Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Making educational progress

In case it is not obvious, this blog frequently serves as a place where I note publications or reports that I've found of interest (and don't want to forget) as well as where I attempt to integrate different ideas across fields, culture, and time. Because the work at Qatar Foundation is essentially about educational progress in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf and because the educational models we are using are from the U.S.A. and Europe, it's important to watch for the links between the educational work in the Gulf and the western world. Two reports, one from the Arabian Gulf and compiled by the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute, Aligning Post-Secondary Education Choices to Societal Needs, and one from the U.S.A., Measuring Up 2008, have been the focus of my attention over the last couple of weeks.

The RAND-Qatar Policy Institute report advocates that Qatar's scholarship programs focus on five goals: 1) meet workforce needs; 2) develop language, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills; 3) prepare future leaders; 4) build cultural awareness of and ties to other countries; and 5) meet civic and cultural needs. Further, authors of the report studied a number of scholarship programs throughout the world and concluded that five principles should guide the operation of Qatar's scholarship programs; 1) quality, 2) accountability, 3) efficiency, 4) flexibility, and 5) support. Prior to establishing the vision for, and directing the resources to establish, the new approach to K-12 and higher education in Qatar, a select number of young people attended universities in the UK and U.S.A. The majority of Qataris, especially women, did not have the opportunity to continue their educations. Now through enhanced opportunities provided through Qatar University, CNA-Q, and Education City, an increasing number of male and female students have a breadth of higher education opportunity that can be tailored to each of their backgrounds/preparation, their interests, and the needs of the country. Educational opportunity can now be found in Qatar or through select programs abroad.

Measuring Up 2008 critiques educational progress in the U.S.A., noting that the U.S.A. was successful in the past but is now slipping in comparison to a number of other countries around the world. The parallel elements between Measuring Up 2008 and the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute report are the importance of; 1) improving K-12 preparation so that students can attend university, 2) providing affordable access to higher education regardless of family socio-economic status, and 3) focusing on increasing and assessing the quality of learning so that young people are prepared for work that will serve their private interests and the public good.

While Qatar does not have the history and the numbers of students that the U.S.A. has had, it is very ambitious in its contemporary vision. A laser-like focus that incorporates the recommendations of the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute report is likely to achieve in a very short time a level of education that will be rivaled by few, if any, other nations. The key issue for Qatar is stimulating the imagination of its people to see the incredible potential ahead and to see that the hard work required to get there is justified. By contrast, the key issue that I'm growing to realize as important for the U.S.A. is that it must not abandon the commitments it made in the burgeoning days of higher education in the mid-20th century. Measuring Up 2008 documents that, unless the U.S.A. returns to the focus on education that it previously had, the baby-boomers will be the last generation to benefit from higher education in such significant ways - the future promise of the U.S.A. may suffer as a result.

Qatar and the U.S.A. - interesting partners in education and both able to learn from each others' experiences of yesterday and today... The U.S.A. has been in an enviable position because it committed so much to higher education after the depression of the 1930s and WWII. Things are tough again in 2008/09. Qatar is investing its resources in education. Where will the U.S.A. invest its resources?

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