Education in QATAR
Mike Weston, Head Teacher at Sherborne School in Qatar, explores some of the key points that you need to know about education in the gulf state.
All areas of development in the State of Qatar are being driven forward by its 2030 Vision, put in place to help the country move from an economy that relies solely on its hydro-carbon resources to one that is technology and knowledge-based. Education plays a central part in this far-reaching blueprint for the nation. There is a firm belief that Qataris should have access to the best education available.
All schools in Qatar are regulated by the Supreme Education Council (SEC), divided up into departments with specific responsibilities. International schools, for example, are the responsibility of the Director of the Private Schools Office.
Qatari children, and those of other Arabic-speaking nations whose parents are government employees, can attend Qatari independent schools. There are about 200 of these schools, and they make up the equivalent of the state-funded education sector. The schools are divided into three stages: primary, preparatory (or middle school) and secondary. At the secondary level, schools specialise in the subjects offered, for example accountancy or engineering. All of these schools are single-sex only. There has been quite a lot of development in these schools, especially in the use of new technologies, as the academic bar is raised and standards improved.
The examination system is overseen by the various departments within the SEC, and Qatari children must attend school for 12 years (KG-12), leaving at the end of the equivalent UK Year 12. Children must leave school with a Certificate of Education, showing success in a number of subjects.
International private schools
Children who do not qualify for entry into the state sector schools (and Qatari children whose parents do not wish to send them to state schools), must attend fee-paying international private schools. There are over 150 of these schools, and the curriculum choice is wide – from Finnish to Filipino, British to Japanese – and is tailored to the needs of the particular ex-pat parent and pupil body they serve.
For those with very young children, there are well over 100 nurseries and kindergartens from which to choose. The leading British schools admit children at age 3 into pre-school classes, so that the emphasis can be geared more effectively towards early learning and not just playing and pastoral care.
British curriculum schools
There are some 55 British curriculum schools in Qatar, with the vast majority of them situated in Doha. Schools in Al Khor, Dukhan and Mesaieed tend to serve only the children of those parents who are employed in the State’s oil and gas industries. Of the 55 or so British curriculum schools, 15 only have been accredited to the British Schools of the Middle East (BSME), and fewer still have been inspected by the UK Department for Education’s Ofsted and given the seal of approval as a British School Overseas (BSO).
Affiliation to BSME, COBIS (the Council of British International Schools) or CIS (the Council of International Schools) is important, because membership demonstrates that a certain level of education is provided, and that important areas (such as Health and Safety, Safeguarding and Child Protection, and Safer Recruiting), all meet or exceed the required standards laid down by these prestigious organisations. All schools in Qatar must also be inspected by the Qatar National Schools Accreditation department.
"....the vast majority of the teachers will be mother-tongue speakers...."
It goes without saying that teachers are any school’s most valuable asset, and so those responsible for recruiting them to the leading schools in Qatar will ensure that they are properly qualified (to degree level and with a recognised teaching qualification), and experienced in their field of expertise. In English-speaking schools, the vast majority of the teachers will be mother-tongue speakers, and in the main will come from the UK. Nowadays, with the number of English-speaking schools rapidly increasing, teachers are becoming much more mobile and more international in their outlook. It is not unusual, therefore, to find teachers from across the English-speaking world at work in schools in Qatar. Parents and children can be sure to hear an accent they recognise!
All children must be taught Qatar History from Year 1 to Year 9. It is important that all children gain an understanding of the country they are in as temporary residents. The syllabus covers not only the history and progress of the state, but also considers some of the cultural aspects of the society. Additionally, many British curriculum schools will offer pupils the chance to study Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Because the weather is virtually always sunny and warm (although the winter months can be relatively cold), the day starts early. Most schools will expect their pupils to arrive by about 7.00am. The school day will then run through until any time between 12.30pm and 3.30pm. As you’d expect, the younger the children have a shorter the day, however, some nurseries do operate extended hours for working parents.
Most schools offer extra activities as part of the education package, but there are also plenty of privately-run activities outside schools as well. Schools will typically run this extra programme in the hour or two after the end of the school day, and the range of options is usually quite extensive: from sailing to horse-riding and from football to ballet.
Travelling to and from school
One of the significant changes in routine for many parents is the early start to the day, and consequently the early bed times as well. There can be a lot of traffic on the roads during the school run hours, both before and after school. Options for getting to school are improving now, and many schools have buses that serve them as part of a private contract between the parents and the bus operator. Most often, a bus route will take in several villa compounds or will stop at specific places, in order to collect children. Some of the routes can cover quite a distance, which does add time at both ends of the school day.
The majority of children will travel to and from school by car, often as the only passenger in the car. However, more and more parents are now sharing the daily school run, and it is not unusual to see a parent gather up a whole group of friends at the end of the day.
Tuition fees in Qatar are regulated by the SEC and schools do not have authority automatically to increase them every year. Generally speaking, the older the children, the higher the fees: in the leading schools the range is from QAR 25,000 per year in the primary sector up to QAR 67,000 per year in the secondary sector. There are often extras that are charged for too: examination fees, textbooks, individual music lessons, stationery, uniforms, and so on. It is not unusual for internationally recruited professionals to negotiate to have school fees included as an important part of their package of benefits.
Images courtesy of Sherborne Qatar