Education and Schools in Qatar
Expats relocating to the Middle Eastern emirate will be faced with new challenges and confronted with countless moments of confusion. One part of the transition process that doesn’t have to be overly complicated, however, is navigating the system of education and schools in Qatar.
Most expats opt to send their children to private international schools, and often the most difficult dilemmas they encounter stem from the scarcity of availability, not the issue of selection.
Expat parents would do well to research potential schools for their children as soon as possible, and start applying for admission sooner rather than later. To aid in this process, the Supreme Education Council of Qatar (SEC) provides a list of schools on its official website and regularly does report cards on schools in the country.
Independent public schools in Qatar
Independent public schools in Qatar receive government funding and provide free tuition for Qataris and other eligible citizens. The majority of students are Qatari, although expats with the right connections might be admitted.
In 2009, the Qatari government tasked the SEC with implementing a system of standardised education. This body oversees all educational institutions in the emirate and has made significant progress in regulating the standard of schools in Qatar by requiring obligatory accreditation, board approval of school staff and enforcing stricter building regulations.
With the occasional exception, the overall quality of public schools in Qatar is good.
Private international schools in Qatar
Even though the government has put a lot of effort into elevating the standards of local schools, the vast majority of expats enrol their children into private international schools in Doha.
Various options are available, including the International Baccalaureate (IB), British, American, Indian and a host of other foreign curricula. Most families choose a curriculum compatible with that of their home country, while expats who move frequently often prefer the more universal IB track. Embassies can advise if a school from the expat's home country is represented.
Additionally, travel time should be considered when choosing a school. Rush hour in Qatar can make it take one hour to drive from one end of town to the other, and some children spend hours sitting on the bus each day. Expats should also note that only some companies provide a bus service.
While the Qatar National School Accreditation system was launched in 2011, schools must still be accredited by the country whose curriculum they represent. There are several unaccredited schools but the student's work probably won't be accepted outside of Qatar. It’s essential for expat parents to confirm that a school is appropriately accredited before they enrol their child.
Tuition and availability
Other potential difficulties expats should anticipate when investigating schools involve the often hefty tuition fees and limited availability of places in Qatar.
Private school fees can cost over 65,000 QAR per year. There is also often a host of other non-refundable expenses, including application, registration, material, uniforms, capital, re-enrolment and graduation fees. Parents may also be required to provide school materials that aren't easy to find in Qatar.
The little costs, when added up, can emaciate a bank balance. It’s important for expats to try and negotiate all of their school fees into their contract. If this isn’t possible, they should then ensure that they budget for all applicable fees, and even those that may not be anticipated. Most fees are due at the beginning of the school year. Some schools do not officially offer payment plans but will nonetheless be willing to privately negotiate one.
Enrolment requires long-term planning and expats should apply for a spot as soon as possible. Open spaces in schools are rare and waiting lists can be long. Some expats find it vital to obtain a spot for their children in school before signing an employment contract. On the other hand, someone else’s last minute contract change may mean an unexpected opening for another expat child.
Some companies reserve spaces in schools and, while all schools are multinational, some give priority to citizens of certain nationalities.
For those who cannot secure a space for their child in a preferred school, Cedars is a tutorial school that has a rolling admissions policy. This institution follows the British National Curriculum and caters to students who are on a waiting list or who need to learn or improve their English. Some students choose to remain at Cedars for the duration of their schooling and graduate there.
Application and enrolment
Expats can expect to pay a non-refundable application fee of around 500 QAR to the school they are applying to. An application form will have to be filled out, and they will have to provide previous school documents, their child's health history, and physical exam results. Some schools also require a letter of recommendation, an on-site entrance exam and evaluation, as well as a language test.
Upon enrolment, copies of the student’s residence permit (once obtained), passport copies, passport-sized photos and copies of immunisation records are also likely to be required. Parents may also need to give copies of their residence permits.
The school year runs from September to June, with the typical school day lasting from 7.30am to 2pm. After-school activities extend the school day for children who take part in them.
Homeschooling in Qatar
Some parents choose to avoid the admissions process and opt for homeschooling in Qatar. Doha Home Educators (DHE) has been pivotal in creating an organised network for homeschoolers in Doha, and regularly organises classroom lessons, activities, field trips, social interaction and sports events.
Given the vague homeschooling regulations for expatriates in Qatar, DHE advises checking with and following the regulations in one's home country.