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Civic Engagement and the Struggle of Modernizing Society in Qatar: How High School Students’ Bridging and Bonding Mindsets Affect Achievement

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


Introduction and Theoretical Framework

The small Gulf nation of Qatar, despite its vast oil and gas wealth, suffers from a lack of human capital, particularly with respect to deficits in academic outcomes. Despite extensive investment in education, Qataris, and in particular Qatari boys, are still underperforming relative to international standards and relative to its wealth. My research is conducted against the larger backdrop of Qatar’s efforts to modernize, become self-reliant, and increase human capital. Preeminent authors in the fields of political science and sociology argue that an investment in civic engagement and social capital is necessary to achieve economic and social growth (Putnam, 2000; Fukuyama, 2000; Coleman, 1988). I use this framework to understand how the dynamics of relationships and societal interactions among Qatari students can either facilitate or hamper their academic success.

In this study, I explore how the civic engagement mindsets of bridging and bonding can explain the underperformance of Qatari high school students. I hypothesize that a bridging mindset is associated with higher achievement because students who have this mindset are open to interact with a bigger society and don’t see foreigners as a threat to their existence. Thus they perceive government entitlements as an opportunity for them to learn more and are willing to compete in the labor market. In contrast, I expect that a bonding mindset is associated with lower achievement because students who hold this mindset tend to have an insular view of the world. They perceive economic entitlement as an obligation of the government toward them, leading to a view of outsiders as a threat, lack of need to compare themselves to others, and lack of motivation to compete.

Research Design and Results

My research focus on Qatari student attending public high schools in Qatar, which are operated by the Ministry of Education, and examined their performance on national standardized tests. To investigate my research question, I conducted a quantitative study using an original survey instrument. The target population included a representative sample of Qatari high school students who were in grades 10, 11, and 12 in the public schools in Qatar. To analyze the data, I first use factor analysis to determine if there is support for the hypothesized bridging and bonding mindsets. This analysis finds that civic engagement survey questions fall into bridging (e.g., “I am comfortable with our country’s openness to different cultures of the world”) and bonding (e.g., “I believe that non-Qataris should not have the same privileges as Qataris”) categories. I then use these bridging and bonding factors in regression analyses that control for student and parent characteristics with students’ math, English, and Arabic scores on the national exams as the dependent variables.

My analysis of the data found some significant results in which Qatari high school students’ perceptions of the value of bridging was positively correlated with their achievement on test scores of the Arabic and English subjects. Furthermore, students’ perceptions of the bonding mindset were negatively correlated with their English scores. Moreover, the Arabic subject indicated that Qatari students who performed well in Arabic were of a bridging mindset. On the other hand, Qatari students who had lower scores in the Arabic subject were of a bonding mindset. However, Qatari high school students’ perceptions of civic engagement in math subject did not appear to be associated with their academic underperformance. The results of my study shed light on the importance of civic engagement. Not only it is important to understand the concepts of bridging and bonding mindsets that can be indicative to how successful a society can be but also on how these concepts can influence students achievement.

Implication for policy making

The findings from this study have implications on Qatar civic society. Qataris face challenges with respect to social integration with the larger, more diverse, population in expatriates who reside in Qatar. Qataris are faced with the reality of being insular in their society but also being part of a larger society. This challenge is further intensified by existing policies, such as the economic policy of Qatarization and the social policies that focus on preserving the traditions and maintaining the authenticity of the Qatari identity. In some way, both policies can contribute to an ‘us v. them’ mentality.

This challenge is particularly important to Qatar for two reasons. First, as this study indicates, a closed mentality of exclusion is associated with poor academic performance. Qatari students who embraced a bridging mindset had a broader perspective on the value of increasing their knowledge and had more positive attitudes toward their academic achievement. The results of this study support the concept, described by Portes (1998), that as groups strengthen their identity around opposition to a dominant culture, they reject aspects of the dominant culture which may be necessary for their ultimate success. In some respects, Qataris nationals are the minority population in Qatar because of the size of their population relative to that of expatriates. Just as African American students in the United States who adopted attitudes and speech of an educated majority population were accused of “acting white” (Ogbu, 1987), Qataris face the burden of acting modern. Qatari students who work hard and seek academic achievement work against the attitudes that school is not necessary for future success. Qatari employers who advocate for greater accountability in the workplace work against the collectivist culture and may appear to be traitors willing to abandon their Qatari culture in favor of modernity.

The balance between preserving the past and moving forward toward a modern society is not a simple balance. On the one hand, most international organizations around the world highlight the importance of preserving ethnic and national identity through cherishing language, customs and traditions. At the same time, there is a need for social integration with the larger population in Qatar, so that Qataris can appreciate diversity and be willing to accept academic challenge as well as accepting competition with the different backgrounds that comprise the diverse community.


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