• Magda Rostron

    This is where the host culture complex comes in very handy as it facilitates a balanced and thorough investigative approach to all institutional entities involved in an educational project. Richard, you are right that an effort to arrive at appropriate methodology applies to all concerned parties in this context. However, in the particular case of Education City in Qatar (and even more so with the Academic Bridge Program where I work), it turns out that – as Achilleas put it – not all relevant cultures operating within it on various levels as compatible. Hence tension and ambiguity (an example of this is the story of a friend of mine whose contract was terminated for teaching the “wrong” book – all done in the middle of the “Think” campaign encouraging everyone to think, ask more questions, etc. – I described it in one of my course papers last academic year).

    An additional local “ingredient” – a very powerful ingredient – is the process of Qatarisation whereby foreigners are being replaced by suitably qualified Qataris, and this increasingly includes teachers (with 2-3 months notice!). With Qatarisation the cultural tug of war increases in intensity, adding more negative emotions, uncertainty, resentment, etc. Also, the changing political orientation observable in the country means a growing impact of the conservative, anti-Western forces within the institutional as well as national contexts. All in all, quite an interesting (potentially explosive?? metaphorically speaking, of course) setting. And unexplored so far, hence my excitement!

    In fact, I have become so totally preoccupied with the educational/cultural/institutional etc. scene here (where I am one of the pawns) that I even record social conversations with expats and locals. Yesterday, I was invited to visit my former student from Georgetown, a great Qatari girl, and met her entire family – I discussed local education with her father for nearly an hour – of course, he presented a view different from what western faculty and other foreign employees may be saying – unemployed Qataris versus overpaid foreigners milking the system. There are so many partakers of this show, so many stakeholders, so many players, so many views of what is happening in the country’s education and for what purpose and reasons. But there is a sense of growing dissatisfaction and displeasure on the part of many locals and quiet disappointment (or outright resentment on the part of those who have been “Qatarised”) among expats working in education here.

    So it’s a real struggle to find appropriate but SHARED approach and methodology under these circumstances.


  • Richard Fay

    I am not sure that appropriate methodology is only an obligation for the outsiders.
    I think in fact it is an obligation of all involved in education. Appropriate methodology considerations apply within an institution even and all those involved should in some way be working towards an shared sense of what is appropriate, no?

    • Achilleas Kostoulas

      Yes, I agree in principle. However, I think that such a shared sense of what is appropriate might be easier to reach when the various cultures that come together in the learning institute are compatible. I am far from certain that this is the norm.

  • Magda Rostron

    Achilleas, you hit the nail on the head here – what is our role here, under these circumstances: are we mercenaries, missionaries or simply merchants, peddling our educational wares to the buying locals (I have an outline of an article to that effect, but it’s a risky and shaky ground…)? Are we none of the above and something else altogether – most likely, but what?

    Your questions are my questions too – not at all rhetorical! They are my daily bread…

    As to Julian’s text, I shall have to dig it out, as it sounds incredibly interesting – with my own Polish background, my answer to your “concrete” questions would be “yes” -been there, done that, got the t-shirt as it were. As young students, passionately engaged in the anti-communist opposition, we craved such teaching from foreign teachers, because it meant that they were supporting our struggle against the status quo and not the regime that imposed it on us.

    However, WE wanted change! Who wants change here and how deep, how far-reaching that change might be, is debatable – hence I thought that juxtaposing reading in Qatar with reading in Tehran would make such a poignant statement – the young students in Tehran wanted to be taught in a way that developed their critical thinking and strengthened their opposition to the oppressive, theocratic state. Most of our local students here are not in the same position of frame of mind.

    More later, thanks for your comments, very interesting!


  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    Yes, the theme of appropriate methodology was what I had in mind as well. But I was thinking: if we frame this situation in terms of appropriate methodology, that places the burden on us outsiders to adjust to local traditions, to conform to a schooling system that reproduces the status quo.

    But surely, education should also be about challenging assumptions and facilitating progress (however defined). Based on that, would it be legitimate to view our role as agents of change, namely change that the local context needs but does not necessarily want? Can we absolve ourselves of ethical demands, such as furthering social justice, by simply saying that ‘this is not how things are done here’?

    To make this concrete: If one were invited to teach English in a totalitarian state, would it be legitimate to use teaching methods that promote independence, autonomy and critical thinking? Would it make a difference if we knew that these skills could land our students to jail, as Julian wrote in 1987 (Edge, J. 1987. Correspondence. ELT Journal 41(4): 308-309)?

    The above were not meant as rhetorical questions. I’m afraid I really don’t know the answer, or rather I am apprehensive about the implications of both possible answers.

  • Hi Achilleas,

    Glad to know you found the article informative – yes, it’s all centred around the issue of culture, large and small, as well as ethical, social and political dimensions of education as it is being transplanted into Qatar from the US. The financial aspect also plays a huge, albeit unsaid, role in this.

    Apparently the Michigan Univ. School of Law is coming in with a Master’s programme and possibly London Univ. museum studies, also with post-grad courses.

    As Richard says, the theme of appropriate methodology, etc. is the key consideration in this context – teaching here is a delicate balancing act, trying to weave so many different perspectives, needs, expectations, etc. into a reasonably efficient, effective, coherent, contextually-responsive educational practice.

    I will be in Manchester next week!


  • Richard Fay

    So, the theme of appropriate methodology, of contextually-sensitive practice, etc, loom large ….

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    Thanks again for this, Magda! I found it extremely useful in better understanding the forces that shape higher education in the Gulf, a topic on which I had very little knowledge. Reading the article also made me wonder about the ethical dimensions of importing one system of educational values onto a culture where such values are not just unwanted, but possibly even dangerous.

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    Just saw this, Magda. I’ll print it off and take it with me for the journey to Vlora. It will certainly be more interesting than (re)reading my own prose. Thanks for sharing.