With the end of the academic year 2018-2019, Al-Bairaq programme in Qatar University is approaching the 10th anniversary since its inception, during which it has succeeded in establishing itself as the first programme of its kind to teach science and encourage scientific research among school students.
It aims to have a global presence after recording a prominent presence in international scientific conferences and forums.
Al-Bairaq is a non-traditional educational project, in which students at Qatari secondary schools work in teams with university-level scientists on practical scientific problems in authentic contexts.
Students spend three months in the programme working in small groups on research projects under the guidance of academic supervisors from Qatar University. The topics covered so far include sport science, nanotechnology, nanotechnology, polymer science, composite materials, and other practical aspects.
The programme emphasises multidisciplinary research covering all subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. After completing their research, students present their findings to an audience of industry and government representatives.
With the beginning of the programme in 2010, it was directed at high school students only. It began working with 243 students from seven schools. This number increased to 900 students per year. Since last academic year, the programme has covered all government secondary schools.
Head of Al-Bairaq, Dr Noora Jabor al-Thani said, in a statement to Qatar News Agency (QNA), that “One of the main reasons that led us to think about this programme is the need to change the method used in the current educational process to a method capable of motivating students and encouraging them to think, innovate and create, and formulate education that meets the requirements of the times”.
In 2010, Al-Bairaq started from inside Qatar University as a unique, non-traditional educational platform capable of including students in a productive learning process that entrenches students’ interest in scientific research and supports Qatar National Vision 2030, she added.
Al-Bairaq is a step in the direction of supporting Qatar’s commitment to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and applied research in order to develop its knowledge-based economy, enrich its human capital and improve its competitiveness.
Al-Bairaq also helps future generation of scientists to develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, team-work skills and co-operation, and raise the level of enrolment in scientific disciplines at the university.
The programme aims to increase research skills of school students. This reduces the gap between the school and the university, which makes students qualified to study at the university with high skills and without any difficulties.
The head of the programme stressed that the repeated and urgent requests of schools led to the inclusion of Preparatory and Primary schools in Al-Bairaq programme and new courses for students of this age group.
The figures confirm the number of achievements made in less than ten years since the beginning of Al-Bairaq. The total number of participants in the programme since the foundation is 6,159 students, who presented 736 innovative scientific projects. The number of participating schools reached 276 schools.
Over the past nine year, Al-Bairaq has provided many tracks, which aim to draw students from all levels, such as “I am a Researcher”, “I am Discovering Materials”, “Science in Sports” and “Problem Solving”.
Dr Noora al-Thani said that the “I am a Researcher” track targets students in grade 12 and aims to integrate students into a unique scientific experiments and give them the opportunity to work with university professors on research from various scientific fields, including science, engineering, and programming. This course resulted in the graduation of a large number of qualified young people in scientific research.
The “I am Discovering Materials” track targets students in grade 5,6,7,10 and 11.
Dr Noora al-Thani explained that workshops are offered to students on various topics in material science, adding that through these workshops, the student learns through using the MASTE curriculum, which includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
She pointed out that this track depends on critical thinking, research, problem solving and learning by projects through which the students apply what they learn in science, mathematics and engineering to introduce a new innovation based on what they learned in these workshops.
Sport is emphasised in Al-Bairaq through the “Science in Sports” track for grade 10 and 11.
Team Leader of Al-Bairaq said that in this track, students learn about the materials used in sports tools, linking sports and science. It is one of tracks that ends with a challenge to design certain sport tools using innovative and new materials to achieve the best product and the highest standards.
The programme also dedicated a track for students in grade 4 in primary school. In this track, which is called “Problem Solving”, students are faced with a realistic problem and are given the freedom to choose and apply solutions to these problems under the supervision of Al-Bairaq team to help them reach the appropriate solutions.
Dr Noora al-Thani stated that Al-Bairaq creates an environment that encourages students to innovate and think outside the box, which helps prepare Qatari students to become innovative and encourage young people to innovate and develop their abilities.
One of the most important successes of the program is that it changed the understanding of scientific disciplines for secondary school students.
Team Leader of Al-Bairaq said the programme has been able to achieve its objectives of encouraging students to think about joining the scientific disciplines, as the interest increased by more than 60%.
The programme has also established itself in international scientific forums through numerous awards, including the WISE Innovation Award for Education, the only Qatari programme to receive the award.
Al-Bairaq was given the silver award for 2016 by Reimagine Education for Regional Award Winners: Middle East at the University of Philadelphia, and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) which attracted 807 submissions from 56 countries. The following year, it received another award at the same conference for Presence Learning.
Al-Bairaq programme also won in the category Cultivating Curiosity at Reimagine Education 2018. Reimagine Education is an international conference and competition aimed at recognising and rewarding the most successful institutions, programmes, and projects in creating educational initiatives and innovations that promote student-learning outcomes and qualifying them for the job market.
Al-Bairaq is the first and only Qatari programme to win over 1,150 educational projects in 71 categories from around the world to win this award.
Students participating in Al-Bairaq programme have won nearly 16 local and international awards, with three international awards. These include two awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Competition (Intel ISEF), which was held in the US in 2017 and 2018. Al-Bairaq programme also won the second place in ITEX Malaysia 2018.
Al-Bairaq currently seeks to patent students’ ideas and projects through the competent authorities to register intellectual property rights and patents at Qatar University.
It also seeks to strengthen its local partnerships of companies, scientific institutions and research centres, and is in line with Qatar University’s transition strategy 2018-2022, by preparing secondary school students for university, increasing the efficiency of Qatari students to a level that competes with the international levels in the fields of scientific research and creativity and giving school students new research skills by encouraging them to create innovative scientific initiatives and applied research.
In its long-term plans, Al-Bairaq looks forward to being a basic curriculum for students and part of their evaluation along with all the materials they study. It hopes that students’ projects will be adopted and implemented. It also hopes that its efforts to disseminate scientific experience through books and articles will to be adopted and applied in all countries of the world, as emphasised by the Team Leader of Al-Bairaq.
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