Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research and Content Development at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) – Qatar Foundation’s global education think-tank – speaks about the lasting benefits of quality education from a very young age
Q. WISE recently participated in the Family Policy Symposium on Child Wellbeing in Qatar, organized by the Doha International Family Institute, a member of Qatar Foundation. How important was it to be part of this symposium, and what were its main outcomes?
A. There is no doubt that the symposium, and the recommendations presented during its discussions complement the efforts QF has made in healthcare, education, and social protection, alongside those made by other leading entities in Qatar. The symposium brought together many researchers, policymakers and practitioners, who reached positive outcomes and produced important recommendations that will contribute to the well-being of children in Qatar.
Our aim is to highlight the challenges surrounding child well-being, as well as recommendations that help to make a positive change in society.
During the symposium, WISE took part in discussions about child well-being in education, which is one of our main areas of research focus and of the dialogue that we engage in locally and internationally. Our aim is to highlight the challenges surrounding child well-being, as well as recommendations that help to make a positive change in society. Most importantly, we focus on the advantages that early childhood education creates in society, the need to promote an engaging environment that enables children to grow and thrive, and the development of the high-quality, all-encompassing programs that help to make this possible.
Q. WISE has published several research studies on early childhood issues. What have been some of the most significant findings?
A. WISE published a report titled ‘Quality in Early Childhood Education: An International Review and Guide for Policymakers’, drafted in collaboration with the World Bank and Qatar’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education. The importance of this research is the role it plays in guiding policymakers and early childhood researchers in Qatar.
Conducted by Dr. David Whitebread, the Director of the Research Centre on Play in Education, Development and Learning at the University of Cambridge, and Jo Ellis, Assistant Principal of the Qatar Academy Early Education Centers [part of QF’s Pre-University Education], the research provides empirical evidence that shows that children enrolled in educational programs at an early age in Qatar are able to achieve better results, and their academic, social, and emotional skills develop faster.
Providing and financing pre-school education for children from the ages of six months to seven years is one of the most important recommendations in education policies. The research also recommends training of early childhood educators and offering curricula that help to develop children’s speaking skills, enhance their overall awareness, and build their social skills. Other recommendations include supporting the building of expertise in physical education and discovery.
Q. QF’s early education model also applies findings from international research studies – how does it do this?
A. QF plays a leading role in producing research on a global level, and in innovating new teaching methods in QF schools. The Early Education Centers welcome children from as young as six months old and provide them with a set of skills including self-expression, creativity and exploration. They also expose children to high sensory activities, which instill in them a love for learning and discovery. One of the approaches that the Early Education Centers take in their curricula is the learning through play approach, which enables children to discover new, valuable, and engaging activities. That makes Early Education Centers an exemplary model for early childhood education. And we hope that other education centers benefit from this model so that we can promote and ensure children’s wellbeing from the pre-school stage through to higher education in Qatar.
The evidence suggests that providing quality education from early childhood plays a greater role in academic development and emotional health and well-being than education in later stages in life.
Q. Why is it important to invest in early childhood education for child development?
A. The evidence suggests that providing quality education from early childhood plays a greater role in academic development and emotional health and well-being than education in later stages in life. Research in psychology has shown that a stimulating environment that provides emotional safety and curiosity, and engages children in various activities, helps nurture future generations that are active, educated, and emotionally and socially healthy. This means it is important for governments to invest in early childhood education, because it leads to significant benefits in terms of human development at a national level.
The educational environment is one of the most important factors that affect children’s attitudes towards school.
Q. What are the main factors that motivate children to learn? Why do we see some children complaining about going to school every day?
A. The educational environment is one of the most important factors that affect children’s attitudes towards school. It is no secret that humans are more prone to learning and interacting when they are placed in a stimulating environment that helps them excel. Schools must provide such a learning environment, with passionate teachers and dedicated leaders, and enhance community engagement.
Q. What is WISE's role in supporting education to students with special needs?
A. In 2017, WISE published a report, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, on the education of children with special needs, which proposed a new model, called 3R: Rights, Resources, and Research. The report focuses on how educational entities should focus on these three interrelated aspects in order to provide quality education that is inclusive of children with special needs.
Although the report focused on only two countries – England and India – as case studies, there are important lessons that can be drawn from this in terms of to promoting child wellbeing in Qatar as well. These include the importance of giving adequate attention to children with special needs, ensuring that the necessary planning is taking place, and providing resources. Additionally, schools need to ensure that valid data is being collected and categorized on this group of students.
We must also ensure that children are benefiting from well-trained teachers, who in turn need support on how to meet the diverse needs of children with special needs through continuous professional development.
The findings in this report, which is supported by WISE, have led UK education experts to integrate the elements from the 3R model into their work, particularly in Ethiopia.