Health & Education
Education & Research
Education is the key to freedom, as Aldous Huxley said, and the foundation of personal and social development. Therefore, education serves as the key component of the National Vision’s program to make Qatar an advanced nation by 2030 through economic, human, social, and environmental development. Education enables individual development and maximizes capabilities for the common good. Despite its educational reform process being little more than a decade old, Qatar has achieved remarkable and tangible successes since the enactment of compulsory and free education in 2001. Qatar initially directed the RAND Corporation to reform its kindergarten to high school education system.
Through the Qatar Foundation (QF), the country has built “Education City,” which features local branches of such renowned American schools as Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Texas A&M’s School of Engineering, and other Western institutions. The main sources of educational data and indicators are the Supreme Council of Education, founded in 2002, and Qatar University and the QF. The Education and Training Strategy 2011-2016 lays out various national initiatives, including “Education in the new era,” devoted to enhancing schooling stages from kindergarten to 12th grade, developing and diversifying higher education at Qatar University, expanding educational activities through the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development, and establishing the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). The latest figures available from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics report 725 schools up to secondary level in the country, with 220,000 students enrolled and being taught by 21,572 teachers. In total, there are 125,000 students with about 60% enrolled in private schools, and 40% in public schools. The ratio is reversed at university level, where of 17,250 students in university, or about two-thirds, are enrolled at state institutions. More males than females are registered in K-12, but slightly more female students than males are enrolled in university, while 62% of all students are non-Qatari.
The Sidra tree (Ziziphus spina-christi) serves as QF’s logo, an apt symbol of deep roots and hospitable branches. The tree is native to Qatar and for centuries has been a living symbol of community, indeed of intellectual community, for poets and philosophers would gather in its shade to discuss everything from religion and politics to natural sciences. As Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of the QF, said upon its establishment in 2003, the Sidra tree “reminds us that the goals of this world are not incompatible with the goals of the spirit.” As with health initiatives, the move to increase educational opportunities has borne results. According to UNESCO figures compiled for Arab Literacy Day celebrations, Qatar had the highest literacy rates in the Arab world in 2013, with 95.45% of adult women able to read and 96.51% of adult males. Policy planners faced many initial challenges in implementing changes in education and training, including a lack of human resources and the need to cultivate the right cadre, the absence of an institutional framework for coordinating educational policy with employers and future labor market needs, and finally, the need to raise a new generation of research-minded academics in various scientific fields.
The current phase in education reform and expansion aims at improving the theoretical and practical capacities of students in the early stages, bearing in mind the decades of research that proves the importance of head start programs for pre-school children. Qatar is also providing increased educational opportunities at the secondary school level and linking school choices with future labor market needs, development plans, and special events such as the 2022 World Cup. Plans call for specialized training programs to be developed and implemented to fulfill the needs of various sectors of the economy.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
There’s an old joke in New York of what to say when a visitor asks how to get to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice. Qatar is applying the same logic to the question of how to become Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell—research, research, research. No university can be considered world class without research, which is particularly true of medical schools. Thus, the QF through the Qatar National Research Fund promotes basic research in a number of fields, part of the government’s program to allocate 2.8% of GDP to research.
Saad Al Muhannadi, President of the QF, told TBY how it “recently launched its first PhD program, entitled the Qatar Foundation Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Energy Sciences. This competitive doctoral program is a collaboration between QF R&D and Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), the first university to join the program, and will provide its graduates with an excellent platform for a successful career in the field of energy sciences.” Qatar’s policymakers and administrators do not set science in isolation from the arts and humanities, but take a holistic approach. This all-encompassing vision has created synergies of its own, so that after creating the Aspire Zone to cultivate sports and athletic competition, an offshoot was Aspetar, the region’s first specialized orthopedic and sports medicine hospital. The Sports City project itself is helping develop a fit and enthusiastic population to fulfill the vision of Qatar as a knowledge-based society—healthy minds in healthy bodies. The various foreign universities include ones specializing in the arts, such as Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar), whose design school created the logo for the National Vision, among other achievements. Asked where the school’s art and design graduates will fit into Qatar’s economy five years from now, Allyson Vanstone, VCUQatar Dean, told TBY, “Our alumni are already spreading their creative vision through their work as entrepreneurs, and as designers in public and private organizations. We have alumni working with the Qatar Museums Authority, Mathaf, Museum of Islamic Art, Al Jazeera, Fitch, Qatari Diar, Qatar Foundation Capital Projects, and various ministries.” Funds are also being generously applied to environmental research as one of the key pillars of development. Besides running public awareness campaigns to help cut the per capita use of non-renewable resources such as water, and implementing Green Building practices, the QF has gone a step farther. In partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, it has set up the Climate Change Research Institute and Global Climate Change Forum in Doha. The new institute will research topics such as water systems, ecosystems, food production, and sustainable urban development. Qatar really does have its eye on the future.
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