22 June 2018

Digital Literacy in Qatari Schools: Education to Support a Knowledge-Based Economy


According to Kaminski and Bolliger (2012) a lack of technology skills remains one of the main concerns of employers around the world. If the global workforce is increasingly dependent on technology (Adams, 2002; Karkouti, 2016) and the point of education is to ready the next generation for employment, schools must consider the impact that digital competencies will have on their level of readiness for the world of work in a global society.

Education has always made this provision in terms of a basic level of literacy necessary for communication. However, if we consider literacy as not only the ability to read and write but also to have education and knowledge enough to operate successfully, then we need to rethink what literacy means in today’s digital world. With particular reference to Qatar's Educational System in the Technology-Driven Era: Long Story Short (Karkouti, 2016) and What Motivates and Engages Students in the Education Process - An Examination of Qatari Students' Mindset and Attitudes toward Going to School, Learning, and Future Aspirations (Lee, 2016), this paper examines the levels to which the curriculum standards of Qatar’s Public Schools address digital literacy. With a lens focusing on the extent Qatari learners are being prepared to take their place in a knowledge-based, self-sustainable economic workforce, it analyses the technological and educational reform strategies of the country and considers ways alternative curricula on offer within Qatar could enhance these standards.

Knowledge Economy for Tomorrow’s Workforce

To create a knowledge-based economy, citizens must possess not only the necessary skills and competencies but also the desire and willingness to participate and contribute to their society. If Qatar are to be successful in their desire to ‘Qatarise’ their economy and reduce dependence on foreign workers, the country needs to embrace “modern innovations and information technology systems” Bahgat (1999). Qatari children therefore need to be provided educational opportunities that will allow them to take ownership of the learning required to build that knowledge economy (Stiglitz, 1999); as such, Qatar’s national vision places importance in “national human capital development through education” (Lee, 2016).

When it comes to the ‘skills and competencies’ required to create a knowledge-based economy, Qatar, “still lags behind many other advanced nations because many lack the necessary digital skills and knowledge common among their peers in other developed nations” (Qatar's National Digital Plan, 2015). This failure in education means that Qataris are missing “key opportunities to participate in the global digital economy” (Qatar's National Digital Plan, 2015). In terms of ‘desire and willingness’ to participate and contribute in a knowledge-based economy, research conducted in Qatari public schools found that in the attitudes and motivations among students in towards learning, school, and future aspirations found that “Qatari boys least value education” (Lee, 2016). These feelings in turn contribute to attitudes regarding “Qataris’ current and future education and career choices” all of which is “problematic in the development of a knowledge economy, particularly when these are the future leaders of the society” (Lee, 2016).

To meet the country’s changing needs and ensure that “Qatari citizens can contribute positively to the development of their socioeconomic system” (Stasz et al., 2007), Qatar has recognised the need to reform their education to address outdated methodologies that “mainly emphasized transmission and reception of knowledge through memorization and replication of revealed concepts” (Rostron, 2009; Weber, 2010). As such, the government embarked on an educational initiative intended to meet the country’s changing economic and social needs. This decision arose from an understanding for the need to develop students’ critical thinking skills in order to prepare a new generation of skilled professionals” who will be able to take place in a competitive global economy (Rostron, 2009; Stasz et al., 2007).

Educational Reform in Qatar

Qatar’s educational system provides fully financed public schooling for the vast majority of local citizens. However, in a country with a highly transient expatriate workforce, there are also a large number of private and international schools. All schools come under the control of the Ministry of Education (MoE) but whilst all Public Schools in Qatar are required to use the Qatar National Curriculum Standards, private schools can operate educational curricula from specific countries in order to serve the diverse population.

Realising that that the oil and gas reserves currently fuelling the economy are finite resources, the government of Qatar recently sought educational reform for their public schools in order to invest in a knowledge-based economy and cultivate a long-term sustainable evolution as a worldly nation (Al-Sulayti, 1999). The government was concerned that the country’s educational system was “not producing high-quality outcomes and was rigid, outdated, and resistant to reform” (Brewer et al., 2007) and consulted RAND Corporation, a nonprofit American institution that assists organisations in policy making decisions (Romanowski & Nasser, 2012; Rostron, 2009). They wanted an analysis of their current education system and help in building “a world-class system that would meet the country’s changing needs” (Brewer et al., 2007). Not only did RAND find that graduate students were not academically qualified to meet employers’ expectations but more significantly discovered that Qatar’s educational curriculum is “unchallenging” and “emphasized rote memorization” (Brewer et al., 2007; Rostron, 2009) rather than twenty first century and higher order thinking skills..

This backs up wider research in the region that suggests the quality of education in the Gulf still lacks the elements that prepare students for the job market because technical training, science, and information technology curricula are not emphasized in their academic programs (Bahgat, 1999; Wiseman & Anderson, 2012). One reason for this in Qatar is due to the fact that it is a “country in transition, trying to embrace new opportunities while at the same time seeking to re-assert its conservative Muslim, Arab, Bedouin identity” (Rostron, 2009). This is problematic because the inadequate use of modern technologies and limited access to information have widened the gap between existing traditional and religious type of learning and modern educational systems (Bahgat, 1999). For example, in 2014, Nasser et al. compared the alignment of teacher-developed curricula with the National Standards provided by the Supreme Education Council (SEC) (now the MoE). Nasser et al., (2014) found that when planning lessons, many teachers in public schools state that they only “sometimes” use the Internet. This is backed by annual school surveys, conducted by the MoE, where seventy percent of students report “using computers in their classrooms on most days or more frequently” in a leading International School, as opposed to thirty eight percent in schools nationwide. This lack of use of technology can only contribute to a lack of engagement, particularly from Qatari boys, in a region that has “continued to be significantly below international averages” (Lee, 2016). As a result, Qatar’s National ICT Plan (2015), understands that “without a strong commitment for advancing ICT” their 2030 vision of creating an “advanced society capable of sustaining its own development” cannot be fully realised.

Twenty First Century Skills Integration

Today, employers in Qatar are in need of skilled professionals in the fields of technology in order to sustain the nation’s economic development (Al-Jaber & Dutta, 2008; Stasz et al., 2007). To address this need, Lee (2016) suggested that if policy makers want to improve both students’ engagement with school and learning outcomes, greater emphasis on the importance of learning needs to happen by developing a “more relevant 21st century curriculum” that grounds education in authentic experiences that students can see contributes to the development of their country in the long-run.

In an effort to address these issues and to develop a knowledge-based society, the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) was established in 2004 with the aim of creating an advanced information and communication technology infrastructure that promotes ICT in schools, therefore enhancing Qatar’s human capital (Nasser et al., 2014). The intention of the “e-education initiative” was to support teaching and learning by creating “flexible learning environments through technology” and “transform classrooms into global learning centers” (Al-Jaber and Dutta, 2008). By 2010, ninety eight percent of Qatari public schools had internet access, ninety three percent with broadband, and seventy one percent of K-12 teachers had received ICT training” (ictQATAR). The MoE states that they continue to “develop curriculum digital content for the K-12 schools” (ictQATAR) but standards for this cannot be located with the other published National Standards. Qatar needs to acknowledge that simply putting technology into schools is not enough; they need to move beyond the traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning.

If literacy is no longer simply about words on a page and technology itself is a literacy, then teachers have to provide curriculum standards that directly address these skills. Qatar is at an advantage in that a diverse curricula is on offer in the international schools operating next door to its own public schools, many of which deliver a “technologically infused curriculum [that] develop multiple essential literacies” (Bedard & Fuhrken, 2013). Fifteen schools in the country, for example, offer one or more of The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) programmes, all of which seek to “encourage students to become creative, critical and reflective thinkers” through the “development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding and global engagement”. The main aim of this curriculum framework is to develop “essential qualities for young people who are becoming global leaders” ("Principles into practice", 2017), directly addressing Qatar’s goal to drive a knowledge based global society.

In addition, there are a number of schools in Qatar that also offer the American Common Core Curriculum, which directly addresses ‘College and Career Readiness’ skills. In promoting ways to ‘Research to Build and Present Knowledge’ for example, standards require skills in gathering “relevant information from multiple print and digital sources” and through using “technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 and W.6). Other standards specifically address skills for the ‘integration and presentation of knowledge and ideas’, by requiring learners to be able to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7), as well as “make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5). Any of these standards could be adopted into the Qatar public schools curriculum.

Equally, any curriculum can adopt the 21st Century Skills (P21.org, 2002) framework, which was founded to “create a successful model of learning for this millennium that incorporates 21st century skills into education” (Roblyer & Doering, 2013). To help educators “integrate skills into the teaching of core academic subjects, the Partnership has developed a unified, collective vision for learning” , which addresses specific “knowledge, skills, and expertise” that learners need to “succeed in work and life in the 21st century” (P21.org, 2002). A knowledge-based economy requires such opportunities for learners to communicate across a spectrum of formats and it is essential that learners be masters of technology as much as any other literacy if they are to operate in a digital world.

The Qatar National ICT Plan (2015) goes some way in addressing this need by seeking to enhance “digital literacy and develop the skills to enable innovation”. However, nowhere in the plan does the strategy address K12 education beyond “modernising learning spaces and promoting the use of ICT to enhance the learning experience”. Qatar National Standards do not directly address the use or development of such ICT skills in K12 schooling beyond one line in the Grade 10 English Advanced curriculum standards that states, “They [sic] use of common word processing software to plan, compose, edit and present writing” (SEC). Whilst there are over 300 international curriculum schools, little consultation takes place to use these diverse ways of teaching and learning to inform the ways the public schools of Qatar operate.

Conclusion


In Qatar, there are some technological and educational strategies and initiatives that seek to address the educational outcomes and gaps in K12 schools that jeopardise the aim of cultivating a knowledge-based sustainable economy. ictQATAR (2015) introduced an “awareness campaign promoting ICT at the K-12 and postsecondary levels” with a “sweeping K1-12 initiative to build a world-class public education system” where “ICT is an integral part of this transformation”. However, little evidence exists of the actual implementation of these initiatives in terms of standards within the public school system. A major factor may be that only three percent of Internet content is Arabic, despite it being the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world (ictQATAR, 2015). In addition, a lack of Arabic-based educational technology tools represents a major challenge for Public School teachers who are trying to integrate technology into their instruction (Karkouti, 2016).

Barriers in language may exacerbate the digital divide but evidence shows that access itself is not the issue when looking at Qatar. ictQATAR (2015) has a Digital Inclusion Strategy to address the digital divide in the nation, and has identified “target groups of people who are yet to understand the benefits of the Internet and ICT” including “young people with low ICT skills” (p.5). The strategy acknowledges that “technology is the way forward for the people of Qatar” as it “moves towards becoming a knowledge-based economy”, and it seeks to ensure that “all members of society have the ability to access the technologies and gain and understanding on how to use those technologies”. However, closing the digital divide alone is not enough to transform learning, and Qatar needs to ensure that all students understand how to use technology as a tool to engage in creative, productive, life-long learning.

Currently, educational policies present a “mismatch between traditional and modern education” (Bahgat, 1999) and this is, in some part, due to “cultural and religious norms that define all facets of people’s lives” (Breslin & Jones, 2010; Romanowski & Nasser, 2012; Rostron, 2009). However, ictQATAR is “committed to developing a digitally literate population” and addresses the need to “partner with educational institutions at all levels to develop relevant ICT curriculum” (p.26). At the same time however, Qatar is failing to address how its public school system should be the first port of call for these reforms to truly take shape.

Forty percent of the Arab Gulf region’s population is under the age of 15 (Lee, 2016). If their educational experiences are not readying them for the workforce, a huge proportion of the potential target will remain underprepared in terms of the policies, initiatives and reforms of Qatar. The availability of educational technology resources is not translating into technology integration in Qatar Public Schools, and teaching remains essentially traditional, where instruction is mainly teacher-centered focusing on developing students’ lower-order thinking skills (Wiseman & Anderson, 2012; Lee, 2016). Qatari students who express a desire to contribute to their society in the future, or at least understand the importance of country’s future development, are also more likely to be engaged with school and the learning process (Lee, 2016). Therefore, by forging stronger collaborative relationships with schools already versed in the use of twenty first century skills, the integration of various technology-infused curricula into the Public School system of Qatar could address these needs and create a curriculum that matches the vision of the future of the country in the development of the knowledge-based global workforce it seeks to cultivate.




References


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15 June 2018

Global Readiness: Is Curriculum Preparing our Learners? MYP, 21C Partnership and ISTE Comparison


Standards Comparison for Global Readiness

Education today must be more than the subject we teach; it is no longer enough to think we can simply act as the sage on the stage to deliver and impart our ‘wisdom ‘to learners. This is especially important to bear in mind if we want to educate a generation who will be able to compete in a global market. Crucially, we need to engage, excite, and redefine learning, and facilitate our students in gaining specific-subject skills, as well as crucial life-long skills that will allow them to compete in an ever-expanding global society. This paper examines the extent to which subject-specific curriculum standards address other crucial aspects that prepare learners for the global workforce. It compares them with 21st Century Partnership Skills and also with ISTE Standards to weigh up the extent to which each addresses global perspectives, global citizenship and global collaboration.


Standards Selection

The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) Middle Years Programme (MYP) is a framework that aims to support learners in making “connections between their studies in traditional subjects and the real world” (2017). Through the “development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding and global engagement”, the programme “encourages students to become creative, critical and reflective thinkers” (2017), which the MYP considers as “essential qualities for young people who are becoming global leaders” (2017). Ten essential learn profile attributes form the core of the programme, and the framework is underpinned by a conceptual approach to learning, where units are planned using one of six possible global contexts and subject related concepts. Eight subject group areas are studied, for which each has a set of subject-specific standards. All units are tied together by five Approaches to Learning skills that transcend subjects: Thinking, Social, Self-Management, Communication, and Research. Similarly, 21st Century Partnership (21C) Skills comprise life-long interdisciplinary skills that span all subjects, whilst ISTE standards for Students (2016) focus on essential technology-based skills that prepare learners to be part of a digital workforce. In regards the MYP curriculum standards, this comparison examines both the Year 1 (Grade 6) Language and Literature (LAL) standards and the Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills, as both are required for meeting the requirements for an MYP unit. There are a total of fifteen MYP LAL standards and five main ATL categories in ten sub-categories with over 150 standards in total therefore, the three global areas of citizenship, perspectives, and collaboration have been used to focus the selection. One relevant standard for each of these three global areas has been selected from both sets of MYP standards along with comparable standards from both the 21Century and the ISTE Standards for Students. In this respect, an all-rounded approach necessary for a global education has been considered, addressing skills that are subject specific, life-long interdisciplinary, and technological.


Standards Comparison

Using the lens of the three global areas helped focus the comparison in terms of global readiness and defined how to select relevant, appropriate standards. In some cases, it would have been possible to choose more than one relevant strand but, for equity, only one per programme was selected. A notable exception to this is in the area of global collaboration, where there is no specific strand in the MYP LAL standards that addresses this explicitly. A summary of the comparison of the selected standards is shown in Table 1.

Global Citizenship. For both the MYP LAL and ATL standards, the focus for an understanding of global citizenship comes from an emphasis on ensuring learners are able to use accurate citations. In a cut and paste society, where many learners do not fully comprehend the notion of plagiarism, it is crucial that we address this directly in our teaching. In English lessons, LAL and ATL strands can be utilised when teaching presentation skills in terms of the use of information, which ties in with both the standards selected from the 21C and ISTE. Many learners are simply not aware that copying and pasting both information and images is ethical and legally wrong. In bringing an awareness and understanding of this, we also have an obligation to teach them how to ensure they are using citations accurately, which the MYP LAL and ATL standards address. The IB Learner Profile (IB LP) attribute of being ‘principled’, so as to act with integrity, is also relevant here.

Table 1

Comparison of a Selection of Standards addressing Global Citizenship, Global Perspectives, and Global Collaboration between the Middle Years Programme, 21st Century Partnership and ISTE Standards for Students

Area of Comparison
Middle Years Programme

21st Century Partnership

ISTE Standards for Students
Standards Comparison in Brief
Language & Literature
Year 1
Approaches to Learning
Global Citizenship
B: Organising iii
Use referencing and formatting tools to create a presentation style suitable to the context and intention
Research: IV Information Literacy
Create references and citations, use footnotes/endnotes and construct a bibliography according to recognized conventions
Information Literacy
Possessing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information
Digital Citizenship 2c
Demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
MYP LAL and MYP ATL: Emphasis on ensuring accurate citation and use of this information using conventions
21C and ISTE: Emphasis on need for an understanding of ethical and legal use of information
Global Perspectives
C: Producing Text i
Produce texts that demonstrate thought and imagination while exploring new perspectives and ideas arising from personal engagement with the creative process
Thinking: X Transfer
Inquire in different contexts to gain a different perspective
Media Literacy
Examining how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors
Creative Communicator 6c
Publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences
ALL: Focus on thinking about other differing perspectives, what influences those beliefs - either personal experiences or external factors - and how different audiences may interpret the same information
Global Collaboration
NA
Social: II Collaborative
Use social media networks appropriately to build and develop relationships
Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Bridging cultural differences and using differing perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work
Global Collaborator 7b
Use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints
MYP LAL: Limited; no specific LAL standard relates to collaboration
MYP ATL: This specifically addresses the use of social media
21C and ISTE: focus is on using differences in experiences that arise from global collaboration through technology to increase quality of work



Global Perspectives. This is the area in which all four sets of standards are in closest agreement. All four focus on the need to teach learners an awareness of the fact that there are many differing perspectives in the world. In addition, the standards all address a need for learners to think about factors that influence those beliefs - albeit from personal experiences or external factors such as media bias. In addition to this, in terms of the creation of texts, which is a focus in English, we must explicitly teach children that different audiences will bring different experiences and perceptions to their interpretations of a text, which can result in many differing understandings of the same information. Issues of bias, misinformation, different belief systems, and extent of global experiences are crucial here. This can be a delicate matter in some classrooms and educators must think carefully about ensuring that all voices are heard and considered. In an MYP classroom, bringing in the IB LP attribute of being ‘open-minded’ helps ensure that students understand the need to think about and acknowledge differing perspectives, which may sometime be ones they are not entirely comfortable with.


Global Collaboration. Collaboration is an essential skill and one I emphasise in my classroom every day; it came as somewhat of a revelation then, when I realised that there is actually no specific MYP LAL strand that directly addresses this skill. However, when designing a unit in the MYP framework, teachers never simply use the subject-specific standards. ATL skills must also be used and, therefore, any task can be collaborative if the teacher deems it necessary for the class and/or task. Indeed, whilst there is no one LAL standard for collaboration, there are in fact fourteen specific ATL strands, as part of the Social ATL. The selected standard for this comparison relates to the use of social media, which can be used for global collaboration between classrooms and can be utilised in the English classroom in creating, sharing, and discussing texts via blogs, eBooks, Google Drive, Twitter, and Skype, to take learning and conversations beyond the walls of the classroom. These tools tie in directly with the 21C and ISTE standards for global collaboration. The focus is on using differences in experiences and perspectives that arise from global collaboration through the use of technology, with the specific intent to broaden understanding and increase the collective quality of work produced. Interestingly, through completing this comparison, I have also realised that not one of the ten IB LP attributes address collaboration or creativity, which are, inarguably, crucial skills in today’s world.


Conclusion

In terms of global citizenship, the 21C and ISTE strands focus on developing and understanding of when to use citations and why there is a need to do, whilst the MYP strand focus is on the means to do so accurately. However, they all complement each – the when, the why, with the how. All four sets of standards are in agreement that, when learning to be an effective global citizen, students must both understand the need to cite, as well as methods to do this accurately. The area of comparison with most congruence is that of global perspectives. Having this awareness is an everyday occurrence in an international classroom but may not be something that educators with limited global awareness or experience in international situations may consider. Therefore, strands that address this requirement are crucial in training the next generation to be open-minded in terms of the myriad global perspectives they may face in future employment. The focus on collaborative understanding resulting in improved quality of work is a very interesting frame with which to view the outcome of global collaboration. Hargadon (1999) found that “teams often create novel and unexpected combinations of knowledge in ways that individuals could not” (Kim, Lee, D., Lee, Y., Huang, & Makany, 2011) because individuals within a team have to have the ability “to utilize others’ knowledge as well as develop their own” (Bhappu et al., 2001; Griffith and Neale, 2001; in Kim et al, 2011). Extending this thinking globally exposes us to many differences in the way individuals think and respond to common tasks. The idea that learners can ‘pool’ their skills is crucial; our learners will unlikely be working in isolation in their future employment and indeed, Johnson and Johnson (1986) suggest that there is “persuasive evidence that people in cooperative teams often achieve and demonstrate higher levels of critical thinking while retaining information longer than people who work as individuals” (Gokhale,1995). When learners use their individual intelligences to think critically and to figure out for themselves the how and the why, that is when the collective kicks in, that is when we see “groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent” (Kim et al, 2011). These communicative intents are the building blocks of the individual’s intelligence, “the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally and to deal effectively with his environment” (Kim et al, 2011). This is the least we owe our learners - learning experiences designed to facilitate in fostering an individual capability and intelligence within a broader perspective and awareness that will allow them to develop and be ready to operate as successful global citizens.


References


21st Century Skills Map for English. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/our-work/resources/for-educators#SkillsMaps

ISTE Standards for STUDENTS. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Kim, P., Lee, D., Lee, Y., Huang, C., & Makany, T. (2011). Collective intelligence ratio.

Team Performance Management: An International Journal,17(1/2), 41-62. doi:10.1108/13527591111114701

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21 February 2018

Google Bootcamp @ ACS Doha

I was the event manager for a Google Bootcamp in October 2017, which was hosted at my school, ACS Doha International School. Marketing asked me to cover the event and I wrote this article for a magazine, Qatar Today, published November 2017.


28 February 2017

The State of EdTech: Implications for Professional Learning


Here is a reflection on a hypothetical district and how the ISTE and NETP standards can be applied. It analyses the current state of educational technology and the implications these standards have on thinking about professional learning.