Teaching sixty students is challenging, but is also a gift. It is an opportunity to make a positive impact, no matter how small, on the students. I am a second year Teach for Qatar fellow teaching grade 7-math at a public school in Qatar. While exploring this opportunity for impact, I realized more than 50% of my students did not care about education. Their only goal was to pass the exam; nothing more, nothing less.
Low student engagement in learning is not limited to public schools in Qatar, but according to our surveys, it is prominent here. More than 75% of public school teachers in Qatar complain of low student engagement in learning. This statistic forces us to ask “why?” There are a number of factors, but the three most relevant to my classroom are as follows:
1) Lack of exposure to real life applicability of studies
“Why do we have to study?”
Most students’ perceptions are limited to school and home. Due to this lack of exposure, students do not see the value of education beyond the momentary satisfaction of a grade or a passing compliment.
2) Lack of role models
“Can I make an impact?”
A significant number of students come from homes where parents are demotivated and do not aspire for themselves nor their families. They cannot imagine a path where they instill societal changes as active members of the community. The children then adopt this attitude from their parents, and demonstrate it in schools.
3) Lack of supportive learning environments
“Who cares, just pass us!”
Schools use student scores as a major determinant of teachers’ performance, forcing teachers to switch their focus from the learning process to students’ grades. This is best demonstrated through exams during which the pressure to pass as many students as possible results in teachers creating an easy exam most of their students can pass without effort. This kind of environment dismisses challenging students as it is seen as irrelevant to the short-term goal of achieving grades.
Through education we can provide students with the tools they need to excel and become motivated, positive change-makers in their respective communities. This long-term impact we are looking for is slowly fading away in the day-to-day, short-term vision of schools. One solution is to bring individuals from outside the school system who can demonstrate the long-term vision of educational impact as it relates to the students.
From here, the idea behind EduLink sprung. We invite professionals from the community as guest speakers to middle public school classrooms to conduct workshops and engage students through experiential learning. The students can look up to the guest speakers and see their own potential in them. These workshops link the students’ curriculum to real life application in different fields, helping students realize the value of education beyond grades. As of now, we have conducted four workshops in our pilot program.
The topics and guest speakers varied, from marketing specialists explaining the art of story telling, to a petroleum engineer introducing students to the process of extracting oil and pressure variances at different heights. The results are promising. This project has led me to experience how eager community members are to help inspire the next generation, and it is our responsibility as educators and education policy makers to channel this energy in a productive manner.
Disclaimer: This article represents the author’s personal view and not does represent that of the organization. It is also not a generalization; it is a representation of an experience.