For an oil company, Aramco often gets involved in some odd projects: public health, medical research, agriculture, home loans. None of them, however, has had a more important effect than its participation in and contributions to education in Saudi Arabia.
One of its more direct contributions has been the construction and maintenance of 37 schools in the kingdom's Eastern Province: 26 elementary schools, 11 intermediate (24 for boys, 13 for girls), plus eight built in Saudi Arabia by the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company, one for boys and one for girls at each of the company's four pump stations. Although originally planned for the education of employes' children, these are public schools which become part of the national school system as soon as completed and are open to all children in the region.
Indirectly Aramco also helps send college students abroad for study by financing, but not administering, a scholarship program for 60 students who have no connection whatever with the company. Students receiving this aid are chosen by the Ministry of Education.
A third contribution is made through grants to institutions. Aramco, for example, recently donated $100,000 to the two-year-old King 'Abd al-'Aziz University of Jiddah, a semi-private university only partly subsidized by the government. Other grants have been made to such institutions as the American University of Beirut, International College, the Beirut College for Women, and refugee schools.
Not the least of the company's involvement in education are its own programs of training and education for employes, programs so broad that at one time one out of three Saudi employes was enrolled.
These programs got their start in the mid-1940's when the world's suddenly vociferous demand for oil created an equally compelling need for numbers of skilled workmen. To meet it Aramco established what it calls Industrial Training Centers in Abqaiq, Dhahran and Ras Tanura. In these centers workers could attend classes in the particular academic and commercial subjects which each man's supervisor believed would help him in his work (Aramco World , January-February, 1965).
With the quiet but steady expansion of basic public education in the Middle East, however, the centers have to make continuing adjustments. Where Aramco once had to put through vast numbers of young men who lacked a rudimentary educational background for employment, the company today can now demand—and get—employes from all over the country who have at least ninth-grade-level schooling. This means that Aramco's training staff can now concentrate on smaller groups at a higher level, and offer intensive courses of richer content.
Instituted recently was a seven-year English program which brings learners up through high-school-level proficiency in this language of the international oil business. Mathematics, taught in the "new" mode, begins at third-year level and goes through the eighth. There are courses available in typing, bookkeeping and commercial math, and for Saudi Arab employes slated for technical careers within the company, there are science courses spread over a five-year span. A trainee can spend three years on general science, then concentrate on biology, physics and chemistry, the latter taught through the laboratory-discovery "chemstudy" method.
Courses such as geography and history, though having no direct application to oil producing and refining, are also offered in the training centers, since, for one example, employes who are scheduled to go abroad for advanced study under company sponsorship often need such purely academic subjects to satisfy basic admissions requirements.
The training staff offers courses to supervisors too; the most comprehensive fills 160 hours, requiring a participant's full-time attendance for an entire month, during which the employe is exposed, to cite some examples, to safety talks by experts, case-history problem solving, and the innovative "sensitivity training" all aimed at improving management techniques and developing supervisors.
The wholesale improvement in public education has drastically changed the role of the company's Industrial Training Shops too. With government vocational schools in Hofuf, Riyadh, and Jiddah now turning out plumbers, masons and carpenters, the training shops, which used to teach only the basic vocational skills needed for the petroleum industry, can concentrate on instruction in more sophisticated skills. One 12-month course, for example, trains Saudis in the maintenance and repair of certain complex, highly sensitive refinery instruments which need constant attention by experts.
Saudi employes who show exceptional promise are often given opportunities for advanced trade courses or higher education abroad, usually in the United States. Those selected for this program receive a year of preparatory training in the U.S. before entering a vocational institute or junior college where they apply themselves to such fields as diesel technology, accounting, aviation mechanics, electronics, applied engineering, or the liberal arts.
Those who qualify both by reason of their performances at the first stage and career plans as determined by the company, go on for degrees in such subjects as petroleum engineering, political science, hospital administration and public health. At any one time Aramco has about 150 of its high-potential Saudi Arab employes studying abroad, all expenses paid, at such U.S. institutions as Bucknell, George Washington University, the University of Michigan and Stanford.
In all, during 1968, more than 2,000 Saudi employes studied at industrial training centers and shops; nearly 200 took supervisory and management courses in Saudi Arabia, and 180 were assigned to study and train in all fields in the United States during the year.
Naturally, many thousands of the Saudi Arab citizens Aramco has trained have stayed on as more-productive- and, presumably, happier employes. But other thousands have left taking their skills and experience with them, some to become business entrepreneurs themselves, some to simply work elsewhere in the kingdom. The result, if accidental, has been a wide diffusion of vocational and commercial skills and academic knowledge in Saudi Arabia, and another step forward for a country to whom education is as valuable as its oil.
Brainerd S. Bates is a staff writer in the Aramco Public Relations Department.