Students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds in Qatar are the least likely internationally to excel academically and perform at the same level as their wealthier peers, according to a new report.
The study, titled “Equity, excellence and inclusiveness in education: Policy lessons from around the world,” examined the performance of disadvantaged students from countries belonging to and partnering with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
It found that in Qatar, enormous disparities existed in the quality of student performance at independent, government-run schools and the more expensive private institutions.
Data for the report was drawn from 2012 Program for International Assessment (PISA) figures, which tested half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries, who were considered representative of 28 million students.
The test focused on math, reading, science and problem-solving. Students in Qatar ranked below average in all three of the main categories, but still also showed improvement since first being assessed in 2006.
Authors of the report took students in the bottom quarter of PISA’s economic, social and cultural status – the least advantaged students – and looked at how many of them defeated their odds to academically perform in the top 25th percentile of all students internationally.
Poor students in Qatar were found to be the least likely out of students from 64 countries to shake off their disadvantage and outperform their peers. Only some 2 percent did so – while the OECD average was 25 percent.
Students in the UAE fared slightly better, coming fifth from the bottom of the rankings, with around 5 percent achieving success.
In comparison, students in East Asia were more likely to overcome obstacles to perform academically, as the top three spots were taken by students in China.
Shanghai polled around 76 percent of resilient students among disadvantaged students, followed by Hong Kong, with Macao coming in third place.
The report provided a number of suggestions to improve the equity of education in Qatar and other countries with attainment gaps.
The main one was providing all students, regardless of their status in society or their socio-economic background, the same quality of education.
In Qatar, this has been difficult because the most affordable education option is the independent school system, which has been criticized as “broken” by many educators.
Additionally, classes in the public school system are conducted largely in Arabic, excluding much of the majority expat population here.
In the absence of a viable public schooling option, many families turn to private schools, which cost more but appear to have an improved quality of education.
For example, according to the OECD report, state-educated children here were three years behind their private schools peers in math ability.
In their sample of students, 62 percent attended independent schools, 37 percent went to private schools and 1 percent to semi-government schools.
Out of the 47 countries assessed, Qatar’s private school students had the biggest advantage over their state peers, with a 108 point differential – putting the nation at the bottom of the table in terms of education equality.
One factor that is exacerbating inequality in Qatar is a shortage of qualified teachers.
One fifth of Qatar headteachers quizzed by the OECD said that a lack of good science teachers hindered their students’ learning “to some extent” or “a lot,” while 17 percent said a shortage of good math teachers were detrimental.
Meanwhile, about 10 percent said that a lack of good language-of-instruction (Arabic) teachers were affecting their students’ achievements.
The report noted that schools in rural areas of Qatar were particularly affected by a teacher shortage.
However, it pointed out that having a large number of teachers was not enough to turn around disadvantage. The teachers also had to be experienced and properly qualified.
Figures from the Supreme Education Council’s Schools and Schooling report published last April found that one-third (33 percent) of teachers in Qatar’s independent schools did not have a teaching qualification.
The SEC report also picked up several other issues affecting school performance, including high absenteeism, with an average of 17 days missed each school year, and students being late to school 15 percent of the time.
Additionally, the level of homework set in Qatar’s schools varies significantly, with an average of 1.7 hours per week in independent schools and 2.3 hours a week in private Arabic and international schools.
How to improve
Recommendations to mitigate inequality including providing tailored and regular professional development for teachers to enhance their skills, and improved working and salary conditions to motivate good teachers to attend and stay in deprived schools.
Mindful of the attainment gap, Qatar launched a new Teach for Qatar, Teach for All initiative earlier this year.
Under the program, which was launched by Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, selected recent college graduates and young working professionals from various backgrounds would be provided with training and mentorship.
Those who qualify would be placed as full-time teachers in various independent schools in Qatar for two years.
On its website, the program said:
“There is a disparity between the amount of resources invested in education and the output produced and a great discrepancy between the top performing (typically private) schools and the bottom performing, government-run schools.”
Additionally, professional development for teachers is one of the key functions of the National Center for Educational Development, run by Qatar University’s College of Education.
In collaboration with the SEC, the center runs school-based support programs, training courses, workshops and seminars throughout the year for teachers particularly in independent schools.
Another OECD recommendation is to encourage more children to go to pre-school. The report noted that children who attend one year of pre-primary education have better math results than those who did not.
Qatar appears to be on board with this. Last summer, the SEC announced that all Qatari children should attend kindergarten from age three, following a two-year curriculum of learning through play, in a bid to improve language levels.
However, a shortage of schools for both expats and Qataris appears to be a long-standing problem.
Just think what the powers that be could do for Qatari education, with the money being spent on this white elephant world cup. Now that’s lasting achievement!
The white elephant is critically endangered and the money spent by Qatar is crucial for its survival.
Education is the key to life prosperity, society progression and wealth creation…unless of course you get given wealth by birth right then why worry about education? And I’m not being critical of locals here, I’m just saying that is some wealthy by birth peoples attitude the world over. As Kingpin points out perhaps the money spent of the World Cup should have firstly been spent on education, much more beneficial and on going legacy than a game of soccer. Invest in humans first I’d suggest. These PISA rates should really raise concern amongst the Qatari citizens, and lets hope there is some groundswell to get some positive improvements, for the sake of future generations of citizens. A sharp raise in PISA rates would be a much better achievement than hosting a game of soccer.
A problem within the region is a common belief that degrees are the only thing that have value – the education that goes into them is secondary. This leads to the culture of cheating, short-cutting, reduced hours, and student/parent-declared holidays that no doubt has a major role in these results.
How do you change such an idea? Part of it is through education, which in Qatar won’t work since the system is beyond broken. Rather, it’s through economics – forcing people to recognize that education is more valuable than a degree because if a person can’t do a job, they get sacked. That seems deeply unlikely to happen anytime soon in a state and society that values cradle-to-grave welfare as the trade off for a citizenry that will never in large numbers question their rulers directives.
Qatar will therefore muddle along. The worst off will be those unfortunate enough to attend the Independent Schools. But they may not mind so long as the government helps them afford a new toy ever few weeks.
So true… unfortunately.
Yes a degree means everything here, regardless of what shonky fly by night backwater or back of the Web “university” issued it. It’s laughable at times.
I couldn’t agree more Mr. B. Education is much more than teaching that 1+2=3 so that a child can pass a standardized test. “Education” should be about teaching children to use critical thinking skills, and that not every “problem” has a defined “solution” but instead using those critical thinking skills to think outside the box and take a look at the big picture at hand and use creativity to develop a solution, and have knowledge of society’s past mistakes to avoid making something similar.
To me, proper “education” doesn’t necessarily give the child all of the “answers”, but in an ideal world that “education” gives the child a passion for learning, a desire to want to continue learning (we should ALL learn until the day we depart this earth), and gives them the resourcefulness to be able to continue their learning and research throughout life.
I feel extremely lucky that I had teachers and professors that instilled that passion for learning in me, and I very often speak their praises because I know I would not be where I am without their influence. I just wish all could be so lucky to have teachers like that. Sadly in some locations, even if teachers are able to instill such passion in students, if the societies principles do not value that, or they coddle ineptitude, then the fantastic work of these educators will be lost in any case.
“All in all we’re just another brick in the wall”… 😉
Qatar doesn’t put a lot of value on children. Instead of paying world rates for teachers we source from some of the most impoverished countries in the world. We haggle them down to a ridiculous wage, if they don’t take it, off to another country in crisis we go to source. We just don’t reward teaching as a valuable contribution to the community. We don’t want to pay world rates for nannies, instead haggling down to the very lowest possible. These people are charged with looking after, educating, feeding, clothing and instilling good behaviour in our children and yet it’s regarded such a poor career it’s not even covered by labour laws. Heaven forbid the Filipinos wanted a working wage, off to Africa we go. The development of our children is seen as something we can do on the cheap. The reality seems to be at complete odds with the international agenda Qatar is pushing at the very highest levels.
Let’s not forget no value placed on their life…no seat belts…yet car accidents are the biggest cause of child mortality….
Too true, non compulsory child seats and non compulsory seat belts for rear passengers – where’s the legislation to protect our most vulnerable road users? Cots with one touch drop sides (illegal in many countries) and product recalls not enforced (Graco car seats) prevalent in our most well known baby stores. Yet some travel the world in fancy designer gear advocating education and the importance of children to the development of mankind. It’s time to start, not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.
Think of how it used to be 30-50 years ago in places like the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and the likes. I know from some of my Canadian friends that back in those it the attitude toward seat belts was not that different from here. It takes time, unfortunately.
I’m sorry it’s a hollow argument that just doesn’t hold water. The knowledge, research and know how exists world wide now, it didn’t 50 years ago. Qatar is willing to take on other areas of knowledge instantly but protecting children in vehicles they do not. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to preventable child deaths. No excuse is acceptable. Seriously you can’t tell me that a whole nation, some who are highly educated, is unaware of the danger of not restraining kids in cars, it’s a choice they make, sometimes falsely based on the mentality of I’m a good driver! Anyone accepting the argument of look at the west 50 years ago is not willing to face the fact that the developed world now knows the dangers and how to reduce them, and is just making excuses for the inexcusable. Road accidents are the highest cause of child mortality in Qatar, a majority which could be prevented, why do people here not take heed and look after their children by restraining them and driving safely? They are children who need protecting.
I’m with you.
The whole, ‘the US/UK used to be horrible about safety, so it’s ok for Qatar to be lagging behind is ridiculous.’ Two generations ago, road safety was not taken all that seriously anywhere. Why is it that so many other developed nations have learned that seatbelts save lives while Qatar has not? The same information is available, if not forced upon them, and they all drive the same sorts of cars, have similar road layouts, etc. etc. etc. In other areas, such has ownership of smartphones, Qataris are surpassing the West. Why not do it something useful, like road safety and education?
Speaking to a teacher, I learned that Qatari’s in later school life become less interested in education. Why this should be she could not say, but suspected it was because the Qatari as a whole are a privileged society and they expect the benefits of being a Qatari will fall on their lap. I don’t know if that’s true but it sounds plausible. The other thing she said was that the International schools were under enormous pressure to cut costs and this was reflected in the salaries of the teachers, and that it was demoralising to experience the attitude of the Qatari to the teachers and education in general.. Attracting the highest class of teachers was therefore difficult.
That Qatar has not managed to build a world-class educational system for its children is shocking.
It has a small population, a powerful central government to implement change, and does not suffer from an entrenched existing educational system. Qatar has the resources to build a skyline in a generation, but not teach its children basic maths? It’s a matter of will and priorities. It’s time to create a system in which every child and parent in Qatar (rather than international soccer fans) should ‘expect amazing’. The future of Qatar is the knowledge and skills of the next generations.
maybe more money to invest in good education, i.e good teachers with good curricula and less money on resorts…? Education and health systems make a country developed!
Catch 22 – If people aren’t educated they aren’t going to care about education.
At least not enough to do anything about it.