How Critical Thinking Is Taught in Qatari Independent Schools' Social Studies Classrooms: Teachers' Perspectives

Article excerpt

Abstract

Qatar is in the midst of a massive systemic education reform Education For a New Era. A key aspect of the reform is the expectation of teachers to develop students' critical thinking skills. In this paper, an open-ended questionnaire and follow-up interviews revealed several aspects of critical thinking including how it is defined and taught, where in the curriculum does critical thinking flourish, and challenges and limitations of the teaching of critical thinking from the perspectives of social studies teachers in preparatory and secondary Qatari independent schools.

Keywords: Critical thinking, Social studies education, International education

1. Introduction

In 2001, the Qatari government became alarmed that the country's educational system was "not producing high-quality outcomes" probably as benchmarked by international league tables (for example, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)) (Brewer, et al., 2007, p. iii). In response, the Qatari government approached RAND, a nonprofit research organization and requested a comprehensive examination of Qatar's K-12 education system. RAND was given the task of investigating the existing educational system providing recommendations and options for building "a world-class system that would meet the country's changing needs" (Brewer, et. al. 2007, p. xvii).

Upon the completion of their analysis, the RAND put forward three options. These are as follows:

(1) a Modified Centralized Model, which upgraded the existing, centrally controlled system by adding or improving the basic elements; (2) a Charter School Model, which decentralized governance and encouraged variety through a set of schools independent of the Ministry and which allowed parents to choose whether to send their children to these schools; and (3) a Voucher Model, which offered parents school vouchers so that they could send their children to private schools and which sought to expand high-quality private schooling in Qatar (Rand, 2007, p. xxi).

In that same year, 2001, Qatar introduced a comprehensive national education reform policy Education For a New Era (EFNE) that consisted the development of government funded independent schools operated by individuals who are under contract from the Supreme Education Council (SEC). The first twelve government-funded Independent Schools opened in 2004 with the goal of turning Qatar's vision of developing a world-class education system into a reality.

The Qatar government elected to support a charter school model that decentralizes education and encourages the development of independent schools. The model is based on the four principles of 1) autonomy for schools, 2) accountability through a comprehensive assessment system, 3) variety in schooling alternatives, and 4) choice for parents, teachers, and school operators. In response, Qatari officials have developed a two-pronged approach to reform: (1) the establishment of government-funded Independent Schools over a period of some years and (2) the implementation of annual assessments to measure student learning and school performance (SEC, 2009). The first twelve government-funded Independent Schools opened in 2004 with the goal of turning Qatar's vision of developing a world-class education system into a reality. Currently there are 167 independent schools in Qatar.

EFNE has drastically changed the educational landscape in Qatar by creating a supply of high quality schools that build human capacity through training, integration of educational policies with wider social policies, continuous change and innovative pedagogical methods that promote inquiry, discovery and critical approaches (Brewer, et al., 2006). Furthermore, EFNE has an interest in providing qualified employees to the Qatari workforce that requires the development of particular skills such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills (Stasz, Eide, & Martorell, 2007). …