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Navigating the education system in Qatar



According to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, Qatar’s population surged ahead at a rate of 7.48% between October 2013 and October 2014 and is predicted to grow even further. With the drive for an increase in intellectual capital in the region and the influx of foreign workers to Qatar’s shores, the pressure to provide high quality education in Doha is increasing. However, navigating the options available for arriving expats can be difficult and steeped with barriers such as long waiting lists and some exceptionally high tuition fees. To allow you to make your own decisions on this very personal journey, here is a break down of the education options available to families in Qatar.

The Supreme Education Council (SEC) and the Ministry of Education direct Qatar’s education policy across all curriculums. They are responsible for decisions ranging from approving proposed schools to setting annual tuition fees. Both parents and schools can contact them for information or regarding any issues. It is important to note they have a useful schools directory of all the educational facilities within Qatar on their website: sec.gov.qa.

Selecting a curriculum

While the state schools in Qatar are free, most expats choose to send their children to private or international community schools if they can afford to do so. The choice of schools and variety of curriculums reflect the diversity of Qatar’s multicultural society. There are Islamic, American, English, French, Finnish, Indian and Turkish, to name a few, and choosing one means considering one’s home country curriculum (should you return one day) as well as entry consideration to worldwide universities.

In 2011, SEC created the Qatar National School Accreditation to drive the consistency and quality of education of schools in Qatar regardless of curriculum type. However, schools must still be accredited by the country whose curriculum they represent, so it’s essential for parents to check that a school is appropriately accredited before enrolling.

If you are considering a curriculum other than your home country’s, here is what you need to know:

International curriculums

In the British system, students take the IGCSE (or GCSE) exams at 16 years of age followed by the A-Level exams at 18 years of age. The A-Levels focus on three to four main subjects in further depth than the IGCSE and is equivalent to a U.S. High School Diploma. The International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) presents wider breadth in a full range of subjects from 16 to 19 years of age as an alternative to the British & American School Systems. The IB is gaining popularity globally and is independent of governments and national systems. It aims to encourage students to consider both their local and international environment through intercultural understanding and respect.

Contrary to popular belief, universities and colleges across the U.S., Europe and Asia are becoming much more knowledgeable and accepting of students with differing exam curriculums.

Check out DohaFamily.com for a summary of how each system relates to your child’s age.

All curriculums are provided with additional Qatari context as required by SEC, resulting in Arabic and cultural lessons provided for all children accordingly for all age groups.

Independent schools

Whilst most opt for a private school, Qatar does have independent government-funded schools. However, recent government reforms have changed the medium of instruction from English to Arabic making it likely to deter non-Arabic speaking expats from consideration. In addition, the Qatari curriculum that most of them offer may limit school entry abroad. If you are considering enrolling your student in an independent school, be sure to check your home country’s requirements to ensure that your child’s school record can be transferred back.

Pre-Primary Education

Either called nursery, crèche or day care, this level of care isn’t actually legally allowed to educate but rather only to provide child care facility within Doha. However, many pre-primary facilities offer some type of age-appropriate educational programming. Also, according to current SEC rules, nurseries are not allowed to enrol students past their fourth birthday.

For many parents, choosing a nursery depends on distance, price, hours and a personal preference towards programmes. Even though nursery is not compulsory, many parents find themselves considering it, as applicants to some pre-schools (e.g. Doha College Primary School and Sherbourne) are shortlisted on the basis of a nursery report.

Important factors to consider when choosing a nursery could be: quality of outside space, teacher-to-child ratio, primary languages spoken and number of days available (some have a mandatory minimum of three days). With the recent introduction of SEC Nursery Law No.1 of 2014, regulatory requirements for nurseries have tightened. All nurseries must operate on the ground floor only and they are required to have CCTVs, female-only staff and a dedicated nurse on site.

Check out the Doha Mums Nursery Guide for an extensive overview of the nurseries available in Qatar.

Primary Education

Many parents choose to enter their children into primary education between three and five years old. For many children who don’t gain entry at preschool (the year a child turns four years old), they continue to be on the waiting list for the school of their preferred choice whilst attending a second choice school.

Preschool admissions appear to be the most competitive entry level across all ages and grades in Doha with some schools, due to sibling priority, only able to offer as little as 10 places with more than 300 applicants. According to the GCC British Education Report 2014, the British Education system is one of the most sought after curriculums within Qatar and some schools give priority to British passport holders depending on the number of spots available per year.

Secondary schools such as American School of Doha (ASD), Doha College, Sherbourne, Compass, Doha British School and Park House provide a full education offering from four years old (preschool) right up to 18 years old (high school or sixth form). Students who attend primary school at one of these institutions are typically given preference to the same secondary school.

As with all schools, location factors heavily into people’s decision and many expats move to different areas of the city to reduce the commute time between work, home and school. Schools such as Doha College and Park House have opened or are due to open second school campuses across different ends of town to further meet demands.

Secondary Education

The large secondary schools have a multicultural mix of children and provide a variety of curriculums from A-Levels, International Baccalaureate (IB) to High School Diplomas, so it is important to consider which curriculum is going to be most valuable to your child.

Schools typically provide or recommend school bus services to alleviate the burden of school runs. The length of school hours of secondary school students typically range from 7:30 to 13:30 but can be further extend depending on how many after school activities and clubs the student is enrolled in. Sometimes these events or activities happen at other schools or sites, which can make planning for transportation more complicated.

Currently the most popular schools within Qatar at secondary school level for expats are Doha College, Sherbourne, Compass International, Park House, American School of Doha, Lycee Bonaparte, International School of London and Doha British School with the introduction of GEMS American Academy and the Cambridge School Doha in recent months.

Higher Education

University education in Qatar is primarily intended to provide Qatari nationals with access to world-class degrees and research centres. However, admission is granted, subject to entry requirements, for all expats and foreign students. A recent regulatory change resulted in Qatar University, the country’s first and largest college, returning to Arabic as its main language of learning, which will likely discourage non-Arabic speaking students from applying.

The majority of universities in Qatar are located in Education City. There is VCUQ (Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar) specialising in Art & Design undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) focuses on pre-medical and medical degrees. Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) specialises in chemical, petroleum, mechanical, and electrical and computer engineering undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) offers undergraduate degrees in business and computer science programs. Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Qatar) specialises in undergraduate degrees in Foreign Service. Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) offers undergraduate degrees in journalism and communication. HEC Paris offers graduate executive education programs for mid-career and senior executives. University College London Qatar (UCL Qatar) offers post-graduate degree programs in archaeology and other cultural studies. Hamad bin Khalifa University focuses on offering post-graduate degrees in Islamic studies and local law and business policies degrees.

In addition to what is available in Education City, there is the College of North Atlantic offering comprehensive technical programs across Health and Information Technology and the University of Calgary, which offers nursing and other health-focused qualifications.

Home schooling

Some parents choose to avoid the admissions headache and opt for home schooling in Qatar. Doha Home Educators (DHE) has been key in establishing an organised network for home schooling in Doha. They provide collaborative learning resources, a family network for both social and education purposes and a member’s only forum and events calendar. It is important to note that home schooling is reliant on registration in your home country under the appropriate laws and not supported within Qatar itself. Also, should you be using home schooling whilst waiting for a place at a preferred school it is important to note that some schools don’t advise it and would suggest that you return home until a place becomes available.

Special Needs

Special needs schooling is limited. Schools in Doha are not required to accept children with learning difficulties because they often don’t have the facilities or skilled professionals to accommodate special needs. However, there are some institutes offering support for children with learning difficulties including the Child Development Centre (CDC), Sunbeam Centre of Excellence and Cedars Tutoring Centre. Depending on the learning difficulties, key struggles for parents in Qatar have been in gaining access to the multiple diagnostic professionals required to assess a child and in gaining entry to mainstream education with the appropriate additional learning support facilities.

With the speed at which the education system is constantly evolving, it is important, as a parent, to stay up-to-date with schools and SEC rulings. SEC are responsive to parents and their cases so don’t hesitate to contact them if you have questions about age requirements, school report attesting or any other concerns.

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