Interview: Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani

The education sector has undergone a major transformation. What do you hope it will achieve in line with Qatar National Vision 2030?

SHEIKHA HIND BINT HAMAD AL THANI: Our country’s leadership has long recognised that education is the engine that will drive Qatar towards the knowledge-based economy outlined in Qatar National Vision 2030. Thus, we have invested heavily in all levels of education, and the results are apparent today.

At the higher education level, Qatar University has added a wide range of new programmes that are aligned with the growing needs of the labour market and currently comprises seven colleges, with more than 14,000 students and an alumni body of over 40,000. The country’s vocational colleges are also expanding and diversifying education options for high school graduates.

Qatar is also home to branch campuses of some of the world’s best universities; Qatar Foundation’s Education City attracts students from over 90 nationalities earning degrees in various fields ranging from arts and humanities to medicine and engineering.

Expansion at the primary and secondary school levels is well under way with an emphasis on ensuring quality throughout the network of both government-run independent schools and private schools.

I do not think of 2030 as a final deadline for the cumulative impact of all these developments to become apparent. Instead, I see it as an ambitious target for the systemic change and innovations that we are working to implement to ensure that we are on track for 2030 and beyond. Qatar National Vision 2030 provides the impetus for our education priorities wherein highly skilled and qualified graduates will drive the growth of all other priority sectors in Qatar, such as research and development (R&D).

Our priorities are ensuring that we continue to innovate in education, that opportunities are afforded to the wider majority, and that we further improve student attainment at primary and secondary levels.

How do you see the sector-wide challenge of teaching deficiencies in the state? What can be done to change the mindset around teaching?

SHEIKHA HIND: We see from the countries that consistently place among the top five for international education attainment rankings, that teaching is a well-respected, highly competitive and prestigious career. We are striving towards achieving this model in Qatar, and I hope that teaching becomes one of the top career options for talented graduates. This is the type of challenge that public-private partnerships can effectively tackle. In its official capacity, the Supreme Education Council works to develop educators in the country through ongoing, collaborative professional training.

At the same time, NGOs such as Teach for Qatar (TFQ), career counsellors and parents all have a role to play in shifting the common mindset around teaching. It is vital that we ensure our young people feel motivated by the variety of pathways offered to them and to be excited by the prospect of being civically active through education.

What was the rationale behind the creation of the TFQ initiative you founded? Has TFQ partnered with any other organisations?

SHEIKHA HIND: TFQ is a local NGO that is tailored to help solve Qatar’s education challenges by reinvesting exceptionally talented young leaders into the independent school system. TFQ hand-picks graduates and young professionals who wish to give back to the country, be they nationals or residents, by providing them with the opportunity to inspire students through a two-year teaching placement in one of Qatar’s independent schools. TFQ has forged strategic partnerships with the Supreme Education Council, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Foundation and Exxon Mobil Qatar. It is a member of the Teach for All Network, which was recognised in 2013 as one of the world’s 100-strongest NGOs by the Global Journal.

Qatar faces a wide array of challenges as it continues to grow. Why has education been identified as an area of particular focus?

SHEIKHA HIND: Education touches the life of every citizen and resident of Qatar, perhaps more so than any other public sector. Everyone deserves a good education and we would like to, at the very least, give every young person the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever it may be. We will not be able to achieve any of our national plans without quality education, so this must be where we place the most importance. We have a duty to prepare young people to succeed and contribute fully to the development of our country throughout their lives. In doing so, we will be working to lay the foundation for young people in Qatar, not just to explore and fulfil their own potential in life, but also to care about the well-being of others and see themselves as global citizens in an increasingly connected world.

Learning involves a range of factors, both formal (schools) and informal (attitudes about education). In what ways can parents help ensure their children receive a quality education?

SHEIKHA HIND: As the primary role models in their children’s lives, parents have the opportunity and responsibility to set good examples in everything, from daily manners to attitudes towards education. They play a crucial role, along with extended family members, in creating the environments that are conducive for their children to learn.

The process of learning is active, which is very distinct from conventional formal school education, and is defined and driven by the learners themselves, reflecting their age, interests and individual learning style. It is self-directed, and has no curriculum, timetable or exams; learning also includes a strong emphasis on collaboration and a shared, social experience. This can and should continue in tandem with formal education reform. Of course, every child is also entitled to quality formal education, in addition to life-long learning. Both are essential to the building of a well-educated, economically successful and sustainable society.

You hold prominent positions at both Qatar Foundation and the Supreme Education Council. Which do you think carries the larger burden in reforming local education?

SHEIKHA HIND: In order to continue to develop Qatar’s education sector, we must continue to innovate. I believe that this can best be achieved through public-private partnerships wherein government agencies, which are typically responsible for policy-setting, development of strategies and implementation, work hand-in-hand with private institutions, many of which have greater scope to innovate and test new models within education.

Qatar Foundation has accomplished a great deal over the past 20 years; its biggest achievement is the model of higher education institutions that exists here. Students in Education City not only benefit from cross registration at the Doha campuses of nine of the world’s best universities, but they also have access to the burgeoning R&D centres within Qatar Foundation, working on projects as varied as cardiovascular research and capturing solar energy.

Looking forward, we seek to increase the level of innovation, community engagement and collaboration with the public and private sectors. Active participation from all stakeholders is crucial to the process of development in the education sector. Every teacher has a vital role to play in keeping parents engaged in the academic development of their child. Every parent has an obligation to ensure that his or her children are exposed to ongoing mental growth. Every grandparent has a duty to help their grandchildren understand and preserve their heritage. No matter how small their part, everyone has a role in contributing to the vast and diverse field of education.