Fatima El Mahdi, Head of Qatar Foundation initiative THIMUN Qatar, discusses benefits of incorporating principles of THIMUN into school curriculums
Every year, at the end of each THIMUN Qatar conference, Fatima El Mahdi takes a moment to look at the faces of her beaming students and relish in their evident pride of having successfully capped a year’s worth of preparation, learning, and growth.
As the head of THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations) Qatar since 2018, El Mahdi has worked closely with groups of passionate young adults, from the moment they sign up to the culmination of their efforts during their participation in THIMUN conferences. And like any proud educator, El Mahdi is passionate about ensuring that each student gets the most out of the experience to develop into a confident, well-rounded individual.
In fact, it is these relationships that have inspired her to advocate for the necessity of embedding the THIMUN principles of open discourse, debate, and professional growth into curriculums in schools across Qatar – principles that align with the ethos of education within Qatar Foundation (QF), where, over the past 25 years, an ecosystem of learning to empowers young people to develop not just as students, but as people, has been developed and has evolved.
“There has been a lot of conversation around education in Qatar Foundation – about disrupting the education paradigm. It’s encouraging to hear them happening in forums like the World Innovation Summit for Education, and being enacted by Qatar Foundation through the creation of Academyati, for example,” El Mahdi explains, referencing the biennial forum on education and the newly-founded progressive Qatar Foundation (QF) school that breaks down the traditional classroom learning model and reimagines education though exploration and discovery.
“But the next step should be recalibrating the current curriculum in schools across Qatar to model the THIMUN forums – in essence to provide a safe space for students to engage in open discussions about global issues on a day-to-day basis and develop essential skills for life in the process.”
Within the framework of THIMUN Qatar, these students are engaging in debate on global issues; issues that they will one day face in the real world
The THIMUN Qatar Regional Office was created as a joint project between QF and the THIMUN Foundation in 2011. The office supports efforts around the region to develop programs and events for young people to seek – through discussion, negotiation, debate, and personal action – solutions to the various problems of the world.
THIMUN Qatar’s flagship conference is the annual Model United Nations event held each February. And to enable students to become better prepared for their roles as Model UN Delegates in the February conference, THIMUN Qatar developed the Qatar Leadership Conference (QLC).
QLC is the largest professional development conferences in the Middle East, with more than 900 participating students from eight countries, that supports the development of soft skills such as debate, leadership, communication, public speaking, entrepreneurship, and furthers the understanding of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
In her role at THIMUN Qatar, El Mahdi observes first-hand how students who participate in the extracurricular program develop and grow into confident students and critical thinkers. But she recognizes however that not every student is able to participate in extracurricular programs for various reasons. The inability of all students to participate ultimately means that not every student has access to the plethora of opportunities to engage in thought-provoking discussions that lead to development and growth.
“Within the framework of THIMUN Qatar, these students are engaging in debate on global issues; issues that they will one day face in the real world,” El Mahdi says. “If we frame their everyday learning to be reflective of the global issues addressed in THIMUN Qatar, more and more students will have the chance to participate in meaningful exchange that addresses issues that matter from around the world in a safe and nurturing way.
As educators, we should be open to exploring global issues in the classroom on an everyday basis by making it a part of the curriculum…
“Students today have a very different sense of community because we are living in a digital age. They have access to any information they want. As educators, we should be open to exploring global issues in the classroom on an everyday basis by making it a part of the curriculum so that those important conversations can be guided and explored within the context of our lives and values and belief systems.
“Not only will they be more engaged, but by facing the issues – the positive and the negative – we are empowering students and will instill in them a confidence to take any challenge or issue they will encounter later in their lives.”
El Mahdi notes that extracurriculars like THIMUN Qatar can only do so much and can only reach so many students. She says that even with the participants of THIMUN Qatar, sometimes it’s disheartening to see that the conversations begin and end in these closed forums.
“But if we take the THIMUN Qatar model and incorporate its successful components into curriculum, we’ll be giving more students the chance to engage in open dialogue and meaningful personal development that extends to the classroom and beyond. And only then can we finally begin to create the holistic educational landscape that we are striving for.”