Think Independent: Qatar's Education Reforms

Article excerpt

In 1995, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his wife introduced an initiative to reform Qatar's higher education arts and sciences program by creating the Qatar Foundation. In stark contrast to other Arab nations, Qatar began a mission to embrace a world-class education, believing it to be a gateway to a stronger economic and political future. In subsequent years, Qatar's higher education reforms have inevitably trickled down to lower education, but, despite efforts over the past several years, Qatar's primary and secondary schools' policies and curriculums are still flawed. Newer reforms are just beginning to address problems such as schools' lack of independence in budget, hiring, and instructional decisions, with hopes of encouraging more Qatari students to pursue higher education. The results of this improved nationwide curriculum, Emir al-Thani believes, will not only bring Qatar a more advantageous role in the world economy, but will also make it a more influential force in combating extreme Islamic influence.

Before the most recent reforms of 1995, Qatar's primary and secondary schools underwent vast changes to make Qatari students more internationally competitive. Despite drastic changes, however, these schools did not operate under ideal conditions. The Ministry of Education, which oversees all schools in Qatar, had to approve all important decisions concerning education and did not give primary and secondary schools the independence they wanted. Many schools did not have the power to hire and fire employees as they saw fit and operated under fixed, inadequate budgets. In addition, students learned from official textbooks, studying the same material as every other student despite having different interests and requiring different teaching methods. Because of these problems, students lost interest in pursuing higher education, and, as a consequence, they are failing to contribute to Qatar's economic and social prosperity and are becoming more susceptible to extremist influences. The most recent reforms in secondary and primary education seek to address this failure.

In November 2002, Qatar established four branches of education. The primary branch, the Supreme Educational Council (SEC), established the underlying principles of autonomy, accountability, variety, and choice for new Independent Schools. It was not until 2004, however, after the implementation of the reforms in higher education, that the first of 12 Independent Schools was established. Unlike other schools, Independent Schools allow for teachers to make changes independent of higher authority as long as the changes fall under the general guidelines administered by the SEC. Independent Schools are thus funded by the SEC but have increased autonomy and are encouraged to make necessary changes to their curriculums. Schools now run their own budgets and have the option of hiring and firing staff as they please. Unlike in the past, parents can now choose the schools to which they send their children. …