The notion that a degree or doctorate alone is sufficient to secure a career as a teacher became obsolete decades ago.
Across the globe, as technology evolved and access to information increased, educators discovered that in order to equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly evolving society, they needed to keep up with the latest developments in their respective fields.
In Qatar, the situation is no different; in fact, for most university faculty and schoolteachers across the country, seminars, workshops, and conferences aimed at professional and personal development are a regular feature in their annual calendar.
And, Qatar Foundation (QF), recognising the pivotal role that teachers and faculty play in transforming children and young adults into capable leaders, encourages them to avail themselves of every opportunity for professional development.
For Dr Marc Owen Jones, Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) - a member of QF - and Lulwa Salman J al-Darwish, an educator at Renad Academy - part of QF’s Pre-University Education - exploring professional development opportunities are central to their careers.
Dr Jones, who has been in the teaching profession for over a decade, views such events as key to ensuring that those who instruct students are exposed to the cutting edge of their relevant field of expertise.
“Conferences, workshops, and networking opportunities are the lifeblood of academia, creativity, and knowledge production,” he says.
“Such opportunities – aside from advancing one’s knowledge – provide an emotional impetus too: they humanise academia, giving attending teachers the motivation and inspiration to continue important research back in their universities and schools.”
According to Dr Jones, academics are credible representatives of the capabilities of a country; when they meet other faculty at important and influential institutions, they create strong ties of soft but informed power that can influence global policymakers.
“When university faculty or schoolteachers attend high-level conferences, they are demonstrating to the world that Qatar is a serious contender in the field of education,” he explains.
“This is especially relevant if Qatar wishes to build a sustainable economy; its knowledge producers must be seen to be visible in the global networks of cutting-edge research and learning. Additionally, the high standards and expertise of such faculty also serve to attract and encourage researchers and educators from other countries, to consider investing their time and funding in Qatar.
Dr Jones also points out how the conferences he attends result in him providing new readings, new ideas, and new contacts for students at HBKU – all of which arise from his meetings with faculty from other universities.
“Last year, when I went to Istanbul, Turkey, for a talk on ‘disinformation’, I connected students interested in writing about fake news with faculty there,” he says.
“Another student of mine is working with yet another researcher I connected with at the same conference; together, they are currently conducting research into verified accounts on social media.
“Likewise, a senior academic who I met at another conference contacted me to help him edit a book. As I was busy, I recommended one of our research MA students to him. My suggestion was accepted and today the student is collaborating with a number of professors at the University of Cologne, Germany. So, it’s a cycle where everyone – teachers, students, the institution, and the country – reap the benefits.”
As an educator at Renad Academy – a specialist QF school that helps children who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder – Lulwa al-Darwish faces challenges every day as she works to improve the lives of her students, with the aim of enabling them and their families to live fulfilling lives as an integral part of the wider Qatari society.
To al-Darwish professional development is an on-going requirement and not only due to pedagogical methods constantly evolving within her specialised field.
“The importance of ensuring the currency of my skills is brought home to me every day when I realise that education is a dynamic and fluid field - constantly evolving - where new approaches, protocols, and ideas are being developed and implemented every day, based on the collective experiences of so many hard-working and dedicated professionals,” al-Darwish explains.
Today, teachers across the globe need to juggle an array of outside factors that include digitisation, technology, academics, counselling, extra-curricular activities – and a generation of students who, contrary to their parents and grandparents, do not wholly rely on their teachers for either academic or pastoral support.
Insofar as she can, al-Darwish sees her future as being one where, “My continuing personal development allows me to deliver the very best for my children, and to ultimately get to a place where I can contribute to training the next generation of Qatari teachers to the same high quality I have received.”
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