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14 January 2020

QF schools cut dependency on overseas professional learning by 90%

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Educational Development Institute emerges as the mover and shaker of education in schools across Qatar.

It’s been a remarkable – albeit quiet – journey. When Qatar Foundation set up its Education Development Institute, it did so in order to provide continuing professional development courses for pre-university teachers. But the institute’s impact soon stretched beyond that original mandate.

It has emerged as the country’s key facilitator of, and authority on, the International Baccalaureate curriculum – and, in the process, has reduced Qatar Foundation (QF) schools’ use of education-focused expertise from abroad by at least 90 percent, in the space of five years.

Participants at the Bi-annual Teaching and Learning Forum, organized by EDI.

Flipping the ratio

Before the Education Development Institute (EDI) started its professional learning initiatives, 70 percent of QF schools’ professional learning budget in a year was spent on sending teachers abroad for workshops and conferences. The remaining 30 percent was focused on bringing in experts to deliver in-school training. Despite such investment, this model was covering less than 20% of schools’ faculty.

Within two years, we helped QF schools reduce their spending on travel-based professional development to less than 25 percent.

Mehdi Benchaabane, Director of EDI

In the meantime, QF’s Pre-University Education (PUE) saw rapid growth that resulted in an 18 percent increase in teaching faculty in just four years. The importance of investing in the creation of Qatar’s own center for teachers’ professional development was clear. Enter EDI.

“Within two years, we helped QF schools reduce their spending on travel-based professional learning to less than 25 percent,” says Mehdi Benchaabane, Director of EDI. “For example, in 2018, EDI led 75 percent of local training, and schools were only spending 25 percent of their budget on non-EDI professional learning.”

In 2016, a Professional Development Management System was developed in-house. This provided the data necessary to initiate changes that would support a more equitable distribution of professional learning opportunities.

As a result, a new policy was introduced in QF schools in 2017, entitling any teacher to a minimum of 10 hours of professional learning per year. And it worked – in the 2018-19 academic year, 92 percent of QF teachers received at least this level of formal professional learning opportunities via EDI.

In order to be more impactful, one of the first things that EDI did was to open its doors to teachers across the country.

Joanna Moe, Assistant Director for Teaching and Learning at EDI.

Where it all started

“When EDI was established in 2014, our mandate was not only to limit spending on travel costs, but to design and offer context-specific training in key curriculum areas,” says Joanna Moe, Assistant Director for Teaching and Learning.

“In order to be more impactful, one of the first things that EDI did was to open its doors to teachers across the country.”

One way EDI does this is through its annual Teaching and Learning Forum, the country’s biggest education conference. Last year alone, 1,800 delegates, together with educators and speakers from around the world, attended the event.

And, during the second semester of each academic year , EDI organizes iSTEMed (Innovation in STEM Education) – an event that focuses on innovation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education across all schools in Qatar and abroad as well as an Education Forum for Heritage and Identity.

EDI also initiated a Heads of School Summit, another first for the country. Its first edition brought together 60 heads of private and international schools in Qatar, offering a common platform for school leaders to share their expertise and challenges. According to Moe, the gathering also inadvertently served another purpose.

“Up until two years ago, most staff from schools in Qatar could travel across the region to attend workshops and conferences,” she explains. “The recent developments in the region affected these movements. This forced schools to readjust their strategies. So it made a lot of sense for heads of schools to sit together, share their concerns, and discuss solutions.”

The Voice of IB in Qatar

On a parallel track, EDI has become the primary provider of IB workshops in the country – and the voice of IB in Qatar. It started helping non-QF schools transition into IB schools through workshops and outreach programs. Currently, EDI offers three sets of IB regional events a year, with attendees and presenters from around the world.

Today, the schools we’ve worked with say that they are proud to be international schools with a bilingual curriculum.”

Mehdi Benchaabane, Director of EDI

The incorporation of Arabic into an international curriculum such as IB is another example of EDI’s work in education. “The teaching of Arabic language has become a priority in the country,” says Benchaabane.

“Consequently, EDI worked to incorporate Arabic in almost every sphere of our schools’ curriculum – from curriculum design and professional learning initiatives to the nature of the schools themselves. Today, the schools we’ve worked with say that they are proud to be international schools with a bilingual curriculum.”

Widening impact

EDI also initiated the development of the Qatar Heritage Curriculum. It provides students from kindergarten to Grade 9 with age-appropriate content on Qatar’s culture and heritage – a significant step toward ensuring the preservation of the country’s cultural identity and traditions.

In 2019, EDI activated its partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education by designing and offering multiple professional learning programs including the training of around 300 teachers at the early childhood and elementary levels.

These courses stand alongside an array of programs that EDI offers teachers from both within and outside QF – from workshops and conferences, to one-year programs, all the way to newly-launched Masters degrees.

“We collaborated with UCL to launch a Masters in Leadership in Education program,” says Benchaabane. "This year, we welcomed our first cohort.

“We’re also starting a Post Graduate Certificate in International Education with the University of Bath in the UK, and those who complete the certificate have the option of extending their studies into a Masters course.”

In order to encourage homegrown talent and expertise, EDI initiated two new programs that, according to Benchaabane, are a global first. Titled PETAL (Program for Effective Teaching And Learning) and PALME (Program for Aspiring Leaders and Managers in Education) they have been developed through a belief that personalized learning matters as much for teachers as it does to students.

Our goals are exactly the same as those of every single teacher in Qatar. We want to empower each and every learner with the best possible resources, in the best possible way.

Mehdi Benchaabane, Director of EDI.

Loose coupling, strong ties

‘Five years of passion-driven practice’ is how Benchaabane defines EDI’s short yet impactful journey.

He uses the term “loose coupling” to describe EDI’s relationships with schools, pointing out how teachers need the space to explore new techniques, and the freedom to approach EDI if they need guidance on any topic or task.

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EDI promotes collaborative learning among QF school teachers.

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“Today, we’re told by schools outside QF that we’re the movers and shakers of education in this country,” he says. “This is because of the values that are at the core of our DNA: trust, humility, integrity, being open to ideas, collaboration, communication, embracing complexity, and consistency.

“Our goals are exactly the same as those of every single teacher in Qatar. EDI, and the 1,600-plus teachers that we have helped, share a common thread and a common purpose – we want to empower each and every learner with the best possible resources, in the best possible way.”

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