How We Build Meaningful Connections with the Arab World — and 21stC Skills Too!

HE Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani, Vice-Chairperson and CEO of Qatar Foundation, with six QFI program alumni at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the annual UN Youth Dialogue.

In our increasingly interconnected world, students and educators are seeking more nuanced views of other people and cultures, and connections with their peers that offer a deeper and more meaningful understanding beyond news headlines and soundbites.

Learning a language and studying about another part of the world allows them to discover more about themselves and their own interests, and to have an improved working relationship with peers both in person and virtually. These are essential educational outcomes for today’s high school graduates.

Enabling these outcomes is at the heart of the educational ecosystem that Qatar has built, and of the work of Qatar Foundation International (QFI). Established in 2009 by Qatar Foundation (QF), QFI supports student-centered learning environments that foster greater insight into the Arab world, through Arabic language courses and teaching students about the region’s societies and cultures.

We partner with primary and secondary schools, universities, multilateral entities, and other philanthropic organisations to ensure that our programs advance students’ acquisition of global competency and 21st-century skills. We act on our belief that the world benefits from openly-available educational resources, particularly digital and in Arabic. And we actively engage our community of students, teachers, and administrators to facilitate connections, supporting them as they explore new ways of enriching the classroom learning experience. In this way, we nurture young people’s ability to form their own worldviews, and encourage their innate curiousity. We think these lay the foundation for developing true global citizens.

The impact and value of this approach to education can be seen in our global community of learners and educators, and was once again exemplified at the recent United Nations Youth Dialogue conference. Six alumni of QF partner universities and QFI programs joined HE Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani, Vice-Chairperson and CEO of Qatar Foundation, to discuss how to increase opportunities for youth to be heard and engaged in their home countries as well as internationally.

Nora al-Jurdi in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

One of the alumni, Mohamed bin Nasser al-Mohannadi, a Qatari student entering his senior year at DePaul University, just started an internship at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Tim Hursen, who is studying advanced Arabic as a graduate student at George Washington University in DC, first met Mohamed when they were both in 8th grade. They were part of QFI’s first exchange trips to Qatar and the US in 2010. They’ve been in touch ever since. Two other alumni — Wai Chum, from Seattle, Washington, and Nora al-Jurdi, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar — highlighted how visits to each other’s schools and STEM-themed educational exchanges had shattered stereotypes about “the other”.

This is how barriers are broken down: through education, through exchange, through fostering understanding. These values are at the core of Qatar’s vision for harnessing it’s natural resource wealth to develop the potential of not only Qataris, but also the peoples of the region.

One year on from the start of the blockade of Qatar, it is an appropriate time to acknowledge the importance of these values — not merely in a national context, but a global one. Education should transcend borders and political disputes.

Where the commitment of others to broadening understanding and fostering cross-cultural connectivity is reflected in words, Qatar’s commitment is reflected in deeds and the tangible impact of our programs on the communities we serve. In April, Qatar National Library opened, with physical collections and also digital resources that benefit Arabic speakers as well as English, German, among many others. Then there are QF’s outstanding partner universities and its homegrown Hamad Bin Khalifa University, as well as the international partnerships formed by Education Above All to benefit refugees and displaced peoples. And no other Arabic-speaking country has done what Qatar has, through QFI, to advance the teaching of Arabic, and knowledge of the Arab world, to young people in the US, the UK, Germany, and many other countries.

None of these achievements would have been possible without decades of commitment, hard work, and unceasing determination to achieve a truly exceptional vision — a vision to support and foster cross-cultural learning for a new generation of leaders and global citizens.

In this way, Qatar really is a leader in quality global education that enhances international cooperation and trust, rather than reinforcing boundaries and divisiveness. These are essential to our ability to thrive, to create, and to collaborate with different peoples and cultures. When we do, the benefits to us all are, quite simply, tremendous.