For families arriving in Qatar, finding suitable schools for the children is likely to pose the biggest hurdle, when trying to get set up in Doha.
You’ll have been warned and you understand that all the English speaking schools are private and have long waiting lists but you fancy your changes and hope that with the right amount of poise and pressure you will come away with a place in the class for your little darling with a few weeks. As the schools are private, they hold strictly to the teacher/pupil ratio and squeezing an extra little chair in at the back is not an option. So you wait patiently for your turn to come, hoping that someone’s unexpected redundancy or sudden illness can be your silver lining and when they take Kunar out of the kindergarten group to head back to Nigeria/Algeria/Someothergeria, you’ll be right in there with Connor. Pencil case ready, lunch box packed, shoes polished, you’re just waiting on the call.
But the call doesn’t come. Day after day, Frozen on replay, pool toys worn and park outplayed, you spend the day trying to come up new ideas for activities, new ways to occupy your child, new ways to convince yourself that your life is indeed fulfilled, despite the lack of a job, gym routine, aim in life or education for your child.
I will highlight at this point that this situation is made tenable by the fact that the child in question is only just three years old and that while full time education starts in the British system at three years old, I can gain solace from the fact that he wouldn’t be due to start school in Ireland until the age of five and if we lived in Germany, Norway or France he wouldn’t be in school until six and he’d be time enough for another four years for to start school in Bulgaria, Finland or Sweden, where they start school at seven.
I will also highlight that the English Speaking schools in Doha, do not provide any kind of resource teaching or special needs assistance, so if your child is working with dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s, autism, or any such condition, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure a suitable school place for him/her. Thus resulting in there being many expat parents of older children who find themselves in this permanent state of limbo with older children or teenagers, spending day after day at a loose end in Doha with no light at the end of the tunnel, only to leave Qatar or stay and face insanity. In light of the above, a place on the waiting list is a rather favourable position to be in and something to be grateful for rather than resentful of.
So the days pass, you focus on being grateful for not living in Finland or having a learning disability and you wait for the phone to ring, wait for your place in the queue.
And guess what, one day, it rings, you dust off the lunch box, check the pencil case and polish up the shoes and get to the school immediately only to realise that there are five more three year olds in the foyer also. It wasn’t a call about a school place, it was a call about an assessment for a school place. The six three year olds are then lead to a room for ‘the exam’, a five page document, and more daunting still, mammy has to stand outside!
‘The assessment does not guarantee entrance to the school, not can we discuss the results, the fee of QR 600 Riyals is payable in advance’, reads the small print. Tension was building in the waiting area, I noticed the Indian child brought a pencil, the South African little girl brought her bottle of water, my little Einstein brought a plastic dinosaur, hoped waned.
The results were in, ‘he is holding the pen like a dagger, he does not know simply addition and he does not know how to write his own name’, as she offered was a sympathetic look. ‘Pardon me’ I said, ‘things are really different here, see in my country, we learn all that in school’.