Guiding Education Reform in Qatar
It's widely accepted that a high-quality education system is essential for countries to participate and thrive in an increasingly complex and globalized world. Nations whose traditional approaches to education do not prepare students well in areas essential in the modern labor market—such as critical thinking, research, and communication skills—risk falling behind.
By the 1980s, the education system in Qatar had become a topic of national concern. Qatari leaders, employers, and higher education institutions believed that K-12 graduates were underprepared to contribute to Qatar's social and economic development, leaving the country heavily reliant on expatriate workers for high- and low-skilled jobs.
Additionally, Qatari leadership was long concerned that the education system was rigid, outdated, and resistant to reform. While some changes were successful on a small scale, system-wide reform was necessary to position Qatar for future economic, social, and political success.
Qatari leadership was long concerned that the education system was rigid, outdated, and resistant to reform.
In the summer of 2001, Qatar's leadership asked RAND to examine the country's K-12 school system and provide options for improvement. At that time, the system served about 100,000 students, two-thirds of whom attended schools financed and operated by the government. All aspects of public education—and many aspects of private education—were overseen by the highly centralized Ministry of Education.
The RAND team—consisting of experts in education reform, economics, anthropology, clinical psychology, child policy, and Middle East studies—collected and analyzed information by observing schools, government ministries, and other workplaces; conducting interviews; and analyzing relevant documents. The team remained in constant contact with Qatari leaders throughout the process.
- What are the pre-reform strengths and weaknesses of the K-12 system in Qatar?
- What reforms should Qatar consider to build a world-class system to meet the country's evolving needs?
- How should the chosen reform options be implemented?
Key Findings & Recommendations
- Existing strengths included enthusiastic teachers and openness to widespread reform among teachers, parents, and policymakers.
- The education system lacked a vision for high-quality education and structures to support it. Other shortcomings included out-of-date curricula, the absence of performance indicators, and a low national investment in education that resulted in low teacher pay, scant professional development, crowded classrooms, and weak school infrastructure.
- RAND recommended installing curriculum standards to establish clear standards for the curriculum in terms of both content and performance.
- RAND recommended three models of governance to Qatari leadership, who selected the Independent School Model, a charter school model that later operated alongside the nation's traditional Ministry of Education schools.
- RAND developed a detailed implementation plan that specified the creation of four new government institutions to facilitate changing the power and authority within the system.
“These student and school assessments are the first of their kind in the Arab world, and we expect that using these data will lead to schools improving over time.”
Qatar implemented RAND's recommended reforms. In just a few short years, standards were developed, almost all students had been tested, and a growing number of Qatari children had enrolled in learner-centered schools with improved facilities and better-prepared teachers who taught in accordance with internationally benchmarked standards.
RAND supported these efforts over several years and offered additional recommendations for strengthening the reforms as they progressed. Later, RAND evaluated the finance system developed to support the reforms and assessed the progress of implementation. Beyond the K-12 system, researchers helped Qatar improve its higher education system.
Education continues to improve in Qatar. Other countries can learn from this reform, which offers a course of action for developing a standards- and choice-based system while retaining traditional aspects—an approach that holds the promise of improved quality without abandoning important cultural traditions.
“We highly value the expertise and support RAND brought to the implementation of our [education] reforms. We are proud of our collective achievements in building innovative models of education excellence.”