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By Mohammed Iqbal
In what can be called a belated move, the Supreme Education Council (SEC) has made it mandatory for all private schools in Qatar to include Qatari history in their curricula effective from the current academic year.
Accordingly, most private schools have either started teaching the subject or are preparing to do that. The SEC has issued textbooks in Arabic and English for the new subject, which are now being made available to all private schools.
A decision to introduce three new subjects in private schools — Qatari history, Arabic and Islamic Studies — was taken two years ago, but most schools could not implement the decision due to the unavailability of the study material, especially in English language.
There was also confusion whether the three subjects are mandatory for all private schools, or only those schools with Qatari students on their rolls.
The SEC finally clarified that all private schools must teach Qatari history, while Arabic and Islamic Studies are compulsory for schools having Qatari students. The SEC also issued strict instructions to all schools to introduce the three subjects from the 2012-2013 academic year that started in September.
Arabic is the medium of instruction for Arabic and Islamic history for Qatari students. As for Qatari history, the medium should be Arabic for Arabic speaking students and English for students speaking other languages.
The SEC also clarified that if an international school has Muslim students and if they want to learn Islamic studies, the school must include it in their curriculum.
All the basic learning resources used in teaching the three subjects should be approved by SEC’s Private Schools Office. If the school is using any secondary source, they should make sure it does not go against the culture and traditions of the country.
The schools are also required to provide an academic plan on how the three subjects will be taught in different grades and school terms. All the teachers in the three subjects should be qualified in their respective areas and the school should submit the relevant certificates to the SEC as a proof.
Enquiries with several private schools revealed that most of them have received the textbooks for Qatari history from the SEC and are in the process of preparing an academic schedule for the subject.
A few schools have already started teaching the subject from the beginning of the current academic year. There are also schools that have been teaching Qatari history over the past two years based on study material approved by the SEC.
The SEC decision has been welcomed by the academic community, which believes that students of all schools in Qatar must have a basic idea of the history and geography of the country they live in.
“We will integrate Qatari history to our social studies subject. We think it is good for our children to know and understand the history of Qatar,” Alexander Acosta, Principal of the Philippine School Doha told The Peninsula.
The SEC decision compliments Qatar’s efforts to introduce the culture and history of the country to the large expatriate community here. The celebrations during National Day, which falls on December 18, have gained more popularity over the past few years, with increased involvement of different expatriate communities, thanks to several new initiatives launched by the organisers. A quiz contest focusing on the Qatari history and culture was a highlight of the celebrations last year.
The decision to make Qatari history part of the school curriculum assumes more significance since it can impart knowledge and create awareness among students in a systematic manner, feel many academics.
“It comes as an additional subject but it is good for our students. We have collected the textbooks from the SEC and have prepared a timetable. We are planning to dedicate at least one hour for the subject every week in all the grades,” said A K Shrivastava, Principal of the Birla Public School.
The textbooks give a comprehensive idea about the history of Qatar from the ancient to the modern times. They also shed light on the economic development in the country, he added.
The SEC has prepared textbooks and activity books for the new subject for grades 1 to 12. However, study material for the higher secondary levels has not yet been distributed to the schools, said school sources.
Several parents and school officials have complained about the high price of the books. The textbook and the activity book for each grade together cost QR180, while the textbook alone is priced QR126.
In view of the high prices, some schools have given more time for students to buy the books.
“We are already in the middle of the academic year and we may not force the students to buy the books this year. However, we will start teaching the subject very soon. Complaints about the high prices have already been taken up with the SEC officials and we are expecting a relaxation by next year,” said the principal of an Indian school.
“I have three children studying in different grades in a private school. The school a couple of days ago issued a circular asking parents to buy the books for Qatari history. I have to shell out an additional QR540 to buy the books, which is almost equal to the prices of all the other textbooks together,” lamented an Indian parent.
Most schools are introducing the new subject as part of their social studies curriculum.
“We don’t anticipate any problem in teaching Qatari history since we are already teaching history in most grades. We have assigned our social studies teachers to teach the new subject,” said A P Sasidharan, Principal of the MES Ind ian School.
Several international schools have also started teaching Qatari history, enquiries revealed.
“We don’t find anything unusual about the new subject, since Qatari history is part of world history. It is necessary to teach the subject since we are staying in Qatar,” said a teacher at an international school, seeking anonymity.
Several private schools are arranging separate classes for their Qatari students, since they have to be taught the subject in Arabic, as per the SEC rules.
Most international schools have a significant number of Qatari students and even some community schools are having at least a few Qatari students on their rolls. “We have some 17 Qatari students and we have to arrange separate classes for them in Arabic,” said the principal of an Indian community school.
“We have only eight Qatari students and they are in different classes. We have to find a mechanism to teach them the subject in Arabic,” said the principal of another school.
Most schools said feedback from the teachers and students was not yet available, since they are in the initial phase of introducing the subject.
A teacher of a Pakistani school, who has been teaching Qatari history for two years, said her job would now be easier with the introduction of the textbooks.
“Until now we were relying on some study material that we gathered from various sources with approval of SEC. This was not adequate. The textbooks will now make our job easy,” she said.
Reactions from the students were mixed. “This is a good subject. It is easy to score marks,” said a Pakistani student, studying in Grade 7.
“We would be happy if the subject is not made compulsory in the higher levels since we are already overburdened with many subjects,” said a student of Grade 10.
Most schools said they will have examinations to assess the performance of students in the new subject.
“Until now we have not received any instructions from the SEC regarding the evaluation. If there are no specific rules set by the SEC, we will develop our own assessment system,” said a principal.
Officials of some private schools sounded confused about the decision despite an ultimatum issued by the SEC to start teaching the subject from the current academic year.
“We are ready to teach the subject but we are still not sure whether the decision applies to the community schools,” said the principal of an Asian community school, requesting anonymity.
He hinted that the school might delay implementing the decision until the next academic year.
A senior SEC official recently urged parents to collect the textbooks from the schools and make sure their schools comply with the SEC directive regarding the teaching of Qatari history, Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Representatives from the Curriculum Affairs Department at SEC will conduct annual visits to check if the schools are abiding by the rules.THE PENINSULA