Challenges that met the Educational Reforms in Qatar

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A lot of challenges face the education sector, more especially during times of changing global trends as now. The world changes every single day and any changes affect every aspect of social, economic and political life of societies. Accordingly, the education system is expected to follow suit so as to remain relevant in a dynamic socio-economic and political environment. It involves the formulation and implementation of educational policies aimed at "reconciling the processes of globalization and education in a way that is conducive to development" (Velde, 2005). However, the process of change in the educational sector to make it meet a society's needs is also met with surmounting obstacles. Besides the desire to make education the vehicle of achieving the society's needs, the process of reform is also faced with the challenging of designing a curriculum that is in harmony with the dominant social, political and economic ideologies. This is due to the fact that "despite international comparisons, national settings inform concrete policy measures" (Welsh, 2004, 359). If the new system fails to meet these requirements, then it not gain the necessary support it needs, especially in terms of financial funding. Similarly, it needs local support, such as from unions and other interested parties (parents, financiers and political leaders). The process of educational reform, therefore, is one that is characterized by a number of challenges that should be addressed before an effective implementation could take place.

The Qatar education system provides a good example of the overwhelming challenges that can stand on the way of educational reforms. The paper aims to examine some of the major challenges that faced the educational reformation process in Qatar. They included political, financial as well as social issues that influence the learning process, which must be addressed to facilitate the development and implementation of a comprehensive and meaningful school curriculum. Additionally, the paper explores a number of similar challenges that have hindered educational reforms in other countries, such as in the US and Mexico. Through such a comparative analysis of the common factors affecting educational reforms in any society, the research aims to highlight some of the difficulties that hinder educational change, which in turn will provide useful insights into the pertinent issues that face educational sectors in various socio-cultural, political and economic settings. The following section discusses the challenges that faced the Qatar education reforms

2. The challenges that impede the reform of Qatar education

2.1. Lack of Effective Evaluation Tools

The process of learning is characterized by different approaches, all of which contribute significantly to the overall success of an educational system. Any education system is guided by principles, goals and objectives which it aims to achieve in the learners. Individual based goals will include the imparting of knowledge and skills relevant to enhance personal development, self reliance and problem solving. At a national/societal level, the education system aims to promote ideal norms and values that are necessary for social-political harmony and national economic development. Thus, the reformation process should endeavour to achieve those goals that are useful to both the individual and the society at large. Nonetheless, more common across countries is a gap between implementation of reforms and evaluation of whether they are having the intended effect. While in some cases the reforms are new and therefore could not be evaluated for their usefulness, in others the lack of systematic assessment stems from gaps in the data available for tracking the effects of policy changes. Curriculum designers, therefore, are charged with the responsibility of first addressing the various socio-economic and political factors that influence schooling, and in turn impact either negatively or positively on the overall achievement of educational goals and objectives. In Spain, a comprehensive evaluation process was conducted before the reformation of its education system. It was revealed "the changes that Spanish society has undergone in the past two decades, the limitations and structural deficiencies of the educational system and the difficulties the system has encountered in attempting to successfully meet the growing social demands" (Martin, 2001, 77).

In this regard, educational assessment is crucial in determining whether the outlined goals are being met by the old curriculum, and how the planned changes will address its weaknesses and shortcomings. In regard to the Qatar educational system, one of the major challenges was conducting a comprehensive educational evaluation exercise to highlight areas of shortcomings, and the necessary changes that will facilitate the realization of educational goals. Oftentimes, however, there exists a wide gap between the implementation and evaluation of educational reforms, such that it becomes difficult to ascertain whether the education system is achieving its aims. As such, the vision and mission of education becomes important points of reference in providing the framework of designing the curriculum.

2.1.1. Lack of statistical data to guide the evaluation process

The Qatar education system had various weaknesses, since there were concerns that the country's educational system "was rigid, outdated and resistant to change, as well as not producing desired out comes" (Gonzalez et al, 2009).

It was on these grounds that the Qatar government commissioned an evaluation f the country's K-12 education (kindergarten through grade 12) so as to determine viable options for designing and implementing a world-class system of education that was consistent with similar Qatar initiatives for social-economic and political change. Unfortunately, educational reforms in Qatar are recent undertakings; hence it is not possible to carry out a comprehensive evaluation that can determine whether the intended goals are being met. The absence of conclusive statistical data on the trends of past reforms presents a major challenge in efforts to pinpoint any possible challenges to be anticipated in the new system. Moreover, this setback often makes it difficult for educational policy makers and implementers to predict the pattern that the new system will take in the long run.

2.2. Lack of coordination between Students Assessment Office and Curriculum Standards Office

Another challenge facing education reforms was "the separation of standards development and assessment development in two offices which hampered communication in terms of alignment" (Gonzalez, et al, 2009). The establishment of two offices to oversee assessment-Students Assessment Office (SAO) and standards development- Curriculum Standards Office (CSO) hindered cross-office corroboration to ensure unity of purpose and a harmonious implementation of different educational policies. Even then, the assessment of standards was conducted within a limited time-span, which made it difficult to give a more realistic picture of the education system.

2.4. Financial & Human Resources Development and Allocation

More importantly, however, is the challenge of resource allocation, which becomes ineffective in the absence of evaluation to highlight areas of weakness due to shortage of resources.

The sustenance of a new education system is equally demanding as the task of evaluating its usefulness. An education system will not achieve its intended objectives if it is not sustained long enough to guarantee the realization of long term goals. To this end, evaluation is significant in projecting overall costs in terms of time, financial and human resource expenditure. Since education is a long term investment, it requires considerable input of resources to support the various educational activities involved in the learning process. The provision of infrastructure such as learning facilities and equipment are necessary to facilitate the transmission of knowledge to learners. It also aids the process of evaluation, which further provides guidelines of making the necessary adjustments in light of emerging educational needs.

The provision of these resources often proves a challenging responsibility to educational financiers and governments, as exemplified by the Qatar reformation experience. The development of a human resource capacity is necessary for the successful implementation of new reforms.

2.5. Reliance on Foreign Human Resource

Most of the States in that region such as UAE and Qatar are heavily reliant on international expatriates in most technological and academic disciplines. In the education sector, Dubai's education is characterized with a heavy presence of foreigners, which underlines the country's shortage of teachers and educational experts. Similarly, Qatar lacks the necessary home-grown educationists to drive the reformation process in a manner that is more reflective of the country's socio-cultural, political and economic needs. This is mainly due to the country's small population, which cannot provide the required manpower in the labour sector. At the same time, the country's cultural and religious values hinders the participation of females in white-collar job-market, thus making it difficult for the male population to provide a sufficient human resource base.

The reliance on out-sourced personnel that has become a common element of human resource management of the 21 first century (UNESCO, 1995) presents its share of drawbacks, which involve the lack of full understanding of the local context in relation to learning, as well as the socio-cultural aspects that influence schooling. Of concern are the aspects of regionalization and marginalization, which tend to shape education to reflect the needs of a specific socio-cultural context. In this regard, relying on foreign expertise slows down the rate of integrating local values into the learning process, besides a lack of clear understanding of the local needs that education endeavours to address.

2.6. Achieving Collaboration among Stakeholders (the Qatar government, Local Community and the Private Sector)

The engagement of various stakeholders in the education reform process provides grounds for diverse and sometimes conflicting opinions. Different stakeholders may have contradicting interests on the education sector, which in turn could jeopardize the whole process of reformation. A classic example is that of the US, where private investors favoured the privatization of the education sector, while unions objected in favour of public school system. The existence of different economic classes presented the problem of determining the path that the educational process should take, since it underlay the factor of affordability of education to various classes. While the rich favoured a private sector that provided a uniquely tailored education, the middle and lower classes, through their labour unions, leaned towards a public education system. In such cases, it would be difficulty to implement reforms in a uniform way. Similarly, the education sector in Qatar is characterized by a significant rate of private investment in education, which could pose the same problem as that of the US. Moreover, political leaders hold a swinging influence on the reformation process, which could affect it negatively. For instance, the Qatar leadership's desire to have a standard assessment within one year failed to produce realistic results (Gonzalez et al 2009).

Nonetheless, the high investment rate in the education sector requires the fully participation of private entrepreneurs to make it successful across all socio-economic spheres. The major challenge in this regard is the fact that educational evaluation and reformation processes are initiated, funded and regulated by the government. However, recommended policies are supposed to apply to the private sector as well. As such, the failure to involve private investors is a major hindrance in realizing the desired educational goals. In Mexico, for instance, the education sector is controlled by the Ministry of Public Education, therefore making education uniform across the whole country (Lorey, 1995). Additionally, the reforms in education were new in the country, and therefore it was difficulty to rally support from among locals, as well as involve them in active participation of the transformation process.

The success of the reform's system-changing design rests partly on the establishment of high-quality Independent schools. Qatar should seek to attract the best school operators without regard to nationality and should provide ongoing support to school operators as they develop their visions of quality education.

2.7. Globalization in Education

Perhaps the most overwhelming challenge that faces any educational reform is the globalization of education. With the advancement of technology, the world is fast becoming a global village, where the effects of global trends are felt in individual nations and societies. Countries are no longer isolated enclaves, but rather characterized by free borders and movement of labour. This is one unique feature of Qatar, since it taps labour from around the world, especially in the education sector. As such, one challenge it had to contend with is to adjust its education system to attain an international image, such that it attract the best human resource and offer internationally recognized education. This is more evident in higher education, which is gradually moving away from the traditional perspectives which tends to place universities in cultural realms.

Due to the emerging trends on the international scene which favour an education system with a global outlook, the traditional culturally defined approaches to education have revealed weaknesses, mainly in relation to their failure to offer learners an education that offers them opportunities in the world labour market. In Germany, for instance, the central debate on educational reforms is the need to balance between individual development through scholarly activity and training the learner for a professional career (Ostermann, 2002, 45.) Likewise, Qatar faced the same challenge facing other countries in reforming tertiary education: making education more reflective of international characteristics, and less of culturally defined values. Not surprisingly, educational reforms in the world today indicate that "awareness of international trends has increased (van der Wende, 2000), which has encourages a culture of cross-national comparisons of education systems.

Consequently, the biggest huddle for the Qatar government was the need to conduct a cross-national comparative study of education systems across the world, and highlight some of the pertinent issues that face education reform processes. According to UNESCO (1995), major challenges in the reformation of tertiary education "imply the need to

rethink its role and mission, identify new approaches and set new priorities for future development." Similarly, Qatar had to re-strategize its education system so as to not only reflect international trends, but also fulfill its national needs in the labor sector and facilitate economic growth.

Globalization portends another challenge in the education sector, namely the need to broaden access and participation in education. Presently, it is one of the UN's millennium goals to achieve free basic education among member states. However, polarization presents a major challenge to this end, since there are socio-economic inequalities that hinder a uniform implementation of reforms. The presence of private education providers in Qatar aggravates this problem, since the rich are more likely to shun public education in favor of the private sector, which tends to be independent of government control, and less accommodative of public agenda, reflecting a similar scenario as that of the US.

3. Conclusions

In conclusion, the needs for education reforms imply the failure of the existing system to fulfill a country's national agenda for education. Qatar's reformation process was necessitated by the desire to offer a high quality education to facilitate economic development, recognize global changes in education as well as meet the country's labor needs. Nonetheless, the process faced several challenges, which ranged from the need to integrate internationally recognized values into the education sector without eroding its unique socio-cultural aspects, sourcing for human resources to aid the implementation of reformation policies as well as the mobilization of resources to sustain the implemented reforms. This notwithstanding, the need for evaluation measures was very critical, so as to determine the success of the new system. However, as noted in the discussion, comprehensive evaluation of the system has slowed by the separation of assessment and standards offices, which hindered close corroboration. In light of these challenges, therefore, the new system must withstand the test of time to prove its worthiness to the socio-political and economic needs of Qatar.