Saudi Arabia is a different country with different cultural values and a government approach that may alarm the Western society. Although academic achievement is celebrated as it is in most of the civilized world, reading simply for the pleasure of doing so is not necessarily a high priority in Saudi Arabia as it is in some other countries. Saudi Arabia has produced some locally and internationally known novelists in spite of the intense censorship that has been the norm for many regimes across the centuries (americanbedu, 2009). Although things are starting ease a little, Saudi novelists have much greater limitations on their freedom of expression than their peers in the West. “Several Saudi writers prefer to publish their work outside the kingdom, not only for international exposure but also to escape censorship at home and the restrictions imposed on topics tackled in books that are published domestically” (Al-Shaei, 2012).
Considering the severe censorship that still exists in Saudi Arabia is crucial when there is any contemplation on the issue of getting more books into the country. Any cooperation among agencies outside the Muslim nation to share surplus or donated books has to take into account the nature of the materials that are to be shared. The censorship, along with other factors, drive the Saudi writers to publish outside their country. Conditions in the country are not exactly favorable towards the dissemination of reading material that is not government sanctioned. The first issue is, in fact, exposure; books are not well circulated on the local level and only reach a limited number of book stores. The next barrier is that the printing costs in Saudi Arabia are very high. Third, the content of books must not violate the cultural, intellectual, and social norms and is always subjected to censorship. Fourth, writers need more exposure (Al-Shaei, 2012)
There is another set of barriers when it comes to educational books that is different from the recreational reading limitations. Reading instruction in Saudi Arabia is whole-class instruction and the practice readers do not provide for individual students’ needs at the frustration and accelerated levels. There are no supplementary remedial or enriching materials are provided. (Al-Jarf, 2007). The gifted or accelerated students have nothing to augment their achievements, and the students that are struggling with their reading concepts have no access to corrective materials.
There are approaches that can be utilized to improve reading book access in Saudi Arabia, for both recreational and academic texts. The Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia decides the curriculum and what practice readers (called basals) elementary to secondary students will be exposed to. Most topics are familiar, they are boring and they do not expand the students’ world. The ideas are written in generalized statements and lack specific details (Al-Jarf, 2007). It is unclear whether this bland type of reading instruction is part of the government’s censorship or if the Ministry of Education is open to any progressive changes. Parents can approach this issue internally, and other Departments of Education can collaborate to issue updated texts that do not violate the strict standards that exist.
As for recreational reading, Saudi Arabia does have a public library system and a small variety of bookstores. “Saudi Arabia does have libraries but they are rather limited. The national library is the King Fahad National Library and the public library is the King Abdulaziz Public Library” (americanbedu, 2009). Collaboration between library systems in other nations can be created to share books with each other. Again, care must be taken because the Western world has many seemingly innocent books that exceed Saudi Arabia strict censorship laws.
- Al-Jarf, R. (2007). Developing reading and literacy in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh: King Saud University. Obtained September 12, 2014 from ERIC database.
- Al-Shaei, K. (2012). Saudi writers publish abroad to escape censorship. Al Arabiya News, April 11, 2012. Obtained September 13, 2014 from http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/
- Americanbedu.com. (2009). Saudi Arabia and the joy of reading. June 12, 2009. Obtained September 12, 2014 from http://americanbedu.com/2009/06/12/saudi-arabia.