Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Gulf State goes for gold

Matt Salusbury on why the EFL industry is keeping an eye on Qatar

(First appeared in EL Gazette, February 2012)

The small State of Qatar, a peninsula jutting from the side of Saudi Arabia into the Arabian Gulf, is gaining a reputation for punching well above its weight in several fields, and education in English is no exception.

Qatar is best known for its Al Jazeera news channel, with over 30 million viewers worldwide. Al Jazeera’s reputation was enough to attract the Chicago-based Northwestern University to set up an English-medium journalism school in Qatar in 2009, joining the numerous English-medium universities that now have campuses on the vast Education City complex just outside the capital Doha. Many institutions in Education City are supported by the Qatar Foundation – set up by the consort of the ruling Emir with the stated aim of ‘democratising’ the countries of the Arab world, a project which is likely to become increasingly important in the post-Arab-Spring Middle East.

Qatar is also increasingly important in global diplomacy. It was the world’s first state to recognise Libya’s Transitional National Congress, and was crucial in galvanising other Arab League countries to take tough action against Syria. Thanks to vast oil and gas reserves, Qatar has the world’s fastest-rising economic growth rate, with projected US dollar investment in the energy industry expected to be in the tens of billions. It is also hosting the 2022 football World Cup. Qatar is definitely one to watch.

According to the census in 2008, of around one and a half million people resident in Qatar, only a fifth are Qatari citizens. There are about as many nationals of other Arab states there as there are Qataris. Qatar’s English-medium universities cater increasingly to citizens of other Arab countries.

Derrick Moloney, PR director of English teachers’ association Qatar Tesol, teaches at the Academic Bridge Program (ABP), a co-educational English language ‘preparatory school’ (preparing for university admission) and part of Hamad bin Khalifa University at their campus in Education City.

ABP has a small intake (about 300 a year) and only admits ‘students who meet the stringent admission requirements and successfully pass the placement tests’ including a high Toefl or equivalent score. ABP’s students are, according to Moloney, from thirty countries, nearly all Arabic speakers and mostly from ‘Arabian Gulf, Middle East and North African regions’.

Moloney describes the ABP curriculum as a ‘nine-month, highly intensive English-language foundation programme’ for EFL/academic English, maths, science and computer science. Its teaching staff are drawn from ‘over twenty different countries’ and all have at least five years’ teaching experience. Many students graduate to one of the English-medium university annexes nearby on the Education City campus – US universities such as Georgetown and Cornell Medical College, University College London and HEC international business school Paris all have a presence there.

Mark Moulding of the British Council told the Gazette that the BC provides a lot of training in Qatar for government school teachers, from kindergarten through to secondary school, via the BC’s English Language Teachers’ Network and through tailor-made courses, which include ‘trainer training and training to teach Ielts’. The BC in Qater also runs Celta and Young Learners Extension training.

Of the private language school sector in Qatar, the BC said, ‘The range is very broad and includes … vocational and soft skills.’

According to the BC, ‘Qatar has prioritised English for work and this is reflected in the education reform programme, which involves English-medium education in schools. There are some [English-medium] vocational colleges, including College of the North Atlantic, the Community College and Qatar Skills Academy.’

Some Qataris receive funding for study on English-medium courses abroad from potential employers, the government and the nation’s Higher Education Institute. These students ‘go primarily to the USA, UK, Australia and Canada’, according to the BC.

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