November 6, 2009
As the nation of Qatar reformed its education system from 2005 to 2007, teachers at new independent schools worked together to develop curricular contents that addressed new international curriculum standards in key subjects (Arabic language, English language, science, and mathematics), applied significantly more student-centered teaching methods and provided more challenging learning environments, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
Researchers found that teachers in the new independent schools were more focused on meeting the learning needs of individual students than were their peers in schools operated by the nation's education ministry. In addition, educators, parents and students recognized and appreciated the differences between the new schools and schools operated by the education ministry.
"Qatar's education reforms have shown tremendous early success by changing how teachers teach and students learn," said Gail L. Zellman, the study's lead author and a senior research psychologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
Researchers say their observations of teachers in independent schools revealed that they were more likely to work one-on-one with students and to encourage peer learning in small groups. They also were more likely than their peers in education ministry schools to use strategies found to engage students in learning.
The independent schools had many more computers available, which motivated students to be more actively engaged in both self-directed activities and in the classroom, Zellman said.
"Teachers in the independent schools also posed more positive challenges. Students were more frequently asked to analyze, synthesize and evaluate information, accordingly, developed skills associated with critical thinking," she said. "These early trends hold great promise for the future."
RAND conducted the study for Qatar's Supreme Education Council from 2005 to 2007 when the number of independent schools in the nation rose from 33 to 46. The schools are funded by the government and operate alongside schools operated by the education ministry and private schools. As the reform has continued, additional independent schools have opened, bringing the current total to 97.
The RAND study also found that students in grades 4 to 6 who attended independent schools outperformed peers who attended education ministry schools on national assessments in Arabic and English. Independent school students assessed in Arabic also outperformed education ministry students in mathematics and science.
At the same time, independent school students assessed by English-language tests for mathematics and science scored lower than their education ministry peers. Because students and teachers were transitioning from Arabic to English as a medium of instruction, students may not have been able to demonstrate their knowledge as well when tested in English, according to researchers.
The testing analysis did not include preparatory and secondary students because of the small number of independent schools at those levels during the study period.
In the early years of the reform, a substantial number of policy changes were made in response to a variety of challenges. These changes—like restrictions on the qualifications of school operators—led to uncertainty and concern among independent school principals, teachers, parents and students.
"The large number of changes over a short period fostered a sense of instability among some independent school administrators, who grew increasingly reluctant to attempt innovations, especially those that involved some risk," Zellman said.
The study recommends that the Supreme Education Council carefully consider the effects of future policy changes prior to implementation. The study also recommends a number of other measures, including:
- Increase support for schools by engaging school support organizations, which provide experienced international school management advisors, for at least two years in each new independent school.
- Offer financial and status incentives to retain highly competent and experienced teachers in the classroom rather than rewarding their performance with administrative positions that remove them from direct daily contact with students.
- Review student-assessment policies, particularly those related to the use of English as the language of testing.
- Encourage parents to support high-quality education for their children. Workshops for parents could introduce new curricula, present strategies for helping their children succeed aca¬demically and aid them in understanding school report cards. It would also be advisable to reward independent schools for promoting meaningful parent engagement.
- Make it easier to compare schools on key performance indicators. Parents received a report card for their child's school, but comparing the complex report card information with that of other schools was difficult. One way to simplify these comparisons is to develop a composite index that ranks schools according to student performance and other important outcomes. This would allow parents to more easily make informed decisions and generate healthy competition among Independent schools.
The study, "Implementation of the K-12 Education Reform in Qatar's Schools," was conducted within RAND Education and the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute. The study can be found at www.rand.org.
The RAND study analyzed information from classroom observations, interviews with principals and administrators, and focus groups with teachers, students and parents. National surveys and national student assessments were also analyzed.
RAND Education conducts research and analysis on a variety of topics, including school reform, educational assessment and accountability, and trends among teachers and teacher training. RAND-Qatar Policy Institute is a partnership of RAND and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development, based in the nation's capital of Doha.