Challenges in Educational Reforms

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Introduction

During the last few years, many developing countries, particularly Arab nations, have become aware of how a quality education system can be the foundation of economic development and progress. This realization made these Arab countries find the urgency of educational reform and thus initiate various programs aimed to ensure improvement of quantity and quality of education. This task is never timelier now that there is a rise in number of the young people in the Middle East. The last few years have been witness to the efforts these Arab nations have given to implement comprehensive reforms in the education system that are to result into a highly-skilled and knowledge-based workforce that can help in achieving the region's socioeconomic goals.

Education Framework for Middle East

Three frameworks that are seen to best fit the GCC Region, [1] as taken from best practices proven internationally, combine 3 major dimensions central to education reform. These are the following:

A socioeconomic environment wherein both the social as well as the economic priorities may be used be the focus of the education strategy and other related aims;

A model that would work for the education industry wherein its entities, along with good governance and funds can make possible the sustenance of the goals for education reform;

A ready infrastructure or plan that would make possible the achievement of the educational reform goals. These infrastructure, when pertaining to education would refer to the curriculum, quality teachers, performance measures, an environment conducive to learning and a reliable assessment

While there can never be just a single formula for education reform, the aforementioned framework represent approaches that, if followed holistically and to the letter, can only lead to success. This means that if the implementation of said framework will have an element or two applied properly but the other elements taking a backseat, then success may likely not be achieved. All elements should be present and applied completely at all times to gain wanted education reform. The reason behind this is that each dimensional element is linked inextricable with the other elements. Nations implementing the said framework and managed to link the mentioned dimensions during the implementation phase of the program are seen to perform well in the achievement of the students and in the human development. On the other hand, those who fail to connect all dimensions fall short of their goals.

The Concept of Education

Many studies point to evidences that prove that having quality education translates into the nation's economic growth. It is also a major ingredient into attaining general human development. [2] Over the last 50 years, countries like Singapore, Ireland and South Korea had their socioeconomic status reach great heights due to a key factor, quality education. This is why said countries are referred to as "miracle countries", with their per capita GDP growing rapidly from the 1960 era.

When talking about education and is reform, especially in the Arab world, debates on human capital quality is not far behind. The topic of these debates would be whether or not education reform can singly handle the task of improving life's quality in the Middle East countries while also enhancing the population's capacity to handle future challenges. [3] The studies and researches in connection with Arab human capital development managed to provide recommendations for policy creations that would enhance freedoms and create a society that is basically knowledge-based. [4] 

In the examination of the strategies being adopted by the GCC region, 3 main conclusions came up. These conclusions represent these societies' need in education reform at present and in the future. These conclusions are (i) that in all levels, there is an increase in the demand for education, (ii) that there is an effect resulting from changing domestic as well as international conditions on the Arab nations' socioeconomic environment and (iii) there is a need to integrate educations with government planning to ensure its success.

Return of Investments on Educational Expenses

It is unfortunate to note that though the GCC countries' government expenses on education since 1980s can be compared to those of the developed nations as shown in Figure 1, the return of such investments failed to yield as expected as shown in both quantitative and qualitative measures. [5] 

Researches show, particularly at the pre-tertiary level in GCC countries that there is a dire need to focus their present curriculum on math and science subject since low scores on the international tests such as TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) on said subjects are numerous. There is the need to improve the teaching quality on those subjects, preferably at par with those of the international standards.

Figure 1

Further studies showed that at the higher education level, GCC countries have majority of their graduate students belonging in the social sciences and humanities fields. Those who belong within the fields of science and technology are only a minority. It is an ironic situation since the latter is of a much higher demand. A look at the macro level revealed that unemployment is in double digits among GCC nationals basically due to inadequate education. Graduates were not seen to be sufficiently skilled to be able to hold jobs nor are they motivated enough become committed to those jobs. Also, business leaders complain about the GCC's current education system's ability to respond to the ever-changing business needs, thus necessitating the comprehensive reform of the educational system. [6] 

Many researches show findings that GCC countries may improve their competitiveness economically through the improvement of their educational systems' quality. This is apparent in Figures 2 and 3. This necessitates the institution of an effective framework for education in order to optimize both the channeling of money to fund for education as well as the return of investment for said educational expenses.

Figure 2

Figure 3

GCC's Ways to Gain Success in Education Reform [7] 

Three basic education reforms made up the framework that the education sector in the GCC region are intending to take to ensure success in it. Figure 4 sums up said framework. To reiterate and sum it all up, the factors that are said to be the key success to education reform in the Middle East are the following:

The presence of an Education Reform Strategy that will connect both economic and social priorities of the country.

The existence of an Education Sector Operating Model that will ensure the sustenance of a strategic reform plan through the development of 3 main functionalities.

Having a sound education infrastructure that will be responsible with the realization and delivery education reform's strategic goals in the GCC region.

Figure 4

Educational Reform in Qatar

After the review on important education reform literature that encompasses most nations particularly the GCC regions, it is now time to focus on Qatar. Qatar is included in the GCC countries mentioned in the preceding topics. Since the nation is blessed with very rich natural resources of oil and gas as well as possessing of forward thinking political leaders, its development economically and socially is in great pace. However, despite its small number of citizenry, the country makes its economy work by relying on expatriate workers for many types of jobs.

Having the necessary resources, i.e., opportunities, resources and challenges in mind, Qatar's political leadership managed to create a clear vision for its future that will have an economy that is knowledge-based and diversified, knowledge-based economy.  Clearly, this vision is that of a country with a socioeconomic status depending on its citizens' skills and knowledge instead of its rich but finite energy resources. To make such an ambitious vision happen, it is necessary that a national workforce able of handling regional and global challenges and the expanding role of Qatar be produced. This should be done holistically, not just on the economic level but also on the humanitarian and political levels. With a vision like that, it becomes imperative that Qatar's educational system be given the spotlight and determine its capacity and readiness to produce students that are highly educated and able to compete and come out successful among local, regional and global labor markets.

Principles of the Educational Reform

At the center of education reform are government-funded autonomous schools, curricula that are of international standards in English, Science, Mathematics and Arabic and tools for evaluation and assessments that will be able to accurately measure school performance and learning. In Qatar, it is the strategy of the education sector to make use of the following principles [8] to attain true educational reform:

Accountability - this refers to the implementation of assessment systems that are both transparent and objective that would make teachers, school officials and parents responsible for the students' success. Currently, the Qatar Comprehensive Evaluation Assessment (QCEA) serves this purpose and is administered yearly to students of independent schools.

Autonomy - this refers to the allowance of schools and its teachers to make use of innovative approaches to make sure the students' and parents' needs are met in accordance with the framework of the curriculum standards. At present, there are more than one hundred independent schools in Qatar that offer new models for methods of teaching, curriculum design and collaboration. It is expected that by the end of this year, all of Qatar's public schools will become independent schools.

Choice - this refers to the option given to parents in selecting the college or university that they see fit in meeting their child's educational needs. Their inputs on certain school decisions should be sought.

Variety - this refers to the encouragement of varying types of instructional and school programs.

With the review of the varying literature pertaining to education reform in general and Qatar educational reform in particular, it is quite apparent that the need for change in the education systems is needed now more than ever.

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