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Students at Qatar’s government-run independent schools may have a longer summer holiday next year, not returning to classes until mid-September, the country’s education authority has said.

In a statement published in Arabic on its website, the Supreme Education Council (SEC) confirmed that the start of the school term for pupils will begin on Sept. 18, 2016.

The decision was made by the country’s Education and Higher Education Minister, Dr. Mohammed Abdul Wahed Al Hammadi, the SEC said.

The Sept. 18 start date likely applies also to private schools, since Qatar has had a unified summer holiday schedule since 2012. 

Eid holiday

The revised back-to-school date means that the Eid Al Adha holidays will be incorporated into the summer vacation for students next year.

This year, many returned to school on Sept. 6 for just over two weeks of classes before they broke for a week’s Eid vacation.

Eid al-Adha 2015 at the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque

Ray Toh

Eid al-Adha 2015

But Eid will be approximately 11 days earlier in September next year.

According to the SEC’s statement, teachers are expected to return to work on Sept. 4.

No details were given about Eid break for staff or when summer holidays will begin in June/July.

Thus, it remains unclear whether the students will have a longer summer vacation next year, or whether they will finish up classes later than usual to make up for the late September start.

The mid-year break for schools has also been set, to run from Jan. 24 until Feb. 4, the SEC said.

Private schools

Speaking to Doha News, one international school headteacher said it was in talks with the SEC to confirm its calendar for next year.

Dr Steffen Sommer, Principal of Doha College, said: “We are aware of the SEC’s directive regarding 2016 term dates and the Eid holidays. Doha College, a community school along with other British Schools in the Middle East (BSME), have approached the SEC with suggested term dates that allow us to fulfil our required teaching days. We are awaiting the SEC’s advice and guidelines.”

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ACS Doha

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Most schools publish their annual calendars with the caveat that dates are subject to change by the SEC.

Schools are expected to vary other holiday dates such as winter break by no more than a week, and all should have a minimum of 180 teaching days a year.

Staff and pupils can also expect shorter days for most of June next year, as Ramadan is due to begin around June 7.

This year, private schools and kindergartens set a five-hour school day, after receiving a directive from the SEC advising them to make the changes.

Will the changes affect your summer holiday plans for next year? Thoughts?

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Though a number of new schools are expected to open in Qatar in the coming years, the country could face a shortage of some 19,000 spaces by 2022, according to a recent report.

In its latest overview of Doha’s education sector, real estate services firm Colliers International said Qatar must accelerate the pace of construction of new schools to tackle the shortfall.

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SEC

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There are currently some 262,200 students enrolled in kindergarten, primary, secondary and preparatory schools in Qatar, according to the country’s Supreme Education Council (SEC).

But with tuition rates controlled by the SEC and property prices continuing to rise, the business case for constructing a new school in Qatar can be a tough sell, Mansoor Ahmed, Colliers’ regional director of education, healthcare and public-private partnerships told Doha News.

“This is one of the main problems in Doha,” he said.

Ahmed said one solution is for the government to offer up discounted land to reduce the costs of starting a new school, which can currently run up to US$50 million. This would help attract more investors and operators, he said.

“Unless there is a change in policy where land is available at subsidized rate, there will be a shortage,” Ahmed said, adding that he’s heard anecdotally of private operators and developers being offered discounted land in Qatar but has not seen any formal policies.

Simple math

The prediction of a shortage comes despite Qatar adding an average of 16,000 new school spaces annually.

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Qatar Olympic and Sport Museum / Flickr

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But at the same time, spaces for 17,400 new students – enough to fill eight to 12 schools – will be needed each year, assuming the population grows by 6 percent annually, Colliers stated.

That’s lower than the double-digit population growth rates Qatar has seen in recent years, but that may be because many of country’s newest residents are blue-collar workers moving here without their wives or children.

Still, as the frenetic pace of road, rail and stadium construction winds down and the 2022 World Cup draws closer, Qatar’s National Development Strategy envisions a shift in the characteristics of the country’s foreign workforce.

Specifically, officials want “a transition from the current low-skilled, low-productivity and low-wage economy to a high-skilled, high-productivity and high-wage economy.”

In Qatar, expats must earn a minimum monthly salary before they can sponsor family members. Attracting more high-income earners would, in theory, mean a high proportion of families in Qatar.

SEC efforts

To meet growing demand, authorities have announced plans to construct dozens of new schools across the country, with Ashghal saying it is currently overseeing education-related construction projects worth approximately QR3 billion (US$820 million).

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MES Indian School/Facebook

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Meanwhile, the SEC has made several announcements about the opening of new schools.

In addition to nine independent (state-run) schools – which primarily cater to Qatari students – the SEC said in February that 14 new Indian-curriculum schools and kindergartens would be opening. More recently, a senior official said nine new private schools, the majority of which would follow the British curriculum, would open last month.

However, there have been no follow-up details released on the names or locations of those facilities.

While many parents have said they’ve faced challenges in finding school spaces for their children, the SEC has there is an adequate number of schools for the country as a whole.

Still, while there may be a sufficient number of British and American schools, there continues to be a shortage of spaces in Indian, Syrian and Egyptian schools as well as for other curricula in some specific areas of the country.

Changing demographics

Colliers’ report, which is aimed at giving would-be investors an overview of Qatar’s education market, said demand for secondary school spaces in particular is set to rise over the next decade.

Currently, approximately 70 percent of all students are enrolled in pre-primary or primary grades, the firm says.

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According to Colliers, that’s because many older students currently return to their home countries because of financial considerations and to ensure they’re eligible to enroll in the university of their choice.

But the real estate firm said that is expected to change as more expat families stay in Qatar for longer periods, due in part to many working on long-term infrastructure projects that involve lengthy contracts.

And, as more attractions and recreational facilities open, foreign workers are becoming more inclined to bring their families to Qatar, Ahmed said.

“The expat population is gradually considering Doha for a long-term stay, rather than a short-term stay.”

This means Qatar’s secondary school population will gradually rise, a trend Ahmed said has already occurred in Dubai.

Business case

Setting up a private school in Qatar isn’t cheap, with Colliers estimating that the initial development costs range between US$50 million and $100 million (QR182.11 million to QR364.21 million).

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By comparison, Colliers said starting a new school in Dubai typically costs less – between $50 million and $75 million – due in large part to lower construction costs compared to Qatar.

Ahmed said that within the industry, land costs generally represent 10 to 15 percent of a new school’s price tag. But in Qatar, the figure is closer to 20 to 30 percent.

Construction makes up between half and 60 percent of the project’s capital cost, with the remainder going toward furniture and other fit-outs.

In addition to its capital-intensive nature, Colliers warned of other challenges. Schools must receive the SEC’s approval before increasing tuition fees, which has been difficult to obtain in recent years. And a shortage of skilled teachers means that recruiting and retaining staff can be a challenge, the firm added.

But for those who can overcome the obstacles, the education sector can be a lucrative investment.

Colliers said a well-run and high-quality international schools could have net profit margins of between 15 and 20 percent, which is higher than other real estate assets.

“The education market has become quite profitable,” Ahmed said.

Here’s a copy of the report:

Thoughts?

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Students at Qatar’s international schools are learning from teachers who are, on average, younger and less experienced than in years past, figures released by the country’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) show.

According to its latest Education in The Schools of Qatar report, teachers in Qatar’s international schools (which include American, British, Indian and Filipino schools) had an average of 10.9 years’ experience in the 2013-14 school year. That’s down from 12.2 years in 2011-12.

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At the same time, the amount of teaching experience held by educators in Qatar’s independent (state-run) and private Arabic schools has stayed relatively constant, at 11.4 and 13.5 years, respectively.

Despite the figures contained in the report, several recruiters and educators here said Qatar remains an attractive country for mid-career professionals.

Some added that they haven’t seen any noticeable differences in the demographics of teachers landing positions here.

However, as more private schools are opening across the GCC and beyond, demand for high-caliber teachers interested in working abroad is outpacing supply, according to one recruiter.

“Competition is growing across the board in the private education sector,” Zak Khalid, a senior international consultant at SeekTeachers, told Doha News.

By the numbers

Roughly three out of five students in Qatar (including nationals and expats) attend a private school or kindergarten.

Staff retention at Qatar’s schools has been a challenge in past years with slightly more than half of faculty members turning over in international schools in 2012-13.

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The figure was even higher – 64 percent – at private Arab schools, while 38 percent of teachers at state schools were new that year.

The SEC did not include comparable turnover statistics in its latest report, which asks educators, parents and students for their opinions and observations on multiple topics, including the availability of IT and library resources, extra-curricular activities and satisfaction with their school, among other topics.

However, the declining average age and years of experience suggests that turnover remains high among Qatar educators.

Younger/cheaper

That’s despite teachers reporting a declining workload, as well as consistently high levels of satisfaction with their workplace and supervisors. However, salary levels remain a sore spot for some (see sidebar).

Niall Brennan, the director of Park House English School, told Doha News that he hasn’t seen any noticeable changes in the amount of experience new teachers are bringing to his facility.

However, he suggested that other schools facing budgetary pressure may be specifically recruiting recent university graduates as a way to control costs.

In 2013-14, the year the survey was conducted, the SEC turned down the majority of requests from private schools to increase tuition.

But ahead of the start of the current academic year, the SEC approved 106 of the 147 applications to raise rates, the Qatar Tribune reported, adding that in 60 of those cases, schools were limited to increases of 2 percent.

“Younger teachers are cheaper,” Brennan said.

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He added that some larger schools in Qatar try to set aside a certain percentage of positions for younger teachers as a way of diversifying the faculty and helping recent graduates gain experience.

Some have suggested that many mid-career teachers came to the Gulf after being laid off from their jobs in Europe, Canada and the US following the 2008 financial crisis.

In a recent interview with the National, Ash Pugh – operations director for placement firm Teach Away – said now that economic conditions have improved in the west, the financial appeal of the Gulf has diminished somewhat.

“Now things are really back on the uptick so a lot of teachers are able to go home because the opportunities are available,” he was quoted as saying.

However, Khalid from SeekTeachers said teachers are usually motivated to pursue international career opportunities by more than just money.

An individual’s willingness and interest in living abroad, as well as their personal, financial and career circumstances all factor in, he said.

Thoughts?