Expat Eyes

This blog contains the photographs, observations and reflections of Rena Diana, an educator and writer, during extended stays in the Arabian Gulf, China, and Mongolia.

“The Brightest Possible Future”

“Yes, reform is still young,
but our students and teachers are giving us something invaluable…
the brightest possible future.”
Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, Qatar

Drive onto the over 5,500 acre campus called Education City in Doha, Qatar, and you will be transported into what seems like a fantasy land-  almost a stage set- carefully manicured, with magnificent, bold architecture, striking monuments to the importance of education. (See slide show at end of post.)  And you will see these GIGANTIC inspirational signs at every turn:

  

EXPLORE THE UNKNOWN-INNOVATE-THINK BIG THOUGHTS-SATISFY YOUR CURIOSITY-ASK MORE QUESTIONS-SHARE YOUR IDEAS-CREATE SOMETHING-UNDERSTAND THE MEANING

Slogans that capture the spirit of our own American educational “Best Practices”. Eloquent, empowering messages. As an educator, I feel a sense of hope whenever I enter this unique compound.  Here I am, in the desert, in miniscule Qatar in the Arabian Gulf, watching Muslim girls and boys taking classes together, where less than a hundred years ago the literacy rate was 0% (see January 17 Post: Back to the Future) and where even a decade ago coeducational classes were unthinkable.

There is a strong commitment to education in both Dubai and Doha.  More than 50% of the population is under 25. As both these countries are catapulting into the international arena, they realize how critical it is for their youth to be well educated.  So, in typical fashion, they are moving at a rapid speed. They have a lot of catching up to do!

“Education and entrepreneurship are the twin underpinnings for building a safe world.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Dubai

Qatar, under the brilliant leadership of, Sheikha Mozah, the second wife of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, has a particularly ambitious, bold and well-articulated plan for education. And they are making it happen.  Historically, well-to-do Qataris went abroad to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Qatari leaders realized that it would make more sense to bring the educational institutions to Qatar, so all of their young people could pursue higher degrees without having to travel and leave their families. The Emir decided to dedicate land and to fund the building of  state-of-the-art facilities toward this purpose. The vast complex, Education City, contains facilities from primary school through university and post-graduate study, including the Academic Bridge Program to support high school students needing further preparation to pursue advanced degrees. It is an innovative and effective model for international education.

The following universities were selected to become part of this enterprise, each having a special focus, which avoids the problems of competition for a small pool of applicants: Carnegie Mellon (Math and Information Technology), Cornell (Science and Pre-Med), Georgetown (International Relations and Pre-Law), Northwestern (Journalism), Texas A & M (Engineering), and Virginia Commonwealth (Arts). Each university operates independently, in collaboration with Qatar Foundation, which oversees the entire effort. The universities bring over their own teachers, staff, and administrators. The curricula are the same as the ones in the USA. All classes are co-educational and conducted in English. The students are predominantly Qatari, although there are some from other Arab countries and a few from the United States. Admission standards are the same, and these Arab-speaking students must take the same tests, in English, that their American counterparts do. In addition, there are well-designed collaborations with local businesses and institutions in both the public and the private sector. The entire city of Doha is rising to the challenge.

As part of the country’s commitment to serious dialogue and a lively intellectual climate, these universities sponsor internationally renowned speakers on a variety of timely and controversial topics: journalists such as Robert Fiske, religious scholars such as Karen Armstrong, technology experts, artists, architects, Nobel scientists, authors, diplomats and more. In addition, the Qatar Foundation sponsors the Doha Debates, held right in Education City, featured on CNN. They tackle the toughest contemporary issues, including the  political tensions in the Middle East. Several nights a week here we can choose to attend a lecture by a distinguished speaker. And there are always as many Qataris in the audience as expats- if not more.

“…to support Qatar on its journey
from a carbon economy to a knowledge economy
by unlocking human potential.”
Mission Statement, Qatar Foundation,

I had the tremendous privilege of teaching Qatari students at one of these universities, which will be the subject of my next post: Lessons from My Students Part 1.  Now, enjoy a 2-minute tour of Education City!

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One thought on ““The Brightest Possible Future”

  1. eghale on said:

    Rena — is Education City a money maker for the U.S. Universities? Why do they do it? is it a prestige builder for them? I sort of don’t understand the rationale from the U.S. universities point of view since it dilutes their resources.

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