Preparing for Today and for the Future in Qatar

May 11, 2010 at 11:53 am 3 comments

The Qatar Foundation inspired me on my visit to Qatar last week.  We were told that the point of the Qatar Foundation is to prepare their country for a “post-carbon” world.  Yes, Qatar is amazingly wealthy today from their oil and gas exports, but they recognize that they have maybe 100 years of oil left.  What happens after that?  The Qatar Foundation is investing a lot of that wealth in changing their culture so that their people are generators of intellectual property, to create a “knowledge-based society,” to sustain their economy when the oil has run out.  (Do you know of other nations that are taking so seriously the effort to prepare for a “post-carbon” world?)

One of their strategies is to create Education City, an enormous campus where six prestigious American universities have satellite campuses.  We visited CMU Qatar, which has a beautiful building and active research programs.

Do you see that sign along the walkway in the CMUQ building? “Create. Inform. Connect.”  That campaign is everywhere in Doha.  Around Education City, are these enormous (maybe 10 feet tall?) free-standing signs, exhorting the people to:


and Learn!

Some of these signs are multi-story tall, hanging on the faces of skyscrapers in downtown Doha:

While inspiring, there are curves in the road, which are hard to see around.  You may have read my post from Qatar — the women in CS at Qatar University are keen to build new applications, to embrace “geekiness.”  But more women attend Qatar University, instead of CMU Qatar.  They want gender-segregated education. They want to get their degrees and then work in Doha.  They will not move away.

The faculty at Qatar University told us that they are planning to increase the amount of IT coverage in their degree and their curriculum, because that’s where the jobs are in Doha.  Most computing companies in Doha adopt technology from elsewhere then adapt it for the Qatari and Middle East culture.  They customize and manage (which IT curricula excel at), rather than create (which is where CS curricula focus).

The ACM Education Board is talking to people in the Middle East about having a summit on Computing Education.  Should that summit focus on teaching students about Information Technology (IT), or about Computer Science (CS)?  The CMUQ folks say, “Computer Science!”  Aren’t the jobs today in IT, not CS?  “No, the jobs aren’t there now, but they will be when they graduate.”

Will the jobs be there?  I like the quote from William Gibson, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”  The Qatar Foundation wants the future of Qatar to be about intellectual innovation.  The current jobs in Qatar are about adaptation of others’ innovations.  The women embracing CS in Qatar want jobs in Qatar. They can’t move to where CS jobs might be elsewhere.  Will the future arrive quickly enough in Doha to meet the predictions of CMUQ faculty, to give jobs to the students studying CS today?  It would be a tragedy to teach these women about computer science, where Qatar sees its future, only to be unused because of a lack of jobs today.

Changing a nation’s culture is a hard job.  I am inspired by the efforts of the Qatar Foundation.  If I were a CS faculty member at Qatar, I don’t how I would make their tough decisions.  Prepare the students for the near future, or the further future, and how fast is that further future arriving?

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  May 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Years ago I had some HS students (in a summer program) from Saudia Arabia. They were not part of the roayal family and so oil income was not in their future. They told me that the future for them was in knowledge and education. Their brains were the natural resource that they and the majority of Saudis had available to them. They were out to develop that resource to the best of their abilities. I had/have the utmost repsect for them. it sounds like there is some wise leadership in Qatar as well. Smarts are a renewable resource while oil is not.

  • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  May 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Interesting synchronicity: NPR just had a piece on CMU Qatar and Education City tonight:

  • 3. Alfred Thompson  |  May 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I heard that report on NPR and thought of you right away. 🙂


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