Posted on October 17, 2015

Qatar University Core Curriculum Program (QU-CCP) in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) hosted a conference on general education in the MENA region on October 15, under the theme “General Education in the 21st Century: A Paradigm Shift”.

The conference, the first of its kind in the MENA region, aimed to promote high-quality practices and research on general education pedagogy in and for the region, and to address the fundamental starting point for collaboration on general education, which is seen as the foundation of undergraduate education in the 21st century. The event was inaugurated by QU Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Dr Mazen Hasna (pictured) along with CCP Director and Chair of the conference’s steering committee Dr Maha Al-Hendawi and AAC&U Vice President of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success Dr Susan Albertine.

It brought together presidents and representatives of universities from countries in the MENA region and over 150 participants from academia and industry to discuss the challenges of educating youth who will become the future generation of leaders in the region. Keynote speakers Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Development at the University of Minnesota Dr  Lorrie Carrel discussed “The Very Secret Diaries of General Education Reform”, and Head of Direct Investment at Saudi Aramco Investment Management Company Dr Ibrahim Almojel presented on “Shaping the Future of Our Youth: Investment in Education”.

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The conference also saw the launch of the MENA General Education Network by Dr Mazen Hasna. The network which comprises 13 universities in the MENA region, aims at ensuring high-quality general education programs for undergraduate education. It will serve to promote best practices in general education pedagogy at QU and other higher education institutions in the region by providing opportunities for working closely together on common goals and concerns.

The program agenda included a STEM workshop led by presenters from City University of New York -- Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Queens College Center for Teaching and Learning Dr Eva M Fernandez, and Professor of Computer Science at the college Dr Christopher Vickery. They gave a presentation on “Best Practices in STEM Education: Centering Teaching & Learning on the Student”, and addressed the importance of leveraging general education courses to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to be competitive in the labor market.

It also featured a discussion session on “Dimensions of Future General Education Program” led by Dr Susan Albertine. Discussions focused on the contribution of general education in enhancing global learning and the student learning experience. A meeting for the members of the General Education Network was held on the sidelines of the conference on October 14. During the meeting, members of the network elected Dr Maha Al-Hendawi as the first president of the MENA General Education Network for a 3-year term.

Participants also attended a STEM workshop on “Coding for All: Expanding Access to Computer Science Through General Education”. They were briefed on how general education courses can provide foundational skills for students, broaden access to a discipline, and serve as a model to teach advanced courses.

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Commenting on the conference, QU President Dr Hassan Al-Derham said: “A quality undergraduate education doesn’t only equip students with knowledge and skills in their specific fields -- it also gives them a well-rounded knowledge-base in a variety of areas. This is what makes “general education” and this particular event so important. Promoting general education excellence in the region will contribute not only to the career success of individual student, but also, more broadly to the caliber of the region’s talent. The event also highlights QU’s pivotal role as a driving force for innovation across the education sector in Qatar and the region.” 

In his remarks, Dr Hasna said: “This is a timely event that paves the way for dialogue and solutions on a topic that ultimately seeks the best interests of our students here at QU and throughout the MENA region. We are preparing the next leaders of our respective societies and it is incumbent on us to lay the foundation of strong general education programs that prepare them for the labor market and successful futures. The MENA General Education network is a good first step in working together to achieve our goals and aspirations towards quality general education in the region.”

Dr Albertine said: “As globalization changes business and professions, college-educated workers need a robust general education so that they can communicate well, work in teams, and address unscripted problems. International collaboration for general education will help students in the MENA and in the US join the global workplace. AACU is honored to share knowledge and experience in such a collaboration for general education and to learn from colleagues in the MENA region.”

Dr Al-Hendawi said: “This event reflects CCP’s commitment to addressing a wide range of issues related to the field of education such as the recent developments and challenges of general education curriculum, and core competencies and high-impact educational practices. It also highlights our mission to enhance the impact and the role of general education in the region by shaping well-rounded and skilled citizens who will contribute to the country’s progress and growth.”

General education is a program of education intended to develop students as personalities rather than trained specialists and to transmit a common cultural heritage.