Education is free in Qatar. Students in government schools are provided books and transportation to and from schools. The 12-year public school system consists of a six-year primary cycle followed by a three-year secondary cycle and then a three-year tertiary cycle, taking students up through the secondary level by Western educational standards.
Education in Qatar has benefited greatly from oil revenues. The first schools in Qatar before the beginnings of the modern education system were religious in nature, Quranic schools where young boys learned to recite the Quran and acquired basic Arabic literacy skills. The first secular primary schools, for boys only, opened their doors in 1952 shortly after oil exports began, and further expansion and development in education soon followed, as the Ministry of Education was one of the first government ministries to be created in 1956. In the mid-1950s, girls schools were started, and programs in secondary education began. By the 1980s, the educational sector was fairly well developed thanks to the generous welfare provisions of the state. By that time there were programs beyond general academic courses. At the secondary level of education, students could choose from technical, vocational, commercial, and religious training tracks.
The College of Education commenced operations in 1973, forming the nucleus of what was to later become the University of Qatar in 1977. The university now offers a considerable range of courses in the humanities, social sciences, Islamic studies, science, engineering, and education. By the early 1980s, there were around 46,000 students enrolled in the 12-year system of public education, and the government made plans to increase the number of schools from about 160 in 1983 to 300 in 1990. The majority of the teachers in the 1980s were foreign. However, Qataris, mainly Qatari women, comprised almost half of the teachers in public schools.
At the onset of the new millennium there were many challenges to be met by the Qatari education system. The era of oil super affluence, although permitting rapid development and accelerated progress, has also meant that citizens have come to depend on the social services and welfare provisions of a benevolent state. When schooling is free in an educational system that provides everything from buildings to books, and when there are comfortable jobs to be had upon completion of studies, the expectation of many younger citizens is that they will be able to continue a lifestyle of ease as did their parents. But in an era of dwindling Qatari oil reserves and a larger population, such expectations are unrealistic. Settling into a well-paying job with little actual work involved is an option that many of the younger generation in Arab Gulf states may never realize (Sick 1997).
Such a socialization into the welfare state mentality partly explains the overwhelming reliance on expatriate labor in the Arab Gulf countries. With an estimated 83 percent of its workforce comprising foreign workers, Qatar is somewhat in the mid-range as compared to other Gulf states (Sick 1997). And such dependence on foreign labor highlights an ever-increasing dilemma for the Arab Gulf states such as Qatar, a dilemma of an increasing mismatch between schools and training institutions with the actual needs of the labor market (Al Sulayti 1999). In Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the vocational/technical professions are generally seen as being beneath a certain level of dignity and respectability. Gulf nationals would prefer an easy government job as opposed to a vocational/technical career. The low enrollments in vocational/technical programs are not enough to meet the national needs for skilled workers, and this low enrollment reflects the less than enthusiastic attitudes toward professions involving "manual" labor that are vocational/technical in nature. Outside the government sector, companies generally prefer to hire motivated foreign workers willing to work for low wages rather than relatively unmotivated, expectant nationals. There are urgent reforms needed in the educational and training systems if these issues of concern are to be dealt with.
Upgrading of the Qatari education and training systems is a main focus at the beginning of the twenty-first century, targeting the quality of education available, the Qatarization of the workforce, the high failure rate of students in government schools, and the correlation of training and educational curricula with actual labor market needs.
At the twenty-first graduation ceremony of the University of Qatar in 1998, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, addressed the graduating class with a vision for further progress. Acknowledging the advancements made, he cited the need for reviewing and updating the university programs and specialized courses of study, upgrading the standards and quality of education, and relating study and research to the needs of Qatari society.
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