Dr. Abdullah Al-Kamali has worked as Special Programs Manager for QNRF for the past four and a half years, dealing with the K-12 (Kindergarten - grade 12) education program and Secondary School Research Experience Program (SSREP). He graduated with a BA in Education from Qatar University in 1994 and has spent 20 years working in the field of education, working his way up from teaching to being the senior expert of curriculum standards at the Supreme Education Council (SEC). He received his PhD in the Philosophy of Education from the University of Arkansas in 2007.
Q: What attracted you to come to work for QNRF?
A: Many things attracted me to work for QNRF. Firstly, it deals with education policies, and because of my background with the SEC, and having spent 20 years in the education field, this really interests me. I also have experience with Qatar’s education system and culture and I really wanted to work with the younger students in the K-12 education system. When I joined QNRF, my original plan was to create a research culture amongst the students, to prepare them for their future academic endeavours. I had noticed a big gap between high-school standards and university expectations. There seemed to be a struggle for high-school students to properly grasp standard methods of research. I wanted to help these students succeed in later academic life by being proactive and tackling those problems early on.
So, we started to build a research culture among those students to prepare them for university. In 2006, QNRF started a program called UREP (Undergraduate Research Experience Program) and our early experience with UREP led us to recognize the need to fill an education gap by preparing students at a younger age so that they would have some project experience and be ready for UREP by the time they reached university. So we spent the first ten months of 2010 preparing for the upcoming program by visiting schools, surveying needs and preparing and designing the program in conjunction with the SEC. Two years earlier, in 2008, the SEC had already started a project in high schools called the Science Fair, and so, when the time came for QNRF to start the new program, SSREP, naturally it was to be hand-in-hand with the SEC.
Q: Could you tell us the purpose and strategy behind SSREP? What is it designed for?
A: We had many objectives and goals. QNRF realizes the importance of developing a research culture as early as secondary school level in Qatar. SSREP aims to engage all students, Qatari, and non-Qatari, in all secondary schools in Qatar, independent and private, under the mentorship of their teachers or subject coordinator, in undertaking policies that are directly derived from curriculum standards that are created by the SEC. SSREP will also become a learning tool by using a hands-on approach activity method in secondary schools. It will give students initial experience in implementing research, which will eventually help them to carry out university research. The program will also enhance productive co-operation between teachers and students, and provide an opportunity for everyone involved to develop their problem-solving skills, scientific enquiry skills, understanding of the research method, and also introduce the idea of research as a career. Furthermore, we hope to provide networking beyond the classroom with local industry and medical institutions in Qatar.
Q: Is SSREP similar to other QNRF funding initiatives?
A: It is different on many levels. It is not funding, but training. In K-12 education we start to build a research culture among the students, and start research programs in workshops and training for teachers. We are focusing on stopping plagiarism. It is very important at this level for students and teachers to understand international policies regarding plagiarism, and to learn how to properly proof-read and make citations. In the first cycle, we received many projects or final reports that were plagiarized. After this, we created workshops on how to deal with quotations and other aspects of research to avoid such problems. Now, most of the research is a lot better and it is an important part of this program to educate students to the highest standards about the research guidelines that must be followed.
Q: How do you actually reach out to the students?
A: We start with booklet and poster distribution throughout schools. We visit schools, including international schools, making presentations to encourage students and teachers to participate. We also hold education roadshows. I usually deal directly with the research co-ordinator of each school as he, or she, provides me with the email contacts to communicate with all the teachers, and I send them information regarding what we are doing to encourage participation.
Q: What is your vision of the future for education and research in Qatar?
A: After four years of this program, this year, in partnership with the SEC, we targeted middle schools with a pilot- study. We started with hands-on, competitive activities like the Science Challenge and our mission for next year is to extend this part of the program. The Science Challenge is a useful exercise because not only does it teach the students team-work in a competitive environment, but also how to deal with time-constraints, and the stress of working constructively in front of a panel which observes and reviews all the entries. We want to capitalize on this usefulness and expand the program.
Q: How did the SEC and QNRF choose the topic of bridge-building for the first Science Challenge?
A: We started this pilot study with grade 9 students. The bridge-building corresponds to the science units they are doing at school; they have topics about bridges and different types of bridges. The program should ideally be aligned with the curriculum, which is why we chose a topic straight out of their science books. In the future we hope to cover more of what we call ‘STEM’ subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We may also try to include eco-friendly subjects in these science projects, like recycling.
Q: What feedback did you get?
A: The schools were very excited. Although this year the SEC could only select ten schools, five male and five female, we received requests from many more schools asking to be included. The SEC promised them that, next year, we will include many more schools and we are now planning how many schools we will cover, how many topics we will do and how to build our website.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: We have many plans for the future. This project is ongoing and we have another program, the ‘Science Experience’ that will start next year. It will award grants to institutions, like Qatar University, to hold workshops focusing on research and the STEM subjects, and will give students and researchers the opportunity to experience how to build budgets and submit proposals.
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