Reflections from Qatar about Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century

By Seungah Lee

In my current role as Head of Alumni and Impact at Teach For Qatarwith Teach For Qatar (TFQ), I constantly think about the following: What is the education that we want our students to receive, and how do we deliver that education through transformational teaching and leadership? And in order to do this effectively, how then do we need to train and foster leadership in our teaching fellows?  In this blog post, I discuss how reading GEII’s recent book, Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-first Century, prompted me to think about the answers to these questions. 

Although Qatar is not yet approaching 21st century education systemically like Singapore or other countries highlighted in GEII’s book, certain components of 21st century competencies, although limited, are in its national curriculum and are focused toward providing a relevant, student-centered education at a theoretical level. At a practical level, however, the emphasis is still on subject knowledge acquisition, and many of the policies associated with and underlying the curricular framework are also not implemented due to the weak mechanisms supporting them.

One of the ways in which the mechanisms can be strengthened is by improving the quality of teaching so that it is more aligned to a 21st century education. In fact, this is an area that TFQ aims to improve so that it can contribute to education change in Qatar through its teaching fellows and Alumni. Therefore, I spend much of my time at TFQ with our staff and teaching fellows reflecting on our individual and collective vision for students and thinking about how we can continuously improve our practice and influence others so that students in Qatar’s public schools receive an “excellent education” for a global, 21st century.

Given our vision for our students, insights from Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-first Century have been thought provoking and beneficial for me in designing and delivering programs for our teaching fellows. In fact, I realized that although we talk broadly about 21st century competencies in the context of an “excellent education,” we do not spend enough time trying to understand what 21st century teaching and learning actually entails at a practical level when it comes to classroom delivery from program staff. Moreover, in reflecting on how we train and support our teaching fellows, I realized that although we do talk about broadened goals for our students, especially when it comes to student mindsets and values, we are not very successful in helping the teachers make the link between this vision and their day-to-day practice.

The challenge of the national curriculum being dominated by content knowledge and cognitive goals in addition to assessments not incorporating 21st century competencies persists in Qatar. However, there is still quite a lot of room in the classroom to apply 21st century learning and teaching framework and practices into the lesson. Furthermore, there are ways in which we can better encourage 21st century education practice with our teachers in the way that we assess and evaluate teaching and learning happening in at least the TFQ classrooms.

Hence, I am finding that, we at TFQ are, in some sense, facing similar implementation challenges highlighted in the book at a much smaller scale. As with Chile, Mexico, and US, I find that there is disconnect between teacher training and broader goals of our vision for students. Additionally, I observe that our strategies in relation to our vision, which is based on 21st century education, conflict with strategies oriented toward other goals and needs regarding subject knowledge, classroom management, etc. 

So then, how do we frame and prioritize the way we want our teachers to teach in the classroom based on our vision? How do we align our training and ongoing support so that our coaches consider broader student outcomes instead of simply focusing on subject knowledge and/or technical teaching strategies? In fact, do our staff and teachers actually understand the content and competencies necessary for the 21st century so that they can be implemented at a classroom-level and spark change in an environment dominated by traditional methods?

These are some of the questions that I have been wrestling with upon reading the book. I hope not only to further develop our program but also to work toward our vision of improving education for our students. As I continue to ponder these questions, I cannot agree more with the recommendations highlighted in the book enough. Furthermore, as one who works with classroom teachers, I believe that these discussions cannot be limited to the policy level. As we continue to develop an understanding of 21st century competency development and strengthen the design of learning and teaching, we need to ensure that teachers are included in this work-in-process journey as well. After all, do we not need our teachers to have a deep understanding of what 21st century teaching and learning entails in order for them to teach effectively for the sake of our students?