Shura Council convenes over Qatar’s efforts in education development

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A student and her college friend cooperating while using laptop during a class at college classroom.

The Shura Council held its regular weekly session, in “Tamim bin Hamad Hall”, headed by HE Speaker of the Shura Council Hassan bin Abdullah Al Ghanim to discuss major educational issues. Beyond quality control and upholding excellence, how close are the government, teachers and youth to being aligned on the future of education in Qatar and globally?

In the presence of Minister of Education and Higher Education Buthaina bint Ali Al Jabr Al Nuaimi, “the council discussed the most important educational issues, especially in terms of education development initiatives, implementation of the relevant ministry’s strategic plans, teacher training, education for people with disabilities, achievements, and future plans”, according to the state news agency.

Her Excellency indicated that there are four main axes for the development of the educational system in the State of Qatar, stemming from the four pillars of the Qatar National Vision 2030 which are: the first is the axis of students in which their capabilities are strengthened and they acquire the basic and necessary skills to keep pace with the requirements of reality; the second is related to teachers, as it aims to attract, train and develop them; the third focuses on schools, seeking to be advanced and attractive, developing early education services and raising enrolment rates, and building a comprehensive educational experience; and the fourth focuses on the ministry through developing institutional capacities, building partnerships with families, and the public and private sectors.

Minister Al Nuami highlighted that the number of students in the general education stage exceeds 326,000 students distributed in about 600 schools, and the number of higher education students reaches more than 35,000 in 33 university educational institutions. Comparing grades, deemed “progress” over the last 15 years, academic and cognitive achievement reflected in students’ international tests reached 414 points in mathematics, up from 318, in reading 407 points, up from 312, and in science 419 points up from 349, according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Whether that adequately reflects an improvement in students’ aptitudes or teachers’ skills or whether curriculums the world over are becoming less demanding on pupils remains debatable. Grades have been marked more leniently globally since March 2020. According to The Economist “Britain, France and Ireland, among others, cancelled big exams. For part of 2020 many American schools eschewed grades entirely, reverting to pass or fail”.

Her Excellency also spoke of the development in the educational system over the last fifteen years, and the new directions in light of the country’s development strategies and the new approach imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Education was a notoriously slow sector to digitise. The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic caused the largest disruption to education in modern history, leaving schools and universities, teachers and pupils, all scrambling to wrap their heads around online classes and leaving parents with a newfound respect for teachers.

Expenditure in EdTech globally is “expected to double from 200 billion USD in expenditure to over 400 billion USD by 2025” according to The Economist, which suggests that the overhaul into digitised learning might be here to stay, or at least partially.

Her Excellency pointed out the ministry’s interest in governance, digital transformation and the speed of launching e-learning, indicating that the State of Qatar was one of the first countries to invest in the technology sector since 2012.

Google, at the centre of the debate on Big Tech and AI in education and the ethical implications of emerging platforms, has been preparing for dominance in education and prepared for the big shift to digital long before the global pandemic. Google for Education explains its use as giving “teachers the freedom to spend more time personalizing the learning experience, and less time managing it. Students can learn 21st-century problem-solving and the skills they’ll use in their future careers, with accessibility features that help every student do their best work”.

Which brings us to the other big debate. Are we giving pupils the adequate skills to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow? Ministers of education the world over have expressed concern that too many students are enrolling in traditional degrees at the university level, which suggests the upcoming generation might not be future-ready.

The private sector has been innovating across the board catering to growing numbers of parents and pupils looking for alternative education. Technical schools are mushrooming, as are “green schools” that focus on sustainability, space, architecture and surroundings, Montessori schools that encourage creativity and expression, but also in a complete revolution, some schools are now focusing on teaching programming and coding as early as governments will allow.

Her Excellency indicated that the Ministry of Education and Higher Education pays attention to creativity and constructive initiatives that promote self-reliance, with education as a fundamental pillar in development.

In response to several inquiries of Their Excellencies members of the Shura Council, HE Minister of Education and Higher Education affirmed the ministry’s keenness to pay attention to the comprehensive and periodic evaluation of the educational system, to ensure the quality of education and address any deficiencies if the need arises.

Her Excellency also noted that during the process of reviewing, the curricula’s distinctiveness and accordance to the highest levels has become clear to the ministry, indicating that the problem lay in the delivery of information and teaching and the promotion of these skills. “Training teachers and enabling them to deliver information in the required manner is one of the main initiatives of the ministry”, she added.

The task ahead is not an enviable one as governments attempt to strike a balance between traditional teaching methods and curriculums and modern methods and subjects, not to mention new generations of pupils with needs, limitations and skill sets as diverse to that of their parents’ generation as it will no doubt be compared to their grandchildren’s. The global debate about the development of education is only just beginning.

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