RAND Study Finds Qatar Successfully Implements Redesign of Education System
April 12, 2007
In only a few years, the State of Qatar has successfully implemented a bold redesign of its K-12 education system, incorporating school autonomy, variety in curriculum, parental choice and accountability measures, according to a report issued today by the RAND Corporation.
With an eye towards supporting ambitious social and economic development, the State of Qatar asked RAND, a nonprofit research organization, to examine its K-12 education system and recommend improvements. The report describes the first phase of the project, which took place from 2001 to 2004, when the first generation of independent schools was opened.
“Our work shows that significant education reform is possible if a country has the political will and sufficient resources,” said Charles A. Goldman, associate director of RAND Education, a unit within RAND, which performed the project funded by a contract from the State of Qatar.
“A significant decentralization of education, incorporating parental choice and school accountability, is possible and practical, while still respecting cultural and religious traditions,” Goldman added.
RAND and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development collaborate in operating the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute, based in the nation's capital of Doha. The chair of the Qatar Foundation and the co-chair of RQPI's board is Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the Consort of the Emir of Qatar.
“Our team of parents, students, teachers, administrators, and education advisors have all worked hard to bring genuine educational change to Qatar,” Her Highness said. “We highly value the expertise and support RAND brought to the implementation of our reforms. We are proud of our collective achievements in building innovative models of education excellence.”
At the time the RAND project began, Qatar, with a population of about 885,000, had about 100,000 children in school. Two-thirds of the students were enrolled in government-financed and operated Ministry of Education schools and the rest were in private schools, which varied in quality.
Although many Ministry of Education teachers were enthusiastic and open to change, the curriculum mostly relied on rote memorization, and the system was not capable of assessing the performance of the schools. In addition, teachers received low pay and many school buildings were in poor condition.
RAND experts proposed several possible education models. The model the Qatari government chose included internationally benchmarked curriculum standards; independent, government-funded schools; accountability measures for the schools; variety in education plans; and parental choice among the schools.
It will take Qatar about 10 years to experience the full effect of these changes, according to RAND researchers. But since 2002, the Qataris have made significant progress. They have developed new academic standards in Arabic, English, mathematics and science, and almost all students have been tested according to those standards. Already, nearly half of the government-funded students have been enrolled in learner-centered independent schools with improved facilities.
The new Arabic curriculum, in particular, features a standards-based approach that teaches Arabic as a functional native language, using both religious and secular texts, a design unique in the Gulf region, Goldman said.
“As a result of this process, Qatar has a set of curriculum standards for grades K-12 that are benchmarked against the best standards in the world,” the report said.
Teachers at these new independent schools are now better trained and prepared. Although schools are expected to meet content standards and performance standards, the textbooks, teaching methods and lesson plans are determined by the schools, encouraging variety. For the first time parents have access to reports on schools' performance, which RAND analysts think will help spur further reforms, as parents select the schools most suited to their children's needs.
“Although the reforms are still in the initial stages, early indicators are very promising,” Goldman said. “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.”
Several of the independent schools opened with waiting lists because of strong parental demand. These schools vary in their offerings, with some emphasizing math and science, others information and communications, health sciences, or industrial technology.
Some of the changes have required the Qataris to adjust their expectations: many Qatari parents were initially concerned when their children reported that they liked school. Previously, if a child liked school, the curriculum was thought to be too easy. Now, it is a sign that schools are placing students at the center of the learning process, Goldman said.
The reform model involved the creation of three new government institutions. The Supreme Education Council is responsible for setting national education policy. The Education Institute oversees the new independent schools and allocates resources to them, in addition to developing national curriculum standards in Arabic, mathematics, science and English and developing a teacher-training program. The Evaluation Institute monitors student and school performances in both the Ministry and independent schools.
By the fall of 2004, the Education Institute opened 12 independent schools, which were selected from a pool of 160 applicants. In 2005, 21 additional independent schools opened, and last year, 13 more opened. Today, there are about 46 independent schools; parents also can opt to send their children to private schools or Ministry of Education schools.
Although Qatar's K-12 education system has made a great deal of progress, the RAND team, which continues to work with the Qatari government and offer advice on the education reform program, has four recommendations to strengthen the reforms:
- Increase the number of Qatari teachers trained according to the curriculum standards as well as Institute staff who are trained to manage the reforms.
- Continue to promote the basic principles of the reforms: autonomy, accountability, variety and choice.
- Expand the number of high-quality schools with the best-qualified operators regardless of nationality.
- Integrate education policy with broader social policies. For example, the Qatari civil service system provides ample job security, but doesn't contain enough incentives to encourage teachers to strive for excellence.
Goldman said the Qatari education reforms also can serve as an example to educators in the United States and other countries that schools and the institutions that support them can be dramatically restructured in a relatively short period of time. The keys to success, he said, are agreeing on a clear set of guiding principles, planning implementation in advance, and then sticking closely to the principles through the implementation.
Other authors of the study are: Catherine H. Augustine, Gail L. Zellman, Gery Ryan, Cathleen Stasz, and Louay Constant, all of RAND; and Dominic J. Brewer, formerly of RAND and now professor of education, economics and policy at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.
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.
Copies of the report, “Education for a New Era: Design and Implementation of K-12 Education Reform in Qatar,” can be found on the RAND Web site at www.rand.org.