Browsing 'school' News

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There is “no semblance of truth” to reports that the headteacher of a French school in Qatar made racist and offensive remarks about Muslims and Qatari students, the nation’s education ministry has said.

Jean-Pierre Debaere, the principal of the Lycée Franco-Qatarien Voltaire, was called in by Ministry of Education officials on Sunday to respond to claims made during the radio show Watani al habib (“my beloved homeland”) on Thursday.

During the program, a mother of a student at the school said she had been told that Debaere had made numerous offensive remarks during an internal meeting.

The woman, who called herself Umm Ahmad, was not at the meeting but said she had been told of the comments by unnamed people who did attend it.

‘Erroneous’ claims

Last night, a Ministry of Education and Higher Education spokesperson read a statement about the matter on the radio program, an official confirmed to Doha News.

The statement addresses claims made on the radio show that, following the November Paris attacks by gunmen, the principal gathered all the students and made them stand for a moment of silence, and then told them that “Islam is terrorism.”

Debaere told the ministry that he intended to refer to terrorist groups that call themselves Muslim.

He admitted some students had misunderstood his statement, and apologized at that time. He added that Muslims were also harmed by these attacks, which he denounced, the statement said.

Lycee Franco-Qatarien Voltaire

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Lycee Franco-Qatarien Voltaire

During what is described as a two-day investigation, Umm Ahmad and a number of other parents were also questioned by ministry officials.

After meeting with the claimant and other parents, it was made clear that most of the racist and offensive remarks that were reported on the radio show were not heard directly by any of the parents, including the claimant, but were recounted to them by others,” the statement said.

Debaere is described in the statement as a former diplomat in a number of Arab countries who has organized many initiatives that support Islamic culture.

No one at the ministry could be reached for comment, and the school did not respond to request by Doha News for a comment.

However, the statement has been widely reported in local Arabic media today.

Quoting the Ministry of Education, Al Raya reported:

“The results of the investigation that lasted for two days with all parties concerned proved that the racist comments attributed to Jean-Pierre Debaere, the principal of Lycée Franco-Qatarien Voltaire, are erroneous and have no semblance of truth to them.”

Verify facts

The ministry also said that other claims made about the school that were previously reported in local Arabic media were wrong, including that the school’s accountant did not have a college degree and that 63 Muslim teachers and staff were recently sacked.

The accountant, who was also investigated by the ministry, does have a degree and 15 years’ experience. Meanwhile, the number of teachers and admin staff who lost their jobs totals 16 Muslims and non-Muslims, which includes six people whose contracts had come to an end and who chose not to renew them.

Qatar's education minister

Dr. Mohammad bin Abdul Wahed Al-Hammadi /Twitter

Qatar’s education minister

After the radio show and subsequent calls for an investigation on social media, Education Minister Dr. Mohammad bin Abdul Wahed Al-Hammadi warned against jumping to conclusions until the claims were properly investigated.

Al-Hammadi echoed requests made earlier this month by a body representing the state’s private sector businesses, which urged media in the country to “be impartial and transparent” in its coverage of private schools.

Qatar Chamber’s education committee asked for all non-state funded schools to appoint a press spokesperson, and asked the media to verify facts before publishing them.

Thoughts?

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Parents in Qatar who are still scrambling to find school spaces for their children could see some relief in the coming weeks, a senior official at the Supreme Education Council (SEC) has said.

Nine new private international schools are in the process of obtaining final government approvals and are expected to open in time for the 2015-16 academic year, said Aysha Saleh Al-Hashemi, the assistant director of private school affairs at the SEC’s education institute. She spoke to Doha News today following a press conference at the SEC’s West Bay/Dafna headquarters.

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Mike Licht/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Al-Hashemi declined to name any of the schools, but said the “majority” will follow the British curriculum and that some 5,000 new student spaces are expected to be created. She also suggested most will be located outside of central Doha in outlying communities such as Al Wakrah.

Al-Hashemi said many of the schools are waiting for approvals from other government offices, such as a sign-off from the traffic department saying that the area around the school can safely accommodate the volume of vehicles dropping off and picking up students during peak periods.

She said she hoped to make a formal announcement and provide details about the schools within two weeks. Most students in Qatar will start the new academic year on Sept. 6.

Space shortage

As Qatar’s population continues to rapidly increase, some parents have said that they’ve struggled to find school spaces for their children.

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ACS Doha

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However, Al-Hashemi said there is an adequate number of schools for the country as a whole.

While there are a sufficient number of British and American schools, there is currently a shortage of spaces in Indian, Syrian and Egyptian schools as well as for other curricula in some specific areas of the country.

In February, the SEC announced 14 new Indian schools were scheduled to open in an attempt to help meet the demand, which has seen enrollment at one school, MES Indian School, soar to 10,476 – almost double the permitted number of 5,400 students.

No further update has been given on these new schools.

Al-Hashemi said the SEC is working to make it easier for investors to open new international schools in Qatar and is also creating an online portal to allow residents to search for schools that teach a specific curriculum.

In the meantime, she said parents who are still searching for school spaces are encouraged to contact the SEC for assistance.

Al-Hashemi said the most recent figures show there are more than 262,000 students enrolled in 433 schools across the country. That includes:

  • 102,426 students in 191 independent (government) schools;
  • 146,188 students in 155 private schools; and
  • 13,584 children in 87 private kindergartens.

Comparable figures for the previous year were not immediately available.

Independent schools

The SEC also announced on Sunday that it would make changes to the standardized testing system in Qatar’s independent schools, which are primary for Qatari students.

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SEC

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In July, many residents expressed outrage over a sharp increase in the number of high school students who failed their exams.

Some of the frustration came from students receiving relatively high exam scores throughout the year, but coming up short in their finals.

Al-Hashemi said the SEC would be working more closely with individual schools and teachers to develop more consistent evaluation criteria.

Additionally, exams for grade 12 students will be administered solely by the SEC at the end of the first and second semesters. Currently, they are tested separately by their individual schools and the SEC.

Separately, Al-Hashemi said the SEC planned to open a new training and support center for educators in Qatar teaching students with disabilities or special needs.

Thoughts?

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SEC

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Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) has defended its new grading system after several residents expressed outrage over a sharp increase in the number of high school students who failed their exams.

This year, 72 percent of students in Qatar’s government-run independent schools passed their exams, down from 85 percent last year. While the SEC maintains this “reflects the true academic level of the students,” the results haven’t sat well with some parents and students. Some have gone so far as to accuse educational authorities of “deliberately failing students.”

Translation: (We demand) an investigation (be opened) by a neutral committee on these high school results. How can a student get 80 percent (in periodic exams during the year) and 60 percent in the finals?

Translation: We have worked hard, but you gave us lower marks and didn’t give us our rights.

In a statement published Saturday, the SEC “expressed regret” over these attacks and defended its new grading process, saying it was transparent and credible.

Explanation

The SEC said it changed the methodology used to grade students and is relying more heavily on their actual exam scores. In previous years, final grades were calculated by applying a student’s scores through grading scales and equations provided by an outside company.

The SEC said that system wasn’t working. It “exaggerated” grades and failed to accurately assess whether a student was prepared for post-secondary studies.

Qatar University

QU/Facebook

Qatar University

It referenced a Qatar University study that found two-thirds of students who scored between 80 and 90 percent in high school had difficulties continuing their studies in university, as did 10 percent of those who scored higher than 90 percent.

While the SEC said it understood the frustration of some of the students who failed or had unexpectedly scored low grades, officials said it hoped these individuals would put in more effort to achieve their goals:

“Success is not a guaranteed entitlement for the student. It’s a result of his effort and work,” the SEC said in its statement.

Other reasons behind the lower scores include that many of the students who go to night school or are homeschooled intentionally didn’t attend the exams, after they discovered that stricter rules were implemented against cheating, according to SEC.

But many on Twitter weren’t swayed by SEC’s statement, describing it as “nonsense.”

http://twitter.com/rahaf87777/status/617464351671189504

Translation: At the end, these grades are because of your failure and the failure of the education (system). You want development when one graduates from independent schools not knowing how to read properly?

Translation: I’d wish you’d admit your mistakes SEC, the number of those who failed is higher and those who got higher scores is lower. That’s proof that you’re the problem.

The SEC emphasized that test scores are the joint responsibility of students, educators and parents.

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Qatar University/Facebook

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It suggested that parents should regularly monitor and follow up on their children’s academic levels, discipline and attendance and not “make up excuses for them, like some parents do,” the statement said.

The SEC added that parents can easily follow up on their children’s performance and behavior through an online portal unveiled in 2012.

Last September, just before schools officially opened, the SEC announced that students who are habitually absent would be banned from sitting for term and final exams.

It’s not clear if this policy was implemented, or how it affected the country’s overall pass/fail rate.

International comparisons

Studies have suggested that students in Qatar struggle to keep up with their peers academically.

In May, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a report that found students in Qatar had among the lowest standardized test scores in the world.

Qatar placed 68 out of 76 countries, which was the lowest rank in the GCC after Oman (72nd).

The report included students from both independent (state-funded) and private schools.

Thoughts?