experience," she added.
The new step, which has been named "The Early Childhood Schools Project," means women will be teaching 13.5 percent of young schoolboys. This, in turn, will allow the government to save around $533 million on space alone.
Though this is the first time public schools in the kingdom hire female educators, private education institutions have long been doing that.
To help implement the change in its public education sector, the kingdom's General Department of Education in Jeddah Region "held workshops with leaders in the private sector to share their experience with public institutions."
In a statement to Arab News, Rajhah Al-Jihani, principal of the 177th Primary School in Jeddah, spoke highly of the new system saying it will hugely benefit students.
"In our school, we have a total of 6 classes for young boys, two classes for each grade. The ministry has given us 200 seats, and 180 seats are already occupied. It expresses the community's welcoming of the project," she added.
Maryam Al-Zahrani, an early childhood educator who will now be teaching a class of boys, said she was thrilled to be a part of this change. "I nominated myself as soon as the project was announced. I am happy with this experience," she explained.
Not the only major change made to primary education in the kingdom
Al-Mansour highlighted a newly passed decision to educate both boys and girls in the same school buildings, though in segregated classrooms. The rule comes under the "Early Childhood Schools Project" and covers children in kindergartens (aged 4-5) and pupils in the first three primary grades (students aged 6-8). The official stressed that though the students will be on the same campus, there will be no mixed-gender classes.
This year, the kingdom's Ministry of Education hopes to increase children's enrollment in public kindergarten schools versus private schools by 21 percent.
During the summer break, the government entity set up 3,313 kindergarten classes to accommodate 83,000 children. On Sunday, around 6 million students all around the kingdom started their new school year and many of them will be affected by the recent changes.
Some on social media speculated whether the decision to have boys and girls educated under the same roof would lead to a "loosening" in the kingdom's gender-segregation rules. While a few said they are rooting for that, others vehemently attacked the idea, saying they would pull their children out of schools that aren't segregated.
However, Saudi Arabia continues to implement its gender-segregation rule in academic institutions across the country. This applies to schools, universities, and colleges in addition to academies and workshop spaces.