The system for kindergarten through 12th grade ( K-12) education in Qatar is built around independent schools, supplemented with private Arabic, international and community institutions. While the majority of the state’s student population is enrolled in the government-funded independent school system, private schools also play an important role in the country’s education development strategy. Of 136 private schools, 103 are international and 33 are private Arabic schools, both of which cater primarily to the expatriate population. There are schools for Americans, British, French, Germans, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Japanese and several other nationalities, as well as international schools that cater to multiple nationalities. The vast majority of private schools teach in English.

INTERNATIONAL ACCREDITATION: The majority of the private schools are co-educational and provide tuition from preschool nursery through to university entrance exams. Many of the international schools are accredited in their respective countries. The MES Indian School, for example, is affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, Delhi. Sherborne Qatar, meanwhile, follows a curriculum that is closely based on the National Curriculum for England and Wales up to year nine. The school will soon extend to year 11, at which point pupils will be prepared for IGCSE examinations using the Cambridge International Examinations board specifications. According to the Supreme Education Council (SEC), which steers national policy, students and staff at private schools are generally non-Qatari. While approximately 40% of the student body in private Arabic schools is Qatari, there are no Qatari faculty members. Instead, 99% are from other Arab countries. Similarly, 71% of the faculty members in international schools are non-Arab. For this reason, SEC reports show that one potential drawback of private schools is their high staff turnover. Like other expatriates, foreign teachers tend to change jobs and locations quite frequently. This can have a disruptive influence on children’s education.

TACKLING BOTTLENECKS: In light of the number of upcoming infrastructure and construction projects, international firms are increasingly recruiting from abroad. One of the challenges of this is finding enough placements in international schools for expatriate recruits’ children. Indeed, several engineering and construction firms told OBG that this can be a bottleneck when trying to relocate recruits’ families. To help remedy the situation, companies such as Hochtief and other German firms have pooled their resources to open a school for their employees’ children called the German International School Doha.

Indeed, many expatriate communities are opening their own schools in order to teach their national curricula. For example, the Turkish Embassy has told the local press that the shortage of appropriate international schooling has made families hesitant to move to Qatar, and it hopes to break ground on a Turkish school by the end of 2012.

NATIONAL STANDARDS: While private schools can set their own curricula, they must also uphold basic standards outlined by the SEC. The council’s guidelines include standards on facilities available to students, a core curriculum and basic administrative structures, such as an elected Board of Trustees to represent parents and the school community.

Furthermore, in an effort to ensure performance and quality standards in private schools, the Evaluation Institute of the Supreme Education Council launched the Qatar National Schools Accreditation (QNSA) initiative aimed to elevate standards of education at all levels. While all private schools require a licence from the SEC, this reform was implemented as there was no way to ensure quality and alignment within the broader education sector.

The main purpose of the accreditation system is to ensure quality by regularly assessing and benchmarking performance in terms of academic, educational and administrative standards. The QNSA involves external reviews by independent evaluators to validate information submitted by schools and to take into account the views of stakeholders, including governing body members, administration, teachers, other staff, parents and students.

COMMITMENT TO PROGRESS: However, equally important under the QNSA scheme is ensuring a school’s commitment to a continuous process of improvement through an internal audit. These reviews are conducted over a period of up to 18 months and are based on QNSA standards and indicators to help schools identify their own strengths and areas of growth. This process is at the core of the SEC’s drive to improve school standards across the country.

Schools that complete and pass the internal and external reviews are then accredited for a three- or five-year term depending on the outcome of the review. After obtaining a term accreditation, the school commits to specific goals guided by an action plan, with further objectives directed towards improving standards for students. Through this cycle of learning and improvement, it is expected that schools will evolve and provide better services. As of June 2011 a total of 21 schools and kindergartens had applied for the accreditation candidacy, of which 15 were selected after the extensive evaluation.

PROFESSIONAL LICENSING: In addition to accreditation for schools, the SEC requires all private school teachers to register and to obtain professional teaching licences granted by the Qatar Office of Registration, Licensing and Accreditation (QORLA). QORLA was established to improve the quality of teachers and school leaders and to ensure it is on par with SEC’s National Professional Standards for Teachers and School Leaders. To receive a permanent licence, leaders and teachers must go through several further steps in the registration process.

This process seeks to ensure teachers are qualified to teach their subjects and enables the SEC to monitor schools and maintain quality across the education system. All licences are granted through the Qatar National Education Data System, the national education portal that provides data to the SEC, policymakers, principals, teachers and students.

COSTS, COVERAGE & VOUCHERS: Average household expenditure for private school students is much higher than for students at comparable independent schools, reaching an estimated QR14,000 ($3844) in private Arabic schools and more than QR22,500 ($6179) for international schools, according to the SEC. These expenses include costs such as computers, internet access and private tutors.

The government covers all education costs for Qatari nationals and other eligible students. To drive competition among independent schools and provide more choice to families, the SEC developed a payment system through which families could enrol their children in any eligible independent school. In 2008 the SEC expanded this system to include students attending private or international schools through a voucher system. The SEC released a statement in June 2012 saying parents with children who are eligible for government-funded education will be able to use the voucher system towards the tuition costs in any independent or accredited private school in the upcoming academic year.

Under the voucher system, the SEC transfers up to QR21,800 ($5986) to schools for each student, with the amount varying for primary or secondary school enrolment. Participating schools are required to meet certain criteria aimed at raising standards of their programmes. In the pilot phase of its first year, 2004, only three independent schools were involved in the programme, allowing the SEC to test the administrative systems before roll-out. More recently, the SEC has expanded the voucher system to include additional private schools and is expected to scale up the programme throughout the entire education system.

To this end, in February 2012 the cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani, met to discuss procedures for expanding the application of the voucher. It is expected that the addition of private schools will give parents and students a wider choice while also introducing an element of competition among schools, which should help improve overall standards.

LOOKING AHEAD: Rapid reform in the state’s education sector will take time to fully solidify as the SEC, school faculty, students and families adjust to the voucher changes. Private schools form a core part of the government’s education strategy, but the role of state regulation is still being adjusted. Maintaining standards across a variety of education providers is no easy task, but the progress to date has been positive. The reforms have created tremendous opportunity for private investment in the sector, opening the field for establishing private Arabic or international schools. Furthermore, these reforms link closely with other government initiatives in higher education, which will continue to encourage private investment.