Qatar has ambitious plans for itself, as constantly mentioned in the 2030 National Vision. Wealth and soft power aside, accomplishing its lofty goals means not only investing in the country’s youth – but also trusting it, argues 20-year-old Northwestern University in Qatar journalism student Alanood Al Thani. She adds that even though her generation gets a bad rap, she and her peers are still Qatar’s best hope for the future.
Qatari youth are stereotyped both by foreigners and Qataris. The stereotypes tend to paint us as entitled, obese, lazy and westernized.
You may find all of these characteristics within some of this segment, but this is an unfair picture to paint. The Qatari youth, both men and women, are more educated than any other generation before us. We are the bright future of the state.
The knowledge-based economy that Qatar is striving for is a responsibility on our backs, one that we are keenly aware of.
Over the past few years, Qataris have been stepping up. According to Qatar’s third National Human Development Report, in 2001, 26.4 percent of Qatari men and 28.3 percent of Qatari women over the age of 25 had a tertiary level of education.
In 2010, the number increased to 34.5 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.
As it stands, a knowledge-based economy cannot be achieved if only less than half of the adult population has achieved a tertiary level of education.
But consider my generation and the generation after me. Each year, the number of Qataris going to university increases. The report states that between 2005-2006 until 2009-2010, the average rate of annual change for students going to university was a positive 2.5 percent change.
Meanwhile, young women are increasingly challenging gender roles in Qatar. In the past, it was taboo and controversial to work with men.
Rand’s Qatari Women in the Workforce report highlights that in 1998, 76 percent of women were mostly concerned in working at a mixed-gender environment.
But this quickly changed. In 2006, Rand surveyed young graduates and 95 percent felt that working in a mixed-gender work environment was a very or extremely important characteristic in their future job.
Thus, to paint a picture of the Qatari youth as the least educated, least hardworking generation who have disconnected from their traditions is unfair not only to us, but to our parents who taught us to be better.
Admittedly, the westernization of the youth is prevalent. However, frankly speaking, it is not our fault, and rather the result of parental and societal decisions.
Parents to this day fear that their children’s inability to communicate in English would hinder them in the globalized workforce. These concerns have made many believe a western- style education is the best chance for success.
Regardless of if this is true, it has resulted in a detrition of the Arabic language within the state. However, it is imperative to note that the cultural influences only severely affect a minority of the youth – including myself.
Still, my friends and I have learned how vital it is to be connected to our language and culture, and I am no less Qatari for going to a private school. Public events that are filled with Qataris tend to be an awkward experience for my friends and I because even though we may not feel less Qatari, we are viewed as such by our peers.
They regard our ability to speak in perfect or close-to-perfect English as a marker that we have surrendered to the western culture, which is not the case.
The extraordinary wealth of Qatar and the benefits the state has bestowed on its people has arguably demotivated the populous to pursue further education.
But our money is also being channeled in ways that help us.
The government, for example, has encouraged young people to further their education by giving scholarships to all students who qualify under criteria laid out by the Supreme Education Council.
And addressing the fact that women have pursued higher education at higher rates than men since the first Qatar Census in 1986, the state has drafted a law that would make it mandatory for men of certain ages to go into the military.
The length of service for men between the ages of 18 to 35 years old is dependent on their level of education and position within the state.
Meanwhile, the Qatari youth today are pursing further education at record numbers.
The higher rates of education have allowed the society to grow not only economically, but also socially.
Social traditions with little or no basis in the modern world are quickly dying. A few years ago, the best place for women’s education was Qatar University, not because of the quality of its education but because of the segregation.
Previously, some of my family members were not allowed to go to Qatar Foundation’s schools because they were gender-mixed, but because of how society has progressed, their younger sisters now can.
Even trivial things such as social media a few years ago were frowned upon due to their openness. However, now it is common to have a social media account and only within some families would your reputation be tarnished because of it.
This generation of Qataris and the one before it has jumped leaps and bounds to make Qatar the success it is. We are not perfect but we are progressing at an unbelievably fast pace.