Unlocking Human Potential
Erika Widén discusses the challenges for Qatar to adapt and implement the International, British, American and French curricula while preserving their national identity, and the country's journey from a hydrocarbon economy to a knowledge based economy.
Qatar has advanced tremendously in less than a decade towards building its capital city Doha at a fast pace and at the same time implementing an effective education system. The challenge for Qatar is to identify the best international educational practices and adapt them to meet its national needs while preserving their identity and language.
It is an ongoing process as Qatars education system is quite unique. It offers a wide range of curriculums and standards to cater for a dominant and diverse expatriate community.
EDUCATION FOR A NEW ERA
Law No. 25 of the year 2001, states that education must be compulsory for all children from the start of elementary education at the age of six until high school. The law was put in place to ensure all Qatari and expatriate children receive an adequate education. It has also spurred the opening of new schools on all levels.
Geared mainly towards expatriates, Qatar provides education for toddlers (age four to five years) in kindergarten and pre-school. However, it is anticipated that within the next few years, it will become popular to enrol Qatari children at the age of three.
The establishment of the Supreme Council of Education (SEC) by Emiri decree 37 in November 2007 set the education reform in motion. It led to the transformation of all government schools to independent schools, known as Education For a New Era.
In 2011 the transformation was complete converting a total of 179 government schools, where the SEC took over the responsibility from the Ministry of Education.
Independent schools are government funded and designed to provide more innovative, child-focused education and allows parents to choose the school they feel is adequate for their childs requirements.
The SEC is responsible for setting the national education policy and linking this policy to education goals, plans and programmes, in accordance with the countrys overall objectives. The National Development Strategy 2011-2016 (NDS) underlines the importance of private schools in the educational development of Qatar, and currently there is a new law being drafted on private education.
The NDS also highlights the importance of raising the standards of education for private and independent schools to international standards, which according to the NDS is crucial to attract a more skilled workforce.
The SEC announced two initiatives to improve the education standard of all private schools. All private schools are required to obtain a recognised national or international accreditation as per the Qatar National School of Accreditation (QNSA); in addition to a professional license made mandatory for all school teachers to ensure that qualified teachers are being employed.
The SEC recently released the Seventh Annual Statistical Report, which provides statistics of schooling aspects for the academic year 2010 to 2011 with comparative data from 2008 to 2011.
According to the report 40 to 42 percent of teachers are dissatisfied with salaries. The percentage of teachers with a qualification less than a bachelors degree is five percent, with a bachelors degree 70 percent and higher than a bachelors degree is two percent. Twenty four percent of the teachers are Qatari, 59 percent Arabs and 17 percent non-Arabs.
According to a study released by the Permanent Population Committee, there are an increasing number of Qatari students today that choose to study in private schools. The study analysed Qatars education from 1980 to 2008 and highlighted that the number of Qatari students has multiplied eightfold in the last three decades.
In response to a high number of complaints from parents in regards to the increasing amount of tuition and other fees, the SEC has tightened the regulations.
The SEC has announced recently that any school intending to hike their tuition fees must apply for an approval from the SEC. A director of the private school office at the SECs Education Institute, Fawziya Abdalaziz Al Khater told a local newspaper recently, No school is permitted to collect a single riyal from students without notifying our office. For imposing any additional fee, they should get special approval. Any school violating this rule will face stern action warned the SEC official.
Any school intending to increase its fees in any particular area must request the 2012-2013 academic year form issued by the SEC and provide a justified reason in order to be granted to increase any sort of fees.
TheEDGE spoke with Salem Rashid Thani Al Mohannadi, a Qatari who is the founder and school chairman of the Middle East International School (MIS) and the schools principal Dr. Theodore Josiha Haig.
MIS was first established in 1994 in a villa and at the time there were 80 students enrolled. The need to move to a proper educational location came with the influx of student enrolees and the demand for quality education, therefore, it was only benefitting to move into a better and larger school premises to accommodate the continuously increasing number of students each year, said Thani Al Mohannadi.
We are looking at more than 100 new students each year, however, as we have recently moved into our new school premises this year, the new student enrolees have significantly increased to more than 300 plus and this comes with the growing number of expatriate families arriving in Qatar in recent years, he added. Due to the heavy foreign workforce entering the country each year, opening new schools seems to be a profitable business. Most schools in Doha provide on their website the tuition fees, extra charges and payment schedule. The schools available in Doha providing the same curriculum and similar services differ drastically in their yearly fees. For example pre-school tuition may start at QR4890 to QR30,980 a school year and there is currently no method to formally measure whether schools with a higher fee are offering a better service and quality of education.
MIS started with 80 students more than a decade ago and now hosts more than 850 students, and many remain on waiting list. There have been students on the waiting list since the beginning of the school year [September] and until now, we still have students who are on standby for admissions, said Thani Al Mohannadi.
Dr. Haig told TheEDGE, MIS follows the American curriculum, especially the California standard based curriculum. Students can assess online courses from the Florida Virtual School. For the past three years the Amideast Yes Kennedy-Lugar International Exchange Program has awarded our students scholarships. Students selected spend one year in America, living with a host family and attending a US high school.
Thani Al Mohannadi also added that MIS students actively participate in both local and international activities and events, including the Qatar/Doha Debates and the international and local Model United Nations (MUN).
When asked about the regulation of increased tuition fees Thani Al Mohannadi said, The SEC has been regulating the tuition fees of our school, as with other private schools here in Qatar. The percentage of increase is relatively based on the approved rate of increase by the SEC.
In 1995 the Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his consort Sheikha Moza bint Nasser established Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) with the mission to support the nations journey from a carbon to a knowledge based economy.
In 2008, Qatars National Vision 2030 was released and it highlights how Qatar will use its vast revenues from hydrocarbon resources to transform into a modern knowledge-based economy. There are eight branch campuses of international universities situated at Education City, which is the education campus of QF. Besides offering a higher education, under the umbrella of QF there are also some primary and secondary schools.
Qatar University is the only wholly state funded tertiary educational institurion of its kind in Doha and has been operational since 1973. Recently it was announced by a decree, issued by the SEC, that Arabic must the official language of turition at the university.
At first the decision caused a wave of confusion around the campus and in the wider Doha community as students at the university concerned felt this would affect the standard of education. And questions where asked of what would happen to the non- Arab students. However, it emerged the decision is applicable only for new applicants. The older students will continue English as the language of instruction until graduation. The local and Arab community has praised the decision, as Qatar strives to preserve the countrys Arabic identity.
Sheikha Moza bin Nasser Al Thani,while addressing the Forum on Advancement of Arabic language at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC), encouraged Qatar University to continue to work on advancing the students skills in English through various programmes and noted that English proficiency should be mandatory upon graduation rather than admission.
TheEDGE spoke with Morton Schapiro, the 16th president of Northwestern University during a recent visit to Doha, and he expressed his view on Qatar Universitys switch from English to Arabic. As an economist it is nice to have choices, people have different preferences and the market reacts to different types of human capital accumulation, as it does back in the US or any other country. If everybody produced the same product in the same way, I dont think that would be good for the economy at all. Choice is good.