Qatar is taking definitive steps to refine its education system, increasing the focus on preparation for employment in a knowledge-based society as the government works to boost job opportunities and diversify the economy.
While Qatar has achieved significant results in lifting the standard of basic education, with literacy rates for adults aged between 15 and 24 now up to 99.8% for females and 99.4% for males, and enrolment levels at primary and secondary schools also close to 100%, more needs to be done to assist young Qataris to make the transition to either higher education or the workforce.
According to Hamda Al Sulaiti, the director of the Evaluation Institute of the Supreme Education Council (SEC), the government agency charged with directing the nation’s education policy, two of the greatest challenges facing Qatar’s education system are meeting the quantitative and qualitative needs of the labour market and managing the rising number of new students each year.
These challenges require continual developmental work with a stronger emphasis on the principles of educational initiative, the promotion of scientific research and its applications, and the development of professionals in the educational field, Al Sulaiti said at a meeting to discuss the implementation of the education development goals in early April.
Qatar moved a step closer to meeting those goals on March 28 when the government launched its National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-16, the first of a series of five-year plans aimed at achieving the aims of the Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030, the country’s long-term developmental master plan. In both the NDS and the QNV, excellence in the provision of educational services is one of the overarching themes.
Under the strategy, a central goal is the development of a modern and effective education network that will ensure universal access to high-quality learning for students, starting from their entry into the system at kindergarten through to their graduation from secondary school.
Furthermore, the NDS sets out the need to create opportunities to develop talents outside the standard curriculum by opening specialised schools and maximising the use of information and communication technology wherever possible to enhance the learning environment.
In his introduction to the NDS, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s crown prince and heir apparent, said that the strategy would work towards creating a balance between Arab culture and modernity while preserving the country’s values and traditions. Investments in key sectors such as education are crucial to achieving these goals, he said.
“The national strategy deepens our commitment to increasing the well-being of all Qatari citizens and lays out a carefully designed programme to continue providing the best education, health care, social protection and employment opportunities in a prosperous, stable and secure society that nurtures its members and preserves and protects family cohesion,” he said.
Qatar’s rapid economic growth has given rise to new challenges and the NDS aims to take a more integrated approach to the development of all sectors of the economy, Sheikh Tamim said.
Among the objectives set by the NDS are to increase the number of Qataris who complete university studies and to recalibrate academic programmes so that they optimise talent and capabilities.
To help achieve its targets, state agencies are to conduct studies on workforce needs and assess the gap between education output and requirements. Efforts are also under way to encourage students to take up courses that will facilitate the development of a knowledge-based economy. This is part of the NDS’s policy of aligning higher education with the needs of a modern economy.
The strategy also foresees further reforms to the primary and secondary education system to better prepare graduates for higher education and eliminate the need for students to take foundation courses.
To meet those objectives, Qatar unveiled its 2011/12 budget at the end of March, with education one of the major beneficiaries. The budget, which came into effect on April 1, foresees a 12% increase in outlays for education, with the total allocation for the system rising to $5.3bn, up from $4.7bn under the previous budget.
Though the 12% jump in expenditure on education is below the overall increase in budgetary spending, which is set to climb by 19%, the hike in the sector’s allocation is higher than almost all non-capital works funds, with only state housing being given a larger rise in percentage terms.
While it will take time for the full effect of this increased funding to be felt, and for the policies set out in the NDS to have an impact, higher standards and a sharper focus for Qatar’s education system should result in a streamlined learning process, and one better adapted to the needs of the nation’s changing economy.