Finding a school – ideally a great school – is usually at the top of the priority list for most expats with children, even before they move to Qatar.
But the state’s booming population has put intense pressure on already over-subscribed schools, and the fierce competition for places is often daunting to new arrivals who are trying to sort out their children’s education.
While Qataris are required by law to send their children to school, the majority expat population is not legally compelled to do the same.
Because of these factors, an increasing number of Qatar residents are opting to educate their children at home.
Some have gone this route after the Supreme Education Council (SEC) recently ruled that children could not start school mid-way through the academic year.
Others said they haven’t been able to find schools suitable to their child’s needs, while many more choose home-schooling based on what they feel is best for their children and family.
Here, a few parents explain what made them decide to home-school their kids in Qatar, and how it has worked out.
Qatar has several active and growing networks of home schooling parents, who regularly chat online and meet in person to share tips, resources and plan social and educational events for their children.
More than 120 families here are now active on Doha Home Educators (DHE), with attendance at its biannual cooperative classes up by about 30 percent in the past year.
Its coordinator Margaret Douglass has been home schooling her two boys Spike, 15, and Butch, 9, for more than five years. Since then, she has been regularly sharing her experiences with those just embarking, or thinking of starting out, on their own.
Speaking to Doha News, Douglass said she began researching the option of homeschooling when she knew the family was going to move from the US to Qatar, because her husband’s company did not provide an education allowance.
With limited information online about schools here, and after seeking advice from expert home schooling friends back in her home city of Las Vegas, Douglass made the choice to start home educating when she arrived in Doha.
Her eldest son, who had attended a small, private school in the US, took some time to adjust to the new routine, particularly being taught one-on-one.
Douglass said initial challenges included getting ahold of the right materials – especially books – and finding a curriculum that best suited their needs, as well as managing their time appropriately.
“Learning how to schedule ourselves so that it works was difficult at first. You can get through more work, more quickly in a home school setting than you would in a classroom, just because there is only one or two children rather than a large group,” she said, adding:
“We’ve also worked out our strengths and weaknesses, and learned not to leave math until last thing in the day when we are all too tired to do it properly.
Learning from other folk who already home school is absolutely invaluable. You can’t put a price on someone else’s experience.”
Douglass said she now blends a number of curricula, picking and choosing elements that work best for her children’s needs, and using tutoring DVDs and other online resources when required.
While she has encountered difficulties, especially in the early days, she said the flexibility and intimate nature of home schooling outweighs the hard work involved:
“There is so much more you can get in academically, and you can adjust the pace to suit your child. You have more time together as family and of course you don’t have to do any school runs.”
However, Douglass acknowledged that her system may not work for all families.
Many schools in Qatar now require attested education transcripts for admission, so those who hope to re-enter the formal system here should use an accredited online distance learning program that can provide the necessary certification, she said.
Umm Maimoonah is another experienced home schooling hand in Doha, who is now entering her fifth year of educating her 7-year-old daughter outside the mainstream system.
A qualified teacher, Umm Maimoonah and her husband had decided they would go the homeschooling route even before their daughter was born, so she could pass on her religious principles, morals and values.
Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“Homeschooling has become a way of life for us and the joy of witnessing every milestone of your child in learning and developing is something that I hold very dear.”
While she follows a set curriculum for mainstream subjects, she formulates her own lesson plans when covering Islam, relying on books of early scholars, which she shares on her blog.
Umm Maimoonah said she met like-minded homeschoolers in Doha via QMuslimah, an online community for ladies living in Qatar, and they have formed an Islamic homeschooling group that meets regularly to organize quizzes and workshops.
Umm Maimoonah has also set up, along with others, a small community library in Tawar compound, near Landmark mall, with more than 1,000 books in Arabic and English for the use of other home educators. Her advice to those who are considering home schooling is:
“Make a mission statement and write down clearly why you chose to homeschool and what you and your family would really want your child to be. This will help you focus and go forward.”
American expat Lisa Collier is only a few weeks into her home schooling adventure, after choosing to take her five-year-old daughter Sophia out of a traditional school after one year.
Although Sophia attended one of the most popular schools in Doha, and Collier acknowledged that she had fantastic teachers, she felt that the school was exhausting her daughter.
“I felt like an outsider to her school world. We started homeschooling so I could have a part in her early years,” Collier told Doha News.
So far, early challenges have included getting a workable routine established and motivating her daughter to learn about subjects she isn’t naturally drawn to.
It also takes more effort to find suitable social activities, particularly scheduling them around children who are at school, Collier said.
But she added that she is excited about giving her daughter the chance to drive her own learning experience. She advises others considering a similar move to write a pros/cons list help them make their decision.
“Nothing you do has to be forever, and homeschooling is one of those things. However, if you are in need of a flexible travel schedule and you have the time to dedicate to homeschooling then I would suggest trying it,” she added.
Would you consider homeschooling your child? Thoughts?