Language Policy

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 209–242 | Cite as

Language policies in education in Qatar between 2003 and 2012: from local to global then back to local

  • Eiman MustafawiEmail author
  • Kassim Shaaban
Original Paper


The State of Qatar, in cooperation with the RAND Corporation, launched in 2002 an ambitious educational reform and development plan, Education for a New Era, which included, among other things, the instating of English as the medium of instruction (EMI) in mathematics, science, and technology in the K-12 system. From the start, the reform plan came under fire locally on grounds related either to ideological concerns or to implementational practicalities. Results of students in all grades on national examinations, which the Supreme Educational Council (SEC) oversaw, showed that a very small percentage of students (8–20%) had mastered the set learning outcomes in any of the main four subjects (Mathematics, Sciences, English, and Arabic). These results showed clearly that the reform initiative had failed to deliver on promises of improved student performance (Kirkpatrick and Barnawi, in: Kirkpatrick (ed) English language education in the Middle East and North Africa, Springer, Switzerland, 2017). In 2012, these perceived failures led the SEC to issue a decree reinstating Arabic as the language of instruction in grades K-12 in schools as well as at Qatar University in all areas of social sciences. The present study examined the problems that had caused the failure of the reform initiative through surveying, by means of structured interviews, the opinions of teachers at independent, public, and international schools in addition to the opinions of some SEC officials; the total number of interview hours was 34 conducted with 24 interviewees. The study identified the following issues as factors that had actively contributed to the demise of the experiment of using EMI in mathematics, science and technology: attitudes of stakeholders; teachers’ qualifications and preparedness to take up such a daring task; the complexity of the context of teaching; and the manner of introducing the reform agenda.


Language policy in education English as medium of instruction Arabic sociolinguistics Language as a human right, language and identity 



Funding was provided by Qatar University (Grant No.: CAS08042). Part of this paper has been written while Eiman Mustafawi has been a Visiting Scholar at the Centre of Islamic Studies at University of Cambridge, UK.


  1. Ahmed, K. (2011). Casting Arabic culture as the ‘other’: Cultural issues in the English curriculum. In C. Gitsaki (Ed.), Teaching and learning in the Arab world (pp. 119–137). Vienna: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  2. Al-Assem, K. (2007). Obeid attacks and Al-Rashid defends: Our language is for the poor and the destitute. Al-Yawm Newspaper (June 5, Issue 12408, p. 13).Google Scholar
  3. Al Dabbagh, A. (2005). Globalism and the universal language. English Today, 21(2), 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Al-Jaraf, R. (2004). College students’ attitudes towards using English and Arabic as a medium of instruction at the university level. Diwan Al-Arab: Manbar Horr li Thakafa Waladab. (in Arabic). Available from:
  5. Alkhatib, H. (2015). The impact of neoliberalism on Qatar’s language policy and language planning: Constructing a new hybrid national identity or maintaining a national Arabic identity?. London: University College of London.Google Scholar
  6. Al-Mahrooqi, R., & Denman, C. (Eds.). (2015). Issues in English education in the Arab world. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  7. Al-Muhaideb, A. B. I. (2005). Arabizing the teaching of engineering in Saudi Arabia: Reality and aspiration. Beirut: Center for Arabic Unity Studies. (in Arabic).Google Scholar
  8. Al-Obaidli, K. M. (2009). Women ESL teachers’ perceptions about their roles and professional development needs in Qatar’s Education for a New Era. The University of Birmingham: Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis.Google Scholar
  9. Al-Qahtani, Z., & Al-Zumor, A. W. (2016). Saudi parents’ attitudes towards using English as a medium of instruction in private primary schools. International Journal of Applied Linguisitcs and English Literature, 5(1), 18–32.Google Scholar
  10. Amin, T. G. (2009). Language of instruction and science education in the Arab World: Toward a situated research agenda. In S. BouJaoude & Z. Dagher (Eds.), The world of science education: Arab states (pp. 61–82). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  11. Armstrong, N., & Mackenzie, N. (2013). Standardization, ideology and linguistics. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Badinska, M., & Kokavcova, D. (2010). CLIL: A way towards autonomy in education. Available from:
  13. Banegas, D. L. (2012). Integrating content and language in ELT in secondary education: Models, benefits, and challenges. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 2(1), 111–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bakir, M. (2010). Notes on the verbal system of Gulf Pidgin Arabic. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 25(2), 201–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Belhia, H., & Elhami, M. (2015). English as a medium of instruction in the Gulf: When students and teachers speak. Language Policy, 14(1), 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Benson, C., & Kosonen, K. (Eds.). (2013). Language issues in comparative education: Inclusive teaching and learning in non-dominant languages and cultures. Boston: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  17. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. BouJaoude, S., & Sayah, F. (2000). Teaching sciences in Arabic: Attitudes and solutions. In K. Shaaban (Ed.), Language and education. Beirut: Association for Educational Studies.Google Scholar
  19. Brewer, D., Augustine, C., Zellman, G., Ryan, G., Goldman, C., Stasz, C., et al. (2007). Education for a New Era: Design and implementation of K-12 education reform in Qatar. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.Google Scholar
  20. Cenoz, J., Genesee, F., & Gorter, D. (2013). Critical analysis of CLIL: Taking stoch and looking forward. Applied Linguistics, 35(3), 243–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Charise, A. (2007). More English, less Islam? An overview of English language functions in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. University of Toronto. Accessed on March, 2018.
  22. Christ, H. (1997). Language attitudes and educational policy. In R. Wodak & D. Carson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education: Language policy and political issues in education (Vol. I, pp. 1–11). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  23. Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power, and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dearden, J. (2017). EMI (and CLIL)—A growing global trend. Oxford: Oxford University Press English Language teaching Blog.Google Scholar
  25. Ejieh, M. U. C. (2004). Attitudes of student teachers towards teaching in mother tongue in Nigerian primary schools: Implications for planning. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 17(1), 73–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ellili-Cherif, M., & Alkhateeb, H. (2015). College students’ attitude toward the medium of instruction: Arabic versus english dilemma. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 3(3), 207–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ellili-Cherif, M., & Romanowski, M. H. (2013). Education for a New Era: Stakeholders’ perception of Qatari education reform. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 8(6), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ellili-Cherif, M., Romanowski, M., & Nasser, R. (2012). All that glitters is not gold: Challenges of teacher and school leader licensure licensing system in Qatar. International Journal of Educational Development, 32, 471–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fassi Fehri, A. (2013). Language policy in Arab countries: Searching for a natural, just, demo-cratic, beneficial environment. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid al-Muttahida. (in Arabic).Google Scholar
  30. Ginsburgh, V., & Weber, S. (2011). How many languages do we need? The economics of linguistic diversity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Goldenberg, C. (2013). Unlocking the research on english learners. American Educator, 38, 4–11.Google Scholar
  32. Gravel, L. A. (1979). A Sociolinguistic investigation of multilingualism in Morocco. Columbia University, Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation.
  33. Fairclough, N. (1995). Media discourse. London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
  34. Fairclough, N. (2003). Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Furguson, C. A. (1959). Diglossia. Word, 15, 232–351.Google Scholar
  36. Hanks, H. (1997). Teaching language and power. Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 1, 241–251.Google Scholar
  37. Hopkyns, S. (2015). A conflict of desires: English as a global language and its effects on cultural identity in the United Arab Emirates. In R. Al-Mahrooqi & C. Denman (Eds.), Issues in English education in the Arab world (pp. 6–24). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  38. Hornberger, N. (2009). Framework and models in language policy and planning. In T. Ricento (Ed.), Introduction to language policy: Theory and method (pp. 24–41). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  39. Jaworski, A., & Coupland, N. (Eds.). (2002). The discourse reader. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Joseph, J. E. (2004). Language and identity: National, ethnic, religious. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Karmani, S. (2005a). English, ‘terror’, and Islam. Applied Linguistics, 26(2), 262–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Karmani, S. (2005b). Petro-linguistics: The emerging nexus between oil, English, and Islam. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 4(2), 87–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kirkpatrick, R., & Barnawi, O. Z. (2017). Introduction: English language education policy in MENA. In R. Kirkpatrick (Ed.), English language education in the Middle East and North Africa (pp. 1–8). Geneva: Springer.Google Scholar
  45. Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Lippi-Green, R. (1994). Accent, standard, and language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in court. Language in Society, 23, 163–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Malallah, S. (2000). English in an Arabic environment: Current attitudes to English among Kuwait University students. The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3(1), 19–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. MacLeod, P., & Abou-El-Kheir, A. (2017). Qatar’s English education policy in K-12 and higher education: Rapid development, radical reform and transition to a new way forward. In R. Kirkpatrick (Ed.), English language education policy in the Middle East and North Africa (pp. 171–197). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. May, S. (2005). Language rights: Moving the debate forward. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5(4), 530–555.Google Scholar
  50. Milroy, J., & Milroy, L. (2012). Authority in language: Investigating standard english (4th ed.). Florence: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mozak, C. M., & Carroll, K. S. (Eds.). (2017). Translanguaging in higher education: Beyond monolingual ideologies. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  52. Murtaza, A. (2017). State of EMI in a private university: Teachers’ dilemma. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research (IJIR), 3(3), 566–570.Google Scholar
  53. Nasser, R. (2017). Qatar’s educational reform past and future: Challenges in teacher development. Open Review of Educational Research, 4(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nasser, R., & Romanowski, M. H. (2011). Teacher perceptions of training in the context of the Qatari national educational reform. International Journal of Training and Development, 15, 158–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as local practice. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Redouane, R. (2016). Linguistic diversity or linguistic rivalry in Morocco? Realities and perspectives. International Journal of Education and Human Developments, 2(1), 18–24.Google Scholar
  58. Ricento, T. (2000). Historical and theoretical perspectives in language policy and planning. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(2), 196–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ricento, T. (2009). Theoretical perspectives in language policy: An overview. In T. Ricento (Ed.), Introduction to language policy: Theory and method (pp. 3–10). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  60. Romanowski, M. H., Ellili Cherif, M., Al Ammari, B., & Al Attiyah, A. (2013). Qatar’s educational reform: The experiences and perceptions of principals, teachers and parents. International Journal of Education, 5(3), 119–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shaaban, K., & Ghaith, G. (2002). University students’ perceptions of the ethnolinguistic vitality of Arabic, French and English in Lebanon. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 6(4), 557–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shaaban, K., & Ghaith, G. (2003). Effect of religion, first foreign language, and gender on the perception of the utility of language. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(1), 53–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Simpson, J. (2017). English language and medium of instruction in basic education in low-and middle-income countries: A British Council Perspective. London: British Council.Google Scholar
  64. Spolsky, B. (2004). Language policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Spolsky, B., & Shohamy, E. (1999). The languages of Israel: Policy, ideology and practice. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.Google Scholar
  66. Suleiman, Y. (2003). The Arabic language and national identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Surgo, Y. (2014). The linguistic rivalry between the symbolic and the utilitarian: The case of Arabic and French. Morocco World News. Google Scholar
  68. Thomas, C. (2009). A positively plurilingual world: Promoting mother tongue education. State of the world’s minorities and indigenous peoples (pp. 82–91). London: Minority Rights Group International.Google Scholar
  69. Tollefson, J. (2009). Critical theory in language policy. In T. Ricento (Ed.), Introduction to language policy: Theory and method (pp. 42–59). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  70. Troudi, S. (2009). The effects of English as a medium of instruction on Arabic as a language of science and academia. In P. Wachob (Ed.), Power in the EFL classroom: Critical pedagogy in the Middle East (pp. 199–216). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  71. Troudi, S., & Jendli, A. (2011). Emirati students’ experiences of English as a medium of instruction. In A. Al-Issa & L. S. Dahan (Eds.), Global English and Arabic: Issues of language, culture and identity (pp. 23–47). Oxford: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  72. Van Rinsveld, A., Schiltz, C., Brunner, M., Landerl, K., & Ugen, S. (2016). Solving arithmetic problems in first and second language: Does the language context matter? Learning and Instruction, 42, 72–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wodak, R. (2001). Methods of critical discourse analysis. London: SAGE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zakharia, Z. (2009). Positioning Arabic in schools: Language policy, national identity, and development in contemporary Lebanon. In F. Vavrus & L. Bartlett (Eds.), Critical approaches to comparative education: Vertical case studies from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas (pp. 215–231). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Zellman, G. L., Ryan, G., Karam, R., Constant, L., Salem, H., Gonzalez, G., et al. (2009). Implementation of the K–12 education reform in Qatar’s schools. Santa Monica: RAND-Qatar Policy Institute.Google Scholar


  1. Qatar’s Third National Human Development Report. (2012). Accessed on May 17, 2017.
  2. Education Comprehensive Development in GCC Countries. (2004). A study on the directions included in the decision of the supreme council regarding education. Held in Doha, December 22.Google Scholar
  3. Qatar Population Data. (2017). Accessed on November 26, 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Qatar UniversityDohaQatar
  2. 2.American University of BeirutBeirutLebanon

Personalised recommendations