DOHA — A report by the Qatari government’s Evaluation Institute on the country’s education system shows that students at state-run independent schools may be better than those at privately owned and financed schools.
The report found 68 percent of students and 80 percent of parents in Qatar to be satisfied with the education they receive.
With the highest per capita income ($87,478) in the world in 2013, Qatar was ranked 36th worldwide on human development index, the highest among all Arab countries. As part of its strategy to move towards a knowledge-based economy, the Qatari government has been investing heavily in education, most recently spending 15 percent of its record $57.9 billion budget for the 2013 to 2014 financial year to education projects such as Qatar’s Education City and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). The most recent report by the Evaluation Institute tracks some of what Qatar is getting for its investment as it tries to move toward a knowledge-based economy.
Qatar’s schools are a mix of different models. Some are international schools, which are privately owned and follow international curricula with most subjects taught in English; private Arabic schools, which are privately owned, teach mostly in Arabic and follow the state curriculum; and independent schools, which are state-owned but self-financed and independently run.
Independent schools are the cheapest of all three schools with an annual student education expenditure of $2,281—compared to the Qatari average of $3,577. Those schools, however, reported the highest student involvement, longest teacher training, best student-to-teacher ratio and better access to Internet and computers than their peers.
Although independent schools had more students in each classroom (23 students per classroom) than private and international schools (20 and 18 respectively), the student-to-teacher ratio of nine students per teacher at independent schools was better than the Qatar average in 2012 of 10 students per teacher.
Independent schools also had the highest number of auditoriums, science and computer labs, with 89 percent of students having Internet access and a ratio of seven students per computer (compared to 19 students per computer in international schools). The report also showed the highest involvement of parents and students in independent school activities.
Despite the many positive features of independent schools, independent school teachers may be underpaid despite their experience and training. They had more teaching experience—11 years—than their international school peers and had received over 43 hours of developmental training a year (the Qatar average is 41 hours). Only 23 percent of teachers said they were satisfied with their salaries, compared to 85 percent in private Arabic schools.
Despite the mostly positive indicators of this report, some parents and teachers pointed out that there is still room for improvement in independent schools, namely in the improvement of students’ English.
In 2012, Qatar’s independent schools switched their main language of instruction from English to Arabic, despite English being the main language in the country’s most prestigious universities and compulsory for any job in Qatar. (See related story “Zig-Zagging Education Reform Leaves Qatari Students Behind.”)
The language debate still seems to dominate much of the discussion at Qatari schools. “Most students don’t have a strong base in subjects like English and Math,” said an English teacher from Amina Bint Wahab Independent School, who preferred not to be named. “It is very important to make sure students are taught well from the beginning in order build on their knowledge in these subjects.”
Another teacher at Ali Bin Abi Taleb School pointed out that Math and Science are no longer taught in English in some independent schools, describing it as “a step back in the education system in Qatar.”
“It is very important for students in Qatar to know how to speak in English, as this is how the education system in Qatar will improve,” he said, adding that their knowledge of English would help them access international universities.
Waleed Al Dorar, whose daughter attends the Tunisian School, called for better support for struggling students. “Teachers are supposed to help students on one-on-one basis when they see a student struggling in a specific subject at school,” he said.
“They should change the way they teach. It should be more interactive.”
Contributing to this report:
Nadine El Sayed