Learning Neighborhood, Saudi Arabia

  • Date published:
    23 October 2015

Programme Overview

Programme Title Learning Neighborhood
Implementing Organization Ministry of Education
Language of Instruction Arabic
Funding Government
Programme Partners Government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector
Annual Programme Costs US $1,400,000 for consumable materials plus US $500,000 for trainers’ and teachers’ part-time wages
Annual programme cost per learner: US $110
Date of Inception 2006

Country Context

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich in oil resources and is one of the world’s major exporters of oil. Its natural resources have allowed the country to develop rapidly in terms of its population, economy and education system. The population has reached 28.83 million (World Bank, 2013) and grows by 1.9% every year. Around 30% of the total population are under 14 years of age (UNESCO, 2014). Adults aged between 30 and 40 years also make up a large proportion of the population, and play a big part in stimulating Saudi Arabia’s economy. Saudi Arabia has a high annual GDP growth rate of 5.1% (UNESCO, 2014). But progress has not been confined to the economy. Saudi Arabia has also made improvements in education, especially the education of adults. The female adult literacy rate, in particular, has improved significantly. UNESCO data show that between 1985 and 1994 the female literacy rate was below 60%. It has since increased to over 90% in 2011 (UNESCO, 2013). Saudi Arabia also boasts high youth literacy rates in both genders, at about 98% (UNESCO, 2013). Nevertheless, there are some people in Saudi Arabia who do not participate in formal education. For that reason, the Ministry of Education launched a community-based adult literacy programme in underprivileged communities throughout Saudi Arabia. The programme, called Learning Neighborhood, offers educational and vocational training in non-formal settings to support lifelong learning among less-privileged women. The aim is to empower these women, educationally, economically and socially.

Programme Overview

The Learning Neighborhood programme has been running since 2006 and was established to meet the needs of local communities, and, in particular, of those women who are less privileged and have fewer opportunities to access education or vocational training. The programme supports women in acquiring skills that help them to find work and to contribute to the economic and social growth of their families and communities. The project was piloted in Jedda City in 2006, in communities noted for their poor environmental, educational, and economic circumstances. The Ministry of Education engaged the communities through television, the internet, newspaper advertisements and publications, and advertisements at mosques and health centres. More than 1,000 learners were enrolled not only on reading and writing skills training courses but also on other courses offered by the programme, including computing, English, tailoring, photography, cooking, flower arrangement, and handicrafts.

Apart from the literacy and vocational courses, numerous life skills courses are offered by the Learning Neighborhood programme. All the courses are free of charge and anyone in the community can attend. The courses last between one and nine months, and usually run for 15 hours per week, depending on the subject. The programme’s main focus is on literacy, and additional reading and writing courses – in Arabic, English or French – are offered to help learners to learn a second language. All the courses are take place in public schools within the community so that learners have easy access from their homes. After the pilot phase, the Learning Neighborhood programme was rolled out to other communities. It now runs in 77 places throughout Saudi Arabia, with 19,288 adult learners currently enrolled in the programme.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to:

  • Reduce the rate of illiteracy and raise awareness of literacy learning to contribute to economic and social development in poor communities;
  • Create a model for cultural-based literacy relevant to the real lives of participants and to the economy and labour market;
  • Expand the concept of adult education from literacy to lifelong learning;
  • Build closer linkages between the adult education programme and national social development plans;
  • Promote a culture of volunteerism to contribute to the development of a collective sense of the value of solidarity and mutual assistance among members of a community;
  • Emphasize the role of the community in adults’ education;
  • Empower women culturally, socially and economically, and in terms of health, and improve their employability skills;
  • Support the idea of learning in order to work and live with others and to deal with social problems; and
  • Change the consumerist habit that leads to the misuse of income and resources. The programme aims to develop the skills of community members to better manage their resources through workshops on recycling, budgeting and financial planning.

Programme Implementation

Approaches and Methods

The literacy lessons are set by the main curriculum department at the ministry, in cooperation with the adult education department. Some literacy courses are set up by education district supervisors. However, vocational courses are organized by professional teachers and trainers in cooperation with the technical education and vocational training department. In the literacy class, peer-teaching and cooperative-learning approaches are used to teach literacy. Learners improve their literacy skills by participating actively in class. The lessons focus on developing reading and writing skills, which are taught through different subjects in workshops, classes, and computer and language labs. The aim of the literacy programme is to involve learners who are newly literate in reading and writing programmes in order to promote habits of lifelong learning. This is intended to prevent them from lapsing back into illiteracy.


Various materials are used in the literacy course to support teaching. Textbooks and other written materials are developed by trainers, suppliers and the Ministry of Education to reflect the needs of the learners. Learners have access to the school library and can make use of computers in order to look for articles about specific subjects. Other subjects and workshops have their own facilities and training equipment.

Facilitators and Trainers

The Learning Neighborhood programme is facilitated by volunteers, and full-time and part-time workers. The Ministry of Education is responsible for recruiting qualified teachers, such as those working in public schools or adult education centres, as well as people who are working in the subject field or are retired from work. All teachers at the Learning Neighborhood programme are either experienced in the field or are subject specialists. Otherwise, they are trained by the Department of Adult Education on how to engage adults in the classroom. Teachers are expected to teach around 15 learners per class. Some are paid US $1,200 per month and others US $20 per hour, depending on the type of programme.


The Learning Neighborhood programme is offered to women in their communities. Participating learners do not need to have any qualifications. However, each course or workshop has its own admission requirements. Admissions policies for literacy courses vary according to the profile of the learners. Some learners are not familiar with the alphabet while others already have some basic literacy skills. To join the courses at entry level, learners register at the centre an application form. They give evidence of their educational level and take a test to assess their literacy level. This can be either a written test or a skills test, depending on the course the learner is registered for. The programme is popular among women with varied educational backgrounds.


Learners are assessed at the end of the course and receive official certificates issued by the ministry or by other government departments, depending on the subject. Learners are evaluated through monthly assessments, which are followed up by education supervisors. Learners in vocational courses are also evaluated by supervisors and take theoretical and practical tests. At the end of the course, the certificates help women to generate income to support their family. Most of the learners who participate in the Learning Neighborhood programme successfully improve their quality of life.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The Learning Neighborhood programme is monitored and evaluated on a monthly basis using three measures: enrollment, learner success and programme improvement. The latter is evaluated by requesting the facilitators’ and supervisors’ opinions and follow-ups on participants’ satisfaction and skills acquired during the lessons. The Ministry of Education conducts surveys and distributes questionnaires to identify need in the community on annual basis. Those surveys are distributed through children in public schools to their parents or circulated in places to which most people have access, such as health centres, mosques and shopping malls. Requests from learners are reflected in the selection of courses in each community.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievement

The programme’s main achievements include:

  • Total enrollment of 55,646 learners since it was first implemented in 2006;
  • Implementation of 182 programmes to promote reading and writing skills, 941 vocational workshops, 67 life skills programmes and 5,560 awareness lectures;
  • Rehabilitation and refinement of human capacity through education, training, and socialization;
  • Development of human capacity, politically and economically, and in the community;
  • Enhanced sense of community through environmental, cultural, religious and health-related courses;
  • The development of skills which help people to find a job, and improve their community and quality of life;
  • Support and promotion for a culture of volunteerism among members of society;
  • Increased interest in maternity care and early childhood care through training and awareness programmes, as well as nursery facilities for mothers so that they can participate in the courses; and
  • Some learners were able to find jobs in the private sectors while others started their own businesses or started to work as trainers in the programme after their course.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The programme was successfully implemented in many communities, while others are requesting support to implement it in their neighborhood. However, a number of challenges remain:

  • Financing is one of the challenges, particularly as the project expands, creating a need for more well-qualified teachers and trainers;
  • Lack of media involvement in raising awareness of the programme;
  • Lack of capacity-building programmes for managers who are working in adult education;
  • More efforts are needed to promote environmental education in relation to sustainable development;
  • Strengthening of institutional capacity is necessary to benefit learners at all levels;
  • More emphasis has to be put on issues of social cohesion and poverty alleviation in order to contribute to their development in poor communities;
  • Lack of support from private sectors; and
  • The need to develop, and promote the importance of, a culture of volunteerism to support the community.

Lessons learned from the programme include:

  • The study of the social and economic situation of the trainees and the identification of their needs helped the competent authorities to organize targeted support;
  • It is very important to support marginalized women in any society;
  • There is a direct correlation between women’s awareness of their rights and duties and the reduction of problems in the family; and
  • Literacy is the basis for any step towards sustainability.


Many government sectors have assured the Learning Neighborhood programme of their full, sustained support. The main management of the programme is undertaken by the department responsible for women’s education in the Ministry of Education. However, the programme also has the support of a range of other government departments and ministies, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and private sector bodies, which contribute to the programme by granting prizes for trainees, and providing training equipment and other resources. The Red Crescent offers training in first aid and NGOs provide volunteers and give lectures on life skills. Other partnerships have been formed with business leadership organizations (providing non-profit loans and project management support to trainees who complete the programme) and an investment bank (to supply loans with low profit).



Ms. Foziah Abdullah Alsuker
General Director of Adult Education
Ministry of Education
Amar Bin Alass Street, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Telephone/Fax: 00 96611 4050365
Email: g_ad_ed_dep (at) hotmail.com
Website: https://www.moe.gov.sa/Arabic/PublicAgenciesAndDepartments/BoysEducationAgency/adult/Pages/default.aspx
Twitter : @g_ad_ed_dep

Last update: 25 August 2015

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.).. Last update: 25 July 2017. Learning Neighborhood, Saudi Arabia. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 24 September 2021, 22:44 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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