May 19, 2014 / 3:25 PM / in 4 years

Saudi Arabia approves $21 bln five-year education plan -SPA

DUBAI, May 19 (Reuters) - King Abdullah has approved a five-year plan worth more than 80 billion riyals ($21.33 billion) to develop Saudi Arabia’s education sector, state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

The plan includes building 1,500 nurseries, providing training for about 25,000 teachers and establishing educational centers and other related projects, Education Minister Prince Khaled al-Faisal was cited by SPA as saying.

The 80 billion riyals are in addition to what is being allocated annually to the education ministry, SPA said.

The state education system’s traditional focus on religious and Arabic studies means Saudi has struggled to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers that it needs.

King Abdullah had launched an overhaul of state schools and universities, part of a raft of reforms designed to ease the influence of religious clerics, build a modern state and diversify the economy away from oil to create more jobs.

Saudi Arabia’s 2014 state budget projects a modest 4.3 percent rise in spending compared with last year, the slowest rate in a decade, although the ministry’s own budget shows continued to heavy spending on social welfare projects.

An increase in welfare spending has helped buy social peace in the kingdom and spared the world’s top oil exporter the kind of upheaval that toppled governments in the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab Spring” that began in 2011.

The ministry’s budget includes funds to build 465 schools and 11 hospitals and a 3 percent rise in education spending to 210 billion riyals. Infrastructure spending is set to jump 25 percent, with money earmarked for new roads and railways as well as upgrades of ports and airports.

$1 = 3.7502 Saudi Riyals Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Catherine Evans

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