As thousands of parents vie unsuccessfully for a limited number of school places for their children in Qatar, the assessment process used by many privates schools is coming under fire.
Dozens of parents who spoke to Doha News are questioning how the selection process works. Many are also accusing schools of profiteering off of the stressful application process.
Pakistani expat Imran Zia told Doha News that he applied to eight British curriculum schools for a place for his three-year-old son. Each time, he paid a fee ranging from QR200 to QR500.
“Just imagine how much money they make just out of receiving applications,” he said. “Then, the second phase starts when some schools call for interview/assessment. Then again you have to pay an “assessment fee” of about QAR500 – QAR600 in every school, on top of the application fee already paid.”
The school place shortage comes at a time when Qatar’s population is booming to support infrastructure projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Most expats here have no choice but to put their children in private school because of language barriers. Qatar’s public independent schools are conducted in Arabic, and are not open to all residents.
As international schools, including American, British, Indian and Filipino schools experience surging demand, many parents are facing the prospect of not having a school place for their children this coming fall.
Exacerbating the problem is a newly enforced age limit at nurseries, which are no longer allowed to accept children once they turn four years old.
Because of a shortage of kindergartens for kids who have aged out of nursery, many parents have been pushed to apply for places in private schools at least one year earlier than they would have preferred.
Qatar’s Supreme Education Council has said it is aware of the problem, and is working to build new schools in the coming years.
Many private schools charge application fees during the admissions process. But some schools say they wait until a child’s application undergoes greater scrutiny before asking for fees.
Speaking to Doha News, Park House English School (PHES) director Niall Brennan said his school received about 3,000 applications for less than 40 places this year.
But most of those applicants didn’t pay any fees, he added:
“We feel that it is unethical to charge for an application where there is no chance of a place being offered. Initial applications are free. Then, should a child come through to our Waiting Pool, which is about 10-15 children per year group where there is a chance of a place, the parents pay a charge because, only at this time, does their application go under detailed processing, and the charge is for this work.”
Other schools also told Doha News that the admissions process is labor intensive, and that fees cover staffing costs.
Chris Charleson, the headmaster of the International School of London (ISL) in Duhail, said there is a QR500 fee for initial applications because senior staff review them individually.
“That takes a significant amount of time” he said. “It’s not just a desk clerk deciding who goes on to the next stage or not. The assessment is included in the fee, and this fee comes no way near to covering the cost of the staff, and the amount of time senior staff give to the process. We’ve just covering internal costs.”
The school does not take application fees when the waiting lists are too long, he added.
In its recently released annual report, the Supreme Education Council classified schools here into three categories: international, private Arabic and independent (public).
There are also community schools, which are tied to various countries’ embassies and are almost always full.
Many of the international schools are taught in English, and heads of these institutions have told Doha News that proficiency in the language is a big factor in admissions.
Preferential placement for siblings of students already enrolled in the school and for the children of staff also take up many spots at most schools.
At ISL, other important criteria include previous school reports, teacher references and the parents themselves, Charleson said.
“To be honest, we also look carefully at the profile of the parents. We ask them what they think is important to do with their kids, how often they read to their children. Quite often it’s about the parents as much as it’s about the child. Often, parents contribute more to the educational achievement of their children than schools – research shows that.”
When the school issues its rejections, the headmaster added that they try to be straightforward about the process, explaining why they don’t believe the child would benefit from being at the school.
“That could be for a whole variety of reasons. It could be because they would not be able to access the curriculum in English, and they don’t have time to learn it. Or it could be that people want a different sort of school – ie, they’re looking for a British school, not an international school.”
However, not all schools are forthright about their criteria, or transparent about the application process.
Expat Nina said she has paid for school applications but received outright rejections with no explanation. Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“I paid QR250 for two applications, because I have twins. But all I got was a ‘regret’ email saying that my twins’ application had been unsuccessful. On what basis? They have not even seen my twins? I actually replied to their email asking how they made the selection, but they never got back to me.”
Other schools don’t appear to have an organized process. Melissa Rayyan, an American expat and former kindergarten teacher, told Doha News that she recently took her three-year-old child to an expensive international school for an assessment.
Describing her experience, she said:
“It was a crowded, intimidating classroom full of about 10 children, parents, a few nannies and two teachers. The assessment was very random and inconsistent. The teacher did not give equal time nor ask the same questions to all the students. At the end of 40 minutes, do they really think they can gauge 10 preschoolers? I think not!
Some children are very intelligent, but shy and quiet. What happens to them? The assessment felt like a competition of who can stand out the most, which made me really uncomfortable, because deep down in my heart, I know all children have things special and wonderful about them.”
Frustrations with the school application process are making it harder to recruit top talent to Qatar, many companies have said.
Skilled expats are continually in demand for some of the country’s most high-profile projects – like the new port, the Doha Metro, Sidra Medical and Research Center and the World Cup stadiums. Many employees working on these initiatives hope to bring their families with them when they move to Qatar.
But securing places at the schools of their choice has proved difficult. Dina, for example, is moving from the US to Doha next month with her husband and two young children, aged five and six years old.
She said she has not been able to find any placements for her kids, despite her company’s assurances.
“The school application process has kept me up many nights. We are attempting to enroll them in kindergarten and first grade for the fall. For one school, I set an alarm for the date kindergarten applications opened. When I attempted to submit the application, it said kindergarten was already full.
My company has a placement agreement with a second school, however after applying I was advised I would have to wait until they knew how many re-enrollments they had before they would review our applications. I can only hope we hear something soon. I have a one-way ticket to Doha in May.”
In the past, school heads have said that major companies have approached them asking for places for potential employees, only to be told that there are none available.
Foreign governments have also reached out to some schools asking for assistance, Charleson said:
“Some embassies have been in contact with us, saying companies from their countries are having difficulty bringing employees in who have kids. In response, we asked them to approach the authorities to ask them to help improve procedures for people trying to open new schools here, and for existing schools trying to expand.”
This trend is backed up by a recruitment consultant, who asked to remain anonymous. Working in the scientific field, he told us that many people he’d recruited had left Qatar before their contracts had ended, in part because of school placement issues:
“As you can imagine, education tends to run as a family priority for many of these candidates, and when they couldn’t find quality schools for their children, or were told that there were two year waiting lists and what not, people were unimpressed. It seems that the hassle of personal life problems, together with a lack of satisfaction with the work itself, led to great dissatisfaction and most people leaving.”
To deal with the problem, some schools are using a system of debentures, in which companies pay to reserve a certain number of places at a particular school. However, Charleson said ISL has decided not to go down this path “in the interests of equity.”
Hope on the horizon
With embassies and companies largely powerless to help, the onus to improve the situation appears to be on the SEC, which has said it is aware of the schooling crisis.
Last week, the council announced a rapid expansion of education provisions in the country, promising money for some 85 new schools in the next year, and saying it would encourage existing “distinguished” schools to expand into new campuses.
The Minister of Education Dr. Mohamed Abdulwahid al-Hammadi told the Gulf Times:
“The SEC gives all the due support for those willing to open new schools, and schools with distinguished records in particular are highly encouraged to expand their operations in the country.”
Speaking to the Peninsula, Ideal Indian School principal Syed Showkath Ali said newly enforced limits on the maximum number of students in classrooms has led to a shortage of places for many Indian expats.
Finding a new premise is the only way to accommodate everyone, he added:
“We currently have more than 5,900 students on our rolls but as per SEC guidelines we have to reduce the numbers to 4,338 which is the maximum allowed in the current premises. The SEC has asked us to look for new premises if we want to admit more students. So we have stopped all new admissions and are now searching for a new building to expand our facilities.”
With the traffic congestion and dangerous driving this is the big issue stopping skilled expats coming to Qatar. It appears to us outsiders that not enough is being done to support schools and facilitate the opening of more quality schools. Same as the roads nothing being done to enforce bad behaviour and make them safe. A surgeon friend of mine left after just under a year because he didn’t want to be killed on the roads and was sick of the arrogant dangerous behaviour of other drivers, other medical friends are leaving because they cant get education for their kids. Come on Qatar address the issues that is slowing your progression…road safety and education.
“85 new schools”. Every time I hear that number I just think there is no way on earth it is possible to build, recruit staff for and open 85 schools in a year. If they managed to open a quarter of that I’d be surprised. Unfortunately this decision is too little too late for many children and parents stuck in the madness of school applications. One word of advice to all parents. If you can’t find a place for your kids, leave immediately and go to a country which has sufficient schools and your child’s education will be valued and nurtured, and where they do not get put through the pressure, stress and possible rejections that these “entrance tests” cause at such a young age.
The “85 new schools” would probably be “independent schools”….
If that’s the case then there is no hope for expats as it appears that even many Qatari’s are trying to get their children out of the independent schools and into international ones in the hope of getting them a better education. Maybe Doha News could run an up to date article on what is being done to improve the independent schools to lure back the arabic speaking children who are able to get their education in these schools. I know that public schooling is rarely the first option in many countries but the terrible test results that are published seem to indicate that in this case getting their children out of these schools seems a very prudent move.
Independent schools can not get better in foreseeable future. As far as I understand international school do not have 9 hours Islamic studies per week, would not tolerate abysmal absence record and expect cooperation from parents and some degree of discipline from kids. Also the peer attitude is important: European parents know that their kids future depends solely on their learning.
I heard the same … and it will not solve the problem …
They will need to open a whole new airport to cope with influx of teachers.
And they’ll need another 10 schools and kindergartens for the teachers’ children
85 new schools is very misleading. I hope you didn’t read it on dohanews.
it’s actually 85 new school buildings. several of the new buildings will be replacing schools in older run down buildings (think the syrian, pakistani, irani schools). also many of the 85 new schools will house existing schools which are housed in large villas and compounds, limiting the number of students they are allowed to accommodate. Some schools can’t take in new students becuase they ran out of physical space.
there is a strong drive by Qatar’s civil defense to bar schools and nurseries from being housed in large villas. they can’t ban them today as this will create chaos. once the new school buildings are built, they will
shift to the new facility.
also note the buildings include nurseries and separate gender governemnt school, i.e. if you need a new primary government school in bin omran area, you need to build two schools, one for boys and one for girls.
Keep in mind not all these school will be american or british, the indian, pakistani, philipino, irani, and several arab communities continue to outnumber western expats. these communities also need new schooling facilities.
“Qatar will build 85 new schools in the next 18 months”
Doha College an established successful school worked with the Qatari Government for over 3 years unsuccessfully to find land suitable to build a new school. Given the inflated cost of construction the cost to build that school if/when land was acquired was about USD$100 m 2 years ago – it would be more today.
Qatars budget for education increased 7.22% – around USD$500m.
To build 85 new schools we need to solve the following problems
1. 85 large empty but serviced plots of land in Doha near to where people live & work as ideally no parent wants to drive for miles to drop their kids off
2. Build a school for USD$500 /85 = USD$5.9m verses the USD$100 m that one of Dohas best schools identified it would cost to construct to achieve a similar standard.
3. All 85 to be built in 18 months
Why do officials keep making these statements that they can simply never achieve – does anyone believe them?
1. wrong. these pieces of land are owned by private investors and are very expansive for the govt to try to purchase and build a school on. also, ideally schools need to move out of the city as morning traffic is caused by parents driving their kids to one or more school. USE THE BUS!!..
2. how do you propose a school building be built in 18 month>>>>>
not all the schools want the bus! Not all the schools have the bus!….I wish there was a bus.
They use to shuttle us in school buses with no ACs… Who would drop us on the side of the street and we’d race home.. The buses were off courses painted in maroon… Who carts what kids want.. Make it law that all school kids will be bused to school
Sure. And that would last until the first kid got run over by an impatient driver racing up the shoulder, which would be sometime on the first day.
Parents don’t like putting their kids on the buses here because they are unsafe–unsafe traffic conditions, unsafe drivers, unsafe vehicles, bus companies that don’t maintain their buses or overload them. This is the country in which seat belts for children are largely seen as optional. Maybe in your day it was safer.
Not to mention the ridiculously long time it takes for the bus to get there and back (four times as long as driving in our case) with multiple pickups/dropoffs and no bus priority lanes or bus priority traffic lights. I would leave the country before putting my kids through that and I am sure many other ex-pats would too.
Because as you see every day on the road people obey traffic law all the time, so making a law to use the school bus would make a difference, how?
agree! I am for it!
Not safe. Poor driving. Little or no supervision. In my area my daughter would be picked up at 6 am. Then there is the expense . Not to mention the driving around Qatar. I prefer to car pool.
I presume you work? Do you take a bus ? Because a lot of the morning traffic I see is going into City Centre. Better to petition for pressure to be put on companies to provide a bus for anyone who works within a certai radius of the city centre.
What Bus? And even if there was as if i would trust someone with the life of my child in this dangerous no rules drive as you like environment…no way.
Does the 85 new schools include the original target of “29 schools and 15 kindergartens by the end of 2014”.
Are those schools on track to be completed as planned?
working very closely in construction and involved in some of these school projects, the answer is yes and yes.
but you have to keep in mind, the project here is to build these new facilites, not to furnish, staff and operate… these projects are intended to highlight several buildings will be built…. by ashgal.. however it is the SEC and ministry of education job to handle the furnishing, staffing and operating of the schools
That’s a bit of good news then.
But then what you also seem to be saying is that even if Ashgal builds 85 new schools (by tomorrow morning) there is still the potential for lengthy delays in actually opening them for business?
Yes very.. Just like there are hospitals and health clinics but no health care professionals to operate the facility … They’re will be major issues in getting quality school teachers and admin staff
Exactly. The main problem isn’t finding construction workers to build the schools (Qatar is great a building things quickly), it’s finding qualified teachers to operate them and a solid curriculum and resources for them to be successful.
At least a year to equip them ( getting stuff through customs always involves a hold up), pass civil defense inspection and get decent staff.
Ah, customs. Yes, indeed. Our school purchased some 3D printers and it took two months to get them from customs because they wanted to know what our school was going to be manufacturing and selling with them. Couldn’t see the educational value of them alone, and that caused a two month delay.
I’m confused, why would a proud Pakistani want to send his child to a British school the place of his old colonial masters.
What’s sad is you got an up vote
In all seriousnous now, why would a Pakistani be trying to get their kid into a British school anyway? Surely those schools have to give priority to those children that have to study the British curriculmn in their own countries. I am sure the schools are scared to say this explicitly in case someone shouts racists, so they take their money and politley decline them.
Imagine if the French community wanted to send their children to the Pakistani schools and left few places for Pakistani children, I could imagine the Pakistani community would be complaining!
The best schools in Pakistan (and an awful lot of countries) follow a British curriculum. Maybe the parents have ambitions to send their children to one of them upon their return from Qatar.
Absolutely. In terms of your last paragraph.
I can understand they would want a British education for versatility but as you say if suddenly western expats started clamouring for Pakistani, Iranian or Indian schools and taking up places there would be an up roar.
Sounds similar to the expressways that were announced in 2008-9 to be completed by 2011-2. Or NDIA…, or…., or….
Wonder if they wil still maintain the age 60 rule when they are looking for staff as well.
Why is anyone surprised? Private schools are businesses, and they are not required to admit all of our children. As long as no one decides that expatriate children have the fundamental right to a quality education, this will continue. Dark, dark, dark stuff.
Private schools are businesses at the end of the day, and they can and will discriminate. No one is going to guarantee that expatriate children have a fundamental right to education.
It would be quite enough if there’d be more market freedom for those wishing to open new schools (no sponsor, for example).
Market freedom? I understand what you mean about sponsorship, but would we rather that absolutely anybody could open a school regardless of qualifications or quality? I would rather that schools and education in Qatar was not a private business (emphasis business), as it is even with the Independent schools.
By ‘market freedom’ I meant freedom to actively, freely organize and create. Someone might open a profit making school,and some parents might open an non-profit school.
What is the alternative? State of Qatar providing schools? It obviously isn’t very efficient (or willing).
Yes, because the market forces behind the “free schools” in the UK have lead to such a success, and the local reputation of American-style charter schools (on which the “Independent Schools” are modelled” couldn’t get much worse.
Fine. However we have contrary experience in Poland, where I come from: so called ‘social schools’, poor as church mice, located often in shabby buildings, are much better than state-owned school (if judged by test results, that is). This is true at least in primary-middle schools sector.
Anyway, what realistic alternative is there?
Yes, I’m familiar with the some of the literature on them, but what the international research continually shows is that the type of school or class size doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the teacher, principal (recent research shows them to be much more important than has long been thought), and family motivation. All things that are hard to address anywhere, but even more so in Qatar. Poland and Qatar are different, Poland has an intellectual history, and even under the communists there was social status in being a poor member of the intelligentsia. Today, education is a way to advance socially and educationally for the individual and the family. Qatar has neither the educational tradition, nor does the individual have the need of schooling for financial comfort.
Having been through the process as many expats have, I have nothing but sympathy for the parents trying to locate a place for their child. On which planet do you think they will build the 85 extra schools? Should there not be a real “Education City” concept, but not for the University level students but Kindergarden to High School with a 30 school campus, easy access, secure etc …ok, it’s not city center, but we all know in reality there is still plenty of land around!!! Anyway, enough of pipe dreams. Reality is that I spent appoaching 5000 Riyal for applications and fortunately, I managed to get my child into one decent school, which incidentally, is also bursting at the seams in terms of capacity.
The Supreme Council have a real responsibility to communicate these issues properly. For example, why is there not a centralized availability of placements on their website or the ministry of education that all schools have to submit to by law. Each school can have a simple protected log in whereby they can update their current status. Kids leave mid term also. Parents get jobs and have to move mid year also. It would simply mean that every expat coming to work bringing kids would at least have an ability to plan ahead and not in the dark as is the current situation.
Come on Qatar, wake up to the fact that you will never attract the talent and resource you need without ensuring that Schooling, Housing and Transportation are at least on a par with minimum expectations.
For one scary minute there I thought you were going to suggest that the Supreme Council be given the task of allocating school places when they come available. You are correct that kids leave mid term and mid year but as there are probably about 100 children on the waiting list for each and every spot that becomes available there is no point in having a central database as it would constantly say “full, long waiting list”. Seriously anyone that is even thinking of coming to Qatar now with school age children should be aware that there is little to no chance of getting their kids into a top grade school and even if the company promises a place then they should treat that with caution.
It’s a perfect model of failure by SEC! If we add to that the lack of quality in the health services sector, you get an ideal recipe on how to attract highly qualified professionals to work in this place!
Qatar needs to offer English independent schools for expats and have actual educators running them. Society cannot rely on private schools to pick up the slack.
International schools are tough to get into but it is a private institution which means they can accept or reject whoever they wish. Speaking frankly private should only accept the best in order to keep their standards up. I’ve worked in schools before where they accepted anybody and the schools test scores were atrocious.
The problem stems from the introduction of educational vouchers. The local schools have failed to provide a decent level of education for local children. They are run by operators who are neither experienced or qualified. In the past consultants have been brought in to rectify this situation to no avail because the operators think they know best. The work force in these schools have little interest in working and are not committed nor qualified. The standards are low and anyone who cares about education sent their children to the fee paying international schools. Local families looked around and saw that their friends children were doing much better at the international schools and demanded the opportunity to send their children to these schools also – hence the voucher system. So now you have empty local schools and the international schools heavily oversubscribed and preference will be given to local families with vouchers (at those schools who are accepting the vouchers – not so easy to jump through those hurdles either!)
If experienced, qualified educators were allowed to run the local schools effectively and given the freedom to demand a level of attendance, punctuality and behaviour then there would be less demands on the international schools. I cannot see this ever happening. However the overriding fact is that local families do not generally see the need for a good education – their children will either go into the family business or marry so where is the incentive?
Compounding this issue is the lack of any training for teachers in Qatar and do they really want to work as teachers?
Foreign teachers are not attracted to Qatar because of the sponsorship regulations etc.
This is a long term problem which will not be resolved by building 85 fantasy schools!