When did you get into International Education and why?
I originally left the UK for Finland in 1991 to marry a Finnish national. This led me to a role at a school in Finland. The experience changed my entire perspective of teaching. I had started to feel despondent about education in the UK. It felt too test based, too focused on data and statistics rather than the children themselves. It was great to experience teaching within the Finnish education system, a country that routinely tops rankings of global education systems. I’ve since taught in Thailand, Spain, China and now Qatar.
How long have you been in Qatar and what attracted you to that region?
I moved to Qatar in 2014. I guess I was attracted through a spirit of adventure as I had never lived in the Middle East. I was conscious that new schools were being built and educational change was taking place in this part of the world and was excited to become a part of that. The school I joined had a reputation for being at the forefront of innovative thinking which was a big pull.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in running a secondary school in The Middle East?
The local culture and its differences from The West can take getting a little getting used to. The school I am in has about 80% international and 20% local students so it’s very important to try and find a balance in how you communicate and connect with this range of students and their parents. There is a mix of different backgrounds and educational experiences so it’s necessary to be sensitive to this level of diversity on a day-to-day basis and also find ways in which to celebrate its uniqueness.
The climate itself take a little acclimatizing to as the summer months are so much hotter than anywhere else that I have worked. Qatar, however, is one of the safest places to live and it feels very different to what might be being portrayed in the western media right now. It has been very important to me as an educator to gain an understating and appreciation of what is actually happening in this fascinating area.
What qualities do you look for in your potential staff especially in this Middle Eastern environment?
Efficacy and a collaborative approach are essentials. You will, no doubt, be surprised along the way and find it challenging at times which means it is very important to welcome interdependence. It’s all about the team and not the individual. It is also important to expand one’s consciousness of the many cultural differences. Trying to implement the same teaching style used elsewhere in the world won’t necessarily work in Qatar and adjustments will need to be made in order to be successful. In particular, candidates will need to be aware that they might not be familiar with such a broad international student base and the associated diversity of learning experiences. With this in mind, it makes sense to opt for a more personalised approach, and above all, maintain a sense of humour!
The Middle East has seen a rapid growth in the number of international schools over the last few years. Where do you see it progressing – what would be your predictions for growth or areas of focus over the next 5 years?
Certainly, The Middle East appears to be committed to expansion and the influence of international education on local practice is becoming more noticeable. There is a growing middle market that will start to blossom much like what we have seen in China with the growth in bi-lingual schools. International-style curricula are definitely growing in popularity and I think there will be more schools with a mix of Western and Arabic teachers as well as students. As many countries in the region are in the midst of major economic restructuring programmes, it seems likely that there will be more focus on investment in human resources and that means more education.
So, what would you say to any teachers considering a move to The Middle East?
There are already some very well-known names out here which means you will be working alongside some very experienced and talented colleagues. An extensive range of IB training is available right here in Qatar as well as other world-class professional development opportunities. At ISL Qatar we offer a vast range of professional learning courses including hosting, and subsidizing, the Bath MA in International Education, the ECIS Middle Leadership Certificate and Cognitive Coaching with Ochan Powell.
If you are an adventurous type with an interest in what is happening in a part of the world that is undergoing some exciting developments in the education industry, then this is a great place to come. It has a high quality lifestyle and, speaking now as a parent, is very safe. Accommodation, restaurants and shopping malls are of a great standard and Qatar is a great hub from which to explore other parts of the world in the hands of the world’s best airline.