Education in Qatar is filled with many pioneers, from teachers to principals, and the list is infinite. Every person remembers a special teacher or a principal that influenced them and changed their life for the better, because those who work in education do not only refine the minds of future generations, they happen to also be mentors and parents. One of the pioneers who changed the orientation of education and left an unmatched unique imprint on it is Ms. Aisha Mubarak Al-Khulaifi, who played the role of a mother, teacher, mentor and educator all at the same time to students. Through her dedication, she has left a significant imprint that can rarely occur again in history. So,who is Aisha al-Khulaifi?
I have grown up as an ambitious child, with a difference that set me apart in terms of my huge appetite for life. I was the first daughter in the family; I was raised in the bosom of a loving father and a beautiful and wonderful mother, and in a family that loves science. As a result, I have developed a great love for reading. I was very interested in books, where I continuously read everything that I got my hands on. I believe that because of this passion for reading many things accelerated in my life, specifically in terms of my academic and professional career. I was among the first group that was taught English at the elementary level, and I believe that I managed to shine in my English studies because I already have developed my skills in Arabic. Through solidifying my speaking and writing abilities in Arabic, the way was paved for me to learn another language. Learning English was one of the keys that opened many of life’s locked doors. I managed to get a distinction in English (at a time in which English was a relatively new subject in Qatar), a feat that made me love the subject even more.
I relied heavily on English to shape many aspects in my life, as I taught the language at schools and have joined a committee that redesigned the English subject and the manner in which it is taught in schools. This kind of change was first implemented in in girls’ schools, and later on it was implemented in boys’ schools as well. Including boys’ school in this program came at the request of the former Minister of Education, the honorable Sheikha Al-Mahmoud, who personally asked me to guide the English development in boys’ schools. The way that boys’ schools are developed differs to girls’ school, and so my expertise in this area was wanted as it managed to implement similar changes on both grounds. Later in life I have joined the Education Reform Project in 2006, and was transferred to work in independent schools, specifically as the principal of Duhail Model School. In my personal opinion I see that – Praise be to Allah – I excelled at it, as my school was considered one of the most successful schools during the reform period. At some point in my life, I applied for graduate studies. I was admitted to the American University of Washington D.C., in which I studied for three years with my husband. This experience was a very wonderful opportunity, as it allowed me to learn new things in life. Unfortunately, we did not manage to carry on due to family circumstances which forced us to return back to Qatar. After that period, I was no longer interested in finishing my graduate studies. My children started to grow up at that time, and I refused to let anything affect my role as a mother and I have already joined the education sector before. Although I did not get the chance to finish up my graduate studies, Praise be to Allah my professional career was not affected. In fact, it was continuously improving and on a rise. I undertook the management of early education for a year and a half, which was followed by a position in the Ministry of Education as an Educational Adviser at the office of His Excellency the Minister.
Have you always seen yourself in educational and guidance field?
Honestly, during my childhood there were not many opportunities available for girls. Many restrictions existed for me by my community and family, restrictions that I found quite unbreakable. If I decided to go against these restrictions I would destroy my relationship with my parents, which at the end of the day is never worth it. There was no room for me to do anything but be a teacher at that time. At first, I was an English teacher (as I majored in it in University) and then I got promoted within the educational field from simply a mentor to the head of a boys’ school.
Which stage in your career stands out to you the most?
There is a phase in my life that I absolutely love and adore, and I always find comfort when I think about it, which is when I joined the guidance field earlier in my career. I love this stage not because of the nature of guidance itself, but because of a specific person that has left a huge impact on me and still affects me to this day despite her distance from me. She is Professor Aisha Ali Jabr Al-Thani, who was the Head of Mentoring for English Language at that time and Assistant Undersecretary for Curriculum Management. She has left an impression on my life and the life of many of my mentoring colleagues, a fingerprint that we will never forget. She has instilled in us a very strong sense of motivation, and an unprecedented ambition that made us worship our jobs. Working with her was something that I cherish, and I always miss her and pray for her. She had a wonderful impact on my personality through instilling confidence in me, and continuously supporting me in my endeavors. There is also another stage in my life that I also cherish, which happens to be when I was the principal of the Duhail School in 2006. When my collogues and I presented our educational plan to run an independent school, I asked to run a model school (which is a boys’ school that is fully staffed by females). I realized that I am capable of influencing young boys to do better academically, and to take an avid interest in education. I wanted to be part of shaping the future generation of men who would give back to their community. Through my hard work, my school became one of the most successful schools on all levels and domains. Every aspect in that school was considered successful, from student output, organizational structure, or even curriculum/programs design such as the academic support program for the Arabic language. I have noticed at the beginning of the project that the students’ main weaknesses in learning were basically associated with their weakness in their mother tongue, that is Arabic. Consequently, their level did not help them successfully and effectively learn the rest of the subjects. Through the Arabic program we have attempted to address the linguistic weakness by teaching and promoting Arabic, with remedial plans for different stages. Praise be to Allah, the program was so excellently executed that it developed a good reputation, which attracted many students from other schools just to enroll in the program. Word of the program has even reached his Excellency the Minister of Education, who visited our school to see the program for his own eyes along with Ms. Fawzia Al-Khater and Ms. Rima Abu Khadija. We were really proud of the achievements of this program, because through it I managed to create an exclusive environment and culture that is unique to Duhail school. During my time as a principle I did not just work on the Arabic program, but I also tried as much as I could to be an active member in different school corners. I opted for an open-door kind of style as a principal, this included playing football with the students during recess and sitting with them in the morning in the school yard to read stories for them. I would even wipe their noses, arrange their appearance, and give them money to buy food whenever they forgot their money at home. At the end of the day I was not only a principle, but I was also a mother and an educator for students. As a result of the style that I have adopted many competent workers were incentivized to join my school, both Qatari and non-Qatari employees, just based on the beautiful reputation that the school has built. Moreover, I have personally took part in the recruitment process to ensure that only the best teachers were hired. I have even made the pay equal between Qatari and non-Qatari teachers to incentivize all the teachers to excel in their jobs, as they felt through this intuitive a sense of equality between them. This is why I consider this stage of my life to be the most wonderful and enriching one yet, it was through it that I managed to exercise both my educational expertise and academic professionalism. It has also allowed me to utilize my humanitarian experience as a strong woman who has an impact on future generations. Due to the successes that I reaped as the principle of Duhail school, I received a request from Qatar Academy to become the principle of the academy. I refused the offer as I just began reaping successful results at school, my thoughts, influence and beliefs finally emerged on. My heart did not allow me to let this plant die after seeing it finally growing. I never thought of moving to another school, as I have developed a strong feeling of love and belonging towards this job from a patriotic perspective. I experienced this sense of responsibility towards the profession, and to serve my country through guiding the future generations.
Did this program only exist in Duhail school or did the Academic Support Program for Arabic Language spread to other schools?
After noticing the success of the program at our school, I promoted it to other schools. Unfortunately, it did not capture the attention of other principals and teachers for several reasons. These reasons varied from those who claimed that they already had a similar program in place, to others who thought that they did not need it. There was also the idea of facing rejection from the Ministry of Education, which many see it as a stopping point and would never attempt to change things. In my case, I depended on my strength a lot when making decisions that I thought were the best course of action. I even capitalized on the independence of the model school to implement my vision, which included new policies and structure. As a result, this program was never tried or developed by anyone else besides my school.
Have you ever faced any challenges in your personal or professional life?
I am like an engine that never stops, my siblings would even call me ‘Al Yaryoor’ (Shark) because this animal does not sleep. Whenever I contemplate my life, I would say that I never encountered any challenges whatsoever. Yet when I looked at the bigger image, I realized that others did not easily pass through the same set of obstacles that I went through. The only thing I considered as a challenge in my life was the issue of mobility. Due to the nature of my personality, and my husband’s educational drive, we refused to bring a maid or a driver for fear that our children might be influenced by them. Yet both my husband and I were teachers, and seeing as both of us were against bringing in a driver I had a problem in terms of transportation which forced me to drive. Even though I used to drive in America, I had never driven in Doha as it was forbidden in the past, and even when women were granted the right to drive the community still rejected the idea. Earlier in the day I faced some difficulties whenever I drove. Fortunately, the situation has changed over time and the number of women who drive has increased.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I advise every woman not to go against society for the purpose of proving herself. Society does not put restrictions in order to restrict freedom, but to protect women. The first society in which humans were brought up in was purely tribal that revolved around the ‘one family’ principle. If you take a look at some of the elements of modern times, you will find that all these laws that society has set is simply meant to protect you. If the girl escapes this range, she will not be able to live a decent life. I believe that Qatari girls must work within the boundaries of society, traditions and religion on which we grew up on to live a rich and honorable life. The Islamic religion is the greatest protector of women, and if she follows its teachings in a proper manner that will not stand as an obstacle in front of her path. She must live in harmony with society, and not view society as the enemy and the restriction of freedom. Qatari women actually own freedom, in the modern context that we came to look at it from. I have offered my daughters this advice and I bestow it upon every other girl, especially in this era. Girls should ignore the Western media that incites against society; because it does not really care about women’s freedom, it just tries to break society and weaken it in an ugly and disrespectful manner. There are many people with weak souls who see women as a cheap commodity and would throw improper words against her when they see her fighting against society. Thus, by going with the society’s flow, the women protect themselves from these baseless accusations.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.