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It is hard, working as I do at *insert name of extremely large female only university in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia* to avoid the conclusion that education is happening despite the young ladies in question attending tertiary education rather than because of it.

It is a matter of some debate as to whether the whole edifice was in fact set up as an impediment to the cause of feminine education. I don't know if I would go that far but to say that I believe the university is a long way from achieving the international accreditation it seeks is something of an understatement.

To start with, the University is vast. The student population is two thirds the size of my home town, you would have thought in this case that administrative efficiency would be paramount right?


The Oleagenous Oligarch's Daughters are admitted but no testing was done for some time. Classes seem to rise and fall with the waxing and waning of the moon. I have been teaching for coming up to 6 weeks now and I am already on my third class due to numerous cock ups, false starts and seemingly arbitrary decisions on the part of the Powers that Be. I am most excessively weary at the moment due to compulsory cover duty, there are not enough teachers to cover the numbers required. Apparently no one in charge thought to calculate numbers of staff required before the commencement of the academic year. Not all of the staff are even qualified or experienced.

Let's move onto impediments of teaching. The classrooms are equipped with expensive audio visual equipment to ensure a modern learning experience. Most of it doesn't actually work. The e-podiums are quixotic, I never quite know how to log into them and regrettably the university authorities have chosen materials which require a lot of singing and dancing technology, when we would be far better served by whiteboard markers and a cd player.
The university library is a vast edifice, having cost, I think. a sum running into the billions to build, it does not contain a single book. While I can appreciate that, owing to the peculiarities of the country I am in, books must be vetted I would have at least expected a trickle of books or at the very least a system Whereby only certain students can access certain texts (for example medical or art students). Naaaaah, Saudis don't read (actual quote from a student).
Another vexation is the amount of paperwork. I spend 20 minutes taking the register because I have to do the main copy as well as supervising the students signing their name in the official book. I have to ask girls who come in late to wait because I have to be careful about drawing a line at the bottom to mark latecomers. I am dreading getting the spreadsheets for marking as I fear this will also eat up time. However the admin must be done just so, or I will get fired. Never  mind that I am experienced and I got a good report for my observation, the admin is apparently more important than teaching and learning which I own I find somewhat trying.

There are cultural factors at play. One of the joys of my job is being able to have conversations about our different cultures. This is somewhat circumscribed at the moment, as I am working in a government institution I must abode by the law of the land. Politics and religion are Out as they would be anywhere, yet I am not allowed to answer a simple question about my religion of lack thereof. Topics such as festivals of different countries, including such international things as birthdays, are haram (non Islamic y'see, a teacher was fired last year when her students threw an impromptu birthday party for her...). I may not discuss music (as it's a distraction from God, a prohibition which the students themselves have no qualms whatsoever about ignoring), I don't draw on the board as I am not sure if stick men would break the ordinance on not showing the human image (but the King's portrait everywhere and on banknotes is ok for some reason which actually makes me rather angry - it is a direct violation of the rules). I am in another country as a guest and I must respect its rules, I am happy to - but when the rules are freely trampled on by the girls it does seem a little hard that I  have to be stricter in obeying them than they are. I don't like not being able to have a free discussion and open their horizons. I cannot speak of voting or driving and any anecdote talking of 'my friend' has to have female pronouns.
The final vexation comes from the fact I am teaching young women who are at best immature. An erudite - Saudi-  taxi driver last week told me that i have to take off 5 years of age from any Saudi, this means I am teaching a lot of 12 and 13 year olds with the equivalent behavior patterns. If I am explaining something I may well be interrupted by 'Teacher can I go bathroom'? even if I am explaining something. I am constantly being badgered to let them leave early. If students are a certain number of hours late then they are forbidden from taking their exams to allow them to proceed and a frequent inquiry is the number of absent hours so they can calculate how much they can bunk off (I refuse to divulge...). I regularly have to confiscate phones and other accouterments. And this is a higher level. At lower levels one student even told her teacher 'we don't come to learn, we come to see our friends'.

And yet I don't blame them. In a society where a woman is not a legal adult and is denied the opportunity to develop is it any wonder they are overgrown children? When their horizons have been so narrow it is natural for them to be obsessed with trivia.
When the alternative is being bored at home or waiting for Dad to arrange a marriage, who would not choose to take any opportunity to get out? Some are already married with kids (or expecting them) and it might be the only time they can get out. i supect also there is a finishing school element. If we are to believe Indian matchmakers men are increasingly after women with education (but not as much as men obviously) and so it would not surprise me if this is the case in the Arab world.

But I continue to be surprised. Before the break we were doing a project on the hopes and dreams of the Saudi people, most of the girls wrote essays leaving no doubt of their feelings - they had dreams. They wanted them and they wanted to play a part on building a bteer country. Most felt keenly that men often stopped them doing what they want and were unambiguous in decrying this.

If I am to be honest, I am here for the money and that is what stops me quitting this frankly ridiculous job. But I also try to focus on these on the whole likable young women, and reflect that I am a window to the world. Some of the young women I feel could be really remarkable characters, they have to be. They have to battle with so much more than I have ever had to, and if I can inspire even one girl to change this appalling country, well!


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February 2017


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