Organisational culture is very much in the news; one hears and reads about companies who set the standards for behaviour and relationships in their specific workplaces – and who’ve become role models for similar organisations across the globe.
But what happens when a school in Qatar breaks the mould by setting new standards for a school culture, wins an international award doing so, and in the process becomes a role model for other educational institutions in the country and the world?
That’s exactly what Qatar Academy for Science and Technology did – all in barely two years.
Its success is no fluke, though.
Rather, the STEM school epitomises Qatar Foundation’s tried and tested tactic of reverse engineering education to meet the needs of the future.
When QF set up the school its mandate was clear: Qatar Academy for Science and Technology (QAST) would not merely teach STEM subjects, but they would do so in a manner that recognised students as human beings with distinct requirements needed to be met in order for them to succeed.
Haiqa Masoodi, a Grade 10 student at QAST, talked about her experience at the school, at QF’s ‘I AM QF’ event.
“I studied in a STEM school in the US before coming to Qatar,” she said.
“I was an incredibly shy girl who was conscious of the notion that I had only one attempt to get things right – be it an assignment or an assessment.
“At QAST, though, I’ve been allowed to learn through failure. I’ve been given repeated opportunities. My confidence has shot up to the point that each time an opportunity comes by, I can hear my mind urge me, ‘Take it, just take it. That’s your next step — you’ll learn something new'."
Masoodi further explained how this led to her making the utmost of another unique feature that QAST offers its students – public engagement.
“You rarely hear about school students problem solving, presenting, or being held accountable to the public,” Masoodi said.
“Yet, that’s precisely what I was exposed to at QAST. Here, we’re invited to talk to various stakeholders in the wider community, listen to their concerns, and trouble shoot on their behalf.
“I never knew that I would have the confidence to take part in such initiatives. But as my confidence grew – due to the repeated chances, I was given to improve my performance – I found myself stepping forward.
"So much so that in the last two years, I’ve been involved in, and presented at, around 30 public events – including the I AM QF event today. For me, this is phenomenal.”
Samuel Abrams, principal of QAST, who was also present at the event, said that QF’s trajectory is visible in QAST’s ground-breaking curriculum that prepares students for the future.
“We sat down with some of the best universities and organisations in the world and identified factors that STEM students need to have in order to contribute in their communities and the world at large. These included 21st century skills, growth mindset, and compassion for others. So, at QAST, we give students a chance to trouble shoot for the public.
“For instance, our students talked to the organisers of Torba Farmers Market about their concern of the large turnover of disposable tumblers. Our students came up with solutions – including reusable tumblers and washing stations – that are currently being implemented at the venue of the weekend market.”
Fatma al-Kuwari, mother of Ali al-Kuwari, another Grade 10 QAST student, noted how the school gives her son the challenges that suit his level and taste.
“My son was in another school where he was performing well,” she said.“But I often felt that he wasn’t receiving the sort of stimulation that was helping his innate sense of curiosity in STEM.
“When I heard that QF was starting another school that focused on STEM, I knew this was meant for Ali. I wondered if he would be willing to move out of a school that he was already comfortable in. He agreed to try it for a week – and he hasn’t looked back.
"In a span of under a year, I’ve been amazed at the way he’s met challenges head on; at his confidence. QF’s concept for QAST is revolutionary – my son is proof of that.”
And though he’s been there for a relatively short time, her son, Ali, said that he can very well see the culture he’s imbibed at QAST help him 20 years down the road.
“I’m where I am because I was given the chance to improve upon myself, and to take part in STEM activities to my heart’s content,” Ali observed.
“That’s a value that I’m keen to build on in my future, whether I’m an employee or an employer. Hard work, discipline, time management – all these are necessary. But you’re simply not going to be able to show what you’re capable of, if you’re not given the chance to. QF has given me a chance. QAST has given me a chance. I hope twenty years, on, I can give others a chance to show their mettle.”