Education in Qatar … Challenges and Solutions
HE Dr. Ibrahim bin Saleh Al-Nuaimi
Undersecretary of MOEHE
Since the onset of COVID-19, Qatar’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) has made huge efforts to help the education sector overcome the COVID-related challenges. It ensured that the educational process continued remotely and smoothly despite the abrupt suspension of classroom teaching.
Teachers and educators at public schools easily adapted to the new situation, thanks to the distance education training they had already received under MOEHE’s strategy of integrating technology into education during the past few years. Selecting Microsoft Teams as the central distance learning platform, MOEHE made sure that schools were well prepared, that teachers knew all the features of the software, and that all students and parents received user accounts. Tablets and home broadband Internet access devices were distributed to students who lacked such assets.
This was not everything for MOEHE: E-lessons were broadcast over 19 YouTube distance learning channels and two TV educational channels; a new student distance learning assessment policy was developed; and semester plans were revised for all subjects and levels based on prior content analysis, aiming to match distance learning mechanisms and duration of application, thus ensuring there are no gaps when students move to the next grade.
Meanwhile, the Private Schools Affairs Department at MOEHE closely watched and supported the educational process at private schools, safeguarding their ability to handle their own issues. Moreover, MOEHE monitored the higher education institutions as they offered programs via approved online platforms. In coordination with the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), new policies were put in place regarding teaching applied academic modules. Lastly, arrangements were made for admissions in the new academic year.
In an exclusive interview with Career Guide, HE Dr. Ibrahim bin Saleh Al-Nuaimi, Undersecretary of MOEHE, talks about dealing with the challenges posed by COVID-19, distance learning, and the education system development efforts.
How could Qatar’s education sector cope swiftly with the impact of COVID-19?
There are many reasons. Over the past few years, MOEHE has achieved considerable progress in establishing its online learning system based on the directives of our wise leadership which emphasized the important role of online learning in keeping pace with the contemporary exponential growth of knowledge, toward attaining the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030. Distance learning at schools worked well as planned, with a very good response from both students and parents. This was evident from feedback indicators, including completion of assignments, daily and weekly assessments, number of video lessons and views among other things.
What are key lessons to learn from COVID-19?
The first lesson is that online learning has become a top priority for education at all levels, along with qualified teachers and conveniently adjusted curricula, so that we can build a capable generation that can keep in step with the spectacular development in today’s world. This can be achieved only by integrating technology into education across the relevant curricula and systems.
Does MOEHE provide teachers with specific training to maximize the outcomes of distance learning?
MOEHE is always keen on bolstering the technological proficiency of teachers, embracing the latest advances in educational technology, and providing continuous training in state-of-the-art systems. It monitors the quality of implementation throughout the academic year through classroom visits and online learning evaluation. Upon the coronavirus outbreak, project coordinators at public schools trained all teachers in the Learning Management System (LMS) and Microsoft Teams application, even before the launch of the distance learning system, to ensure that they had the needed skills to manage such systems properly.
Do you pay attention to the constant development of academic curricula?
A few years ago, MOEHE adopted an initiative to develop educational curricula, with a particular focus on the competencies needed by students (competency-based curriculum). We have a clear approach that conforms to Qatar National Vision 2030 on the basis of a set of values, principles, and objectives. Our curricula are designed to meet the job market needs and higher education requirements. Technology is effectively involved in teaching, and textbooks are produced in both electronic and print forms. The structure of education was updated to encompass all the paths that cater to the capabilities and preferences of students. In tandem, the educational path scheme was improved to meet present-day demands for academic curricula that allow lifelong and innovative learning opportunities. Besides the science and literature curricular concentrations, a third concentration was introduced (i.e. technology) to combine technology with science and its applications. This provides students with outstanding learning opportunities during and after secondary education, enabling them to enter the future career specializations that Qatar needs in the fields of science and technology.
What should teachers, students, and parents do for distance learning to have the same results as traditional education?
No plan will go anywhere unless it receives a favorable response from society. At MOEHE, we back our plans with informative media campaigns to highlight the important role played by every individual in fighting the pandemic and addressing its negative impact on education. Students should follow the lesson schedule, do their homework, and keep in touch with their teachers. Parents should keep an eye on their children and make sure they are not lagging behind in homework. The matter goes beyond personal responsibility to everyone’s genuine national loyalty and sense of duty.
What value does the Tomoh program add to education? And how to attract more students to join it?
MOEHE attaches great importance to the Tomoh program, which seeks to recruit large numbers of secondary school graduates among Qataris, children of Qatari women, and those born in Qatar, to enroll in specializations under the College of Education. We are trying to increase the number of students joining this program to meet the job market needs in educational areas and localize education professionals at Qatari schools, which will reflect positively on the educational process as a whole. Together with Qatar University’s College of Education, we work to further enrich academic specializations by creating departments for physical and art education and hiring more Qatari teachers. Several benefits are given to members of the program, such as monthly allowances, to encourage their retention in the field. Once they graduate from the College of Education and complete the required training, MOEHE guarantees them jobs at public schools, depending on their specializations.
As for universities, was it easier to adapt to distance learning compared to schools? And does distance learning work well for all specializations?
Of course, distance learning at the university level is relatively easier, as university students are better able to manage their education on their own than school students. By contrast, primary school students need help from their parents. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic inspired all educational institutions around the world to administer education remotely and expand the scope of distance learning in the future. As you may know, how this is done depends on the nature of university majors and tracks. Distance learning does not apply to the majors that require physical attendance on campus to receive the education and training necessary for the achievement of learning goals.
How did MOEHE support students overseas who are on scholarships during the crisis?
Once regular classes were halted, and most universities of the world switched to distance learning, all overseas students on scholarships were notified that they could return to Qatar to continue their study remotely. Embassies and cultural attaché offices were directed to facilitate travel procedures. Most of those students have already returned to Qatar. If their universities decide to go on with distance learning in the coming year, the students will enjoy all possible facilities, and their allowances will be paid as normal.
As more universities around the world adopt distance learning, is it time to change how we perceive university degrees obtained through distance learning, especially in terms of accreditation?
The university degree accreditation policy is governed by many strict criteria which are in accordance with international university degree accreditation standards. Like any other policy, it must be reviewed in light of the current situation. However, we cannot take the risk unless the quality of output in the future is verified.