Saturday, 11 December 2010

Interview Transcript with Sheikha Mozah of Qatar

This past week I had the chance to attend the Doha Debates and World Innovation Summit on Education, and interview Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, the wife of the Amir of Qatar and Chairperson of Qatar Foundation. I wrote an article reflecting on the events in the Huffington Post that can be found by clicking here

Below is the full transcript of the interview with Her Highness. 

Transcript of Interview with Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned
Wednesday, December 5, 2010 

Location: Office of Her Highness at Qatar Foundation, Doha, Qatar

Others Present: Ali Willis, Director of Media, Office of Her Highness

(‘HHSM’ represents Sheikha Mozah; ‘TR’ represents the interviewer, Taufiq Rahim)

TR:  Congratulations on winning the World Cup bid for 2022. What do you think it means for Qatar and the region?

HHSM: We saw immediately on the faces of millions and millions of Arabs and not just in the Emirates or the Gulf or our direct neighbors, but also in Egypt, Algeria, and Syria, everywhere – Lebanon. It shows that you are correct when you say that it excited the region, and it did, and I hope it will continue for several years.

TR: So do you see the World Cup victory as a victory for the Middle East…

HH: Of course

TR: For the Muslim world as well?

HHSM: Well the Middle East is part of the Muslim world. But I think it is a victory for all parts because we – what happened in Zurich, is the success of a hard-working group of young people that represents all the Middle Eastern youth. And that success is a success of all youth in the Middle East.

TR: With the World Cup victory, it has brought a lot of attention on Qatar – for example the WISE conference, which has been fascinating in bringing together not just regional but global stakeholders. What do you see as Qatar Foundation’s role as a regional and global leader on the education agenda?

HHSM: Well I saw it really a long time before, 15 years ago. What happened 15 years ago - to understand the current vision you have to understand what inspired us to have this vision. It started from three issues or three convictions that I carry myself or that I deal with myself.  First of all I believe that we can reach a quality of global education without losing our identities, without losing our nationalities, because so far, 15 years ago, before we start our reforms, what happened before is that we used to import education from abroad. Importing education from abroad in a way resulted from our vision.

Education itself can transcend barriers and borders. Through education - education can also be used as a soft power as a soft force to transform societies. When I say transform societies it means we can tackle issues in political, social, cultural, economic areas. These are the most important things.

TR: It is interesting that you mention transforming societies. Yesterday [Former UN Envoy] Lakdar Brahimi was talking about education, and he was talking about the importance of values and he brought up the example of the Church in Baghdad [that was attacked recently]. Do you incorporate that kind of philosophy, of, not just the hardware of education, but also the values, tolerance, creating a more open-minded youth?

HHSM: Of course. Of course, this is it. One of the lessons that we learned on education, education is very, very, very living and organic. This living organ needs to always be flexible and needs to be filled with new ideas, with creative approaches. Once we have this in mind, we will build up the critical mind, the global mind, the tolerant mind to accept the other, to live with the others. This is why …one of the areas that we are trying to instill [this philosophy] is in the hearts and minds of every individual who lives here in Qatar.

TR: And what about beyond Qatar?

HHSM: We are – to be frank with you – I can’t say that 15 years ago when we started this I was thinking beyond Qatar.  No. And I don’t think that there is a vision that can incorporate such scope. We started this, we started focusing on Qatar. What we can achieve for our people, and what we need to build up our society. And to understand that if you want to enhance and develop our sector of the economy, culture, and the politics you need to start with education. If what we are doing here in Qatar Foundation or in Qatar can be emulated or adapted elsewhere we are very welcoming here to share our experience with others.

TR:  With the case of Al Jazeera and media, it was something here but it transformed the way people were doing media in the region. The World Cup itself will transform the nature of sports in the region. Do you feel that Qatar can also lead that vision in education? What is that kind of moment or breakthrough in education that could build similar excitement like a World Cup?

HHSM: You know if you go back to history, and see what’s going on, what was going on, what’s still going on in Qatar Foundation, you can see that we have already made many breakthroughs. First of all, by transforming our education system, by creating this independence or semi-independence in the education system - we shifted away, moved from ministries and ministers. The Supreme Council [on Education] is the governance body of the overall education system – a governance body that takes decisions according to consensus of all board members, including members who came from high profiles from different parts of the world. We don’t have local members only but also have international members. This type of mixture gives us a broader view and perspective of our vision when it comes to education. The education system is transformed and in that on the concept of independent autonomy and accountability. This is one breakthrough.

The other breakthrough is bringing for the first time in the whole world Ivy League schools to this part of the world. The Ivy League was brought according to very tenacious studies and analyses of what we need and what we really require as a society and country. So we selected certain faculties to build up our own societies. This idea also requires us to adapt and be oriented toward research [on changing priorities]. We now – for us as well – for us it’s a great thing – we don’t mind - as long as [the change is] something good for the project cycle there.

The third breakthrough for me, I think it’s research. Our philosophy is that research is the core business for any advancement. Research should not be imported from abroad but should be built here through building capacity in our individuals, and open our environment and our institutions. This is what happened. Today we are giving 2.8% of our GDP to research. This is something again that is a breakthrough, as nobody was even thinking of research as a tool or component for advancement in this part of the world.

For me education is the key, education is the answer. In other parts of the world maybe they think it cannot be. For me, it is education. If you look at our population, 66% is the literacy rate in the Arab world. We have 58 million illiterate among adults in our part of the world. So can you imagine what education can achieve once you put it as a main priority for us? Education is the solution.

TR: I went to Harvard – and was also a teaching fellow there - and for sure I’m a fan of the Ivy League. However, a lot of the work in terms of fostering successful students happens before they even reach the institution.  These are great institutions [in Qatar Foundation] but do you feel the necessary groundwork is being done to prepare the students in primary and secondary...

HHSM: Of course because this is what our education reforms are about…

TR: Because you know the TIMMS scores [assessment tests for 4th and 8th grade students in math and science], they are for Qatar the lowest or second lowest in the world…

HHSM: I’ll tell you what, this is a question we were asking ourselves as a board: should we participate in those tests or not. And I was the one who held the devotion towards this. The others said there are risks because our experience is very, very immature until now as we are just two years of experience into our reforms, and that will reflect significantly on the results and people will miscalculate the results. I said it’s okay - don’t do it for us, at least we’ll have it as a benchmark from when we started. The results that you saw are the results that reflect our starting point, not our ending point. The ending point you will see it in three years time.  Not even then, it is a process that will continue. But you will see the results in three years – actually it’s happening today, every year results are better. Each year is better than the year before. So what you saw is a journey to me, very cautiously, because we wanted to see the results. We want to know our path ourselves. 

TR: Thank you so much for your time and best of luck.

HHSM: Thank you. 

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