6 May 2010 11:16 AM

Reflections on a Trip to the Arabian Gulf

by Dr. Rick

I have just recently returned from a most remarkable journey.  I visited learning centers for the company I work for, Sylvan Learning.  That’s not unusual.  I’ve visited Sylvan Learning Centers all over the United States and Canada for many years now.   What made this trip remarkable is that the centers I visited are in the Middle East, in the stunning countries of Qatar and Dubai.  My mind is still reeling because of the excellent things I saw.  Here are some observations. 

  1. Importance of education.  It quickly became obvious to me that education is one of the highest national priorities in this region of the world.  Schooling is done – by national mandate – in English, the global language of commerce and diplomacy.  Families and schools are relentless in providing to their students the resources they need to succeed.  That means books, technology, the best teachers, the most up-to-date curriculum, plenty of opportunities to provide extra help whenever a student needs it, and high expectations for everyone in the classrooms and offices of schools.
  2. English in the classroom.  I mentioned instruction is done in English.  Students and families see the importance of mastery of English and seek out opportunities to practice, improve, and become proficient in it.
  3. College prep.  Students see American higher education as a primary goal after they graduate from high school.  The teen agers I met in Qatar and Dubai seek out opportunities to improve their test-taking skills.
  4. Education City.  If you want to see what a country can do when it’s serious about its youth and their education, Education City, a part of the future-oriented Qatar Foundation is the place to go.  I visited this remarkable 2,500 acre park-like setting in Doha, Qatar’s capital, and saw the campuses of American universities Cornell, Northwestern, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgetown each teaching students from all over the globe in world-class lecture halls, laboratories, and seminar rooms.  My student guide was enthusiastic and proud to be part of this very tangible symbol of Qatar’s belief in the power of education.  His enthusiasm is contagious. 
  5. Knowledge Village.  In Dubai, I visited a part of the city called Knowledge Village, where education and training organizations, universities and colleges, and schools for students of all ages are centered.  I saw students at our own Sylvan Learning Center who ranged in age from five to seventeen, learning English, improving their reading and math skills, and studying for the SAT/ACT.  These students wrote and illustrated a book for me about their city, complete with illustrations and fascinating facts.  A treasured keepsake.
  6. High expectations.  Cutting corners, settling for second best, or doing nothing at all aren’t options.  I visited schools with relevant, current, well-taught curriculum, parents who are involved and eager to see success, and administrators willing to use proven supplemental providers to help their students. 
  7. Public-Private partnerships.  Educators readily recognized the benefits of partnering with private education providers, like Sylvan, when they saw results, when they enjoyed mutual respect, and when they encountered effective curriculum.
  8. Parents’ roles.  I saw plenty of parents in the schools and centers I visited.  They showed me their daughters’ and sons’ work, talked about their school pride, and seemed not at all unlike parents anywhere, wanting only the best for their kids.
  9. Contemporary, modern cities.  I saw modern cities, with spectacular skylines (in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is nothing short of spectacular) and growth everywhere.  Education is absolutely necessary to sustain this kind of growth, to maintain this level of society, and to look to the future.  The citizens know this.
  10. International flavor.  Throughout this region, I saw people from all over the world, working, touring, researching, doing business, learning, shopping, celebrating, worshiping, and interacting.  If it’s true that the world gets “smaller” every day, this region of the world is visible and compelling proof. 

Visiting Qatar and Dubai for eight days certainly doesn’t make me an international expert, by any means, but I can certainly make some generalizations from my many conversations, observations, and experiences.  I’d love to return, to visit other countries where my company has a presence, to meet more students and their families and teachers, and to remind myself that it really doesn’t matter where in the world I happen to be, education holds the key to the world’s most vexing challenges.


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