Japan-style school to help Qatar industrialize

by Yuichi Aoike

Kyodo News

Preparations are under way to open a Japanese-style school for children in Doha as part of a Japan-Qatar effort to teach the language as well as Japanese decorum and manners.

Current plans call for Japan to reopen a school in Doha, the capital of Qatar, that has been closed since 2001. The Gulf emirate will establish adjacent elementary and junior high schools with the aim of opening them next April.

Qatar apparently intends to use Japanese-style education — the driving force behind resource-poor Japan’s emergence as a major economic powerhouse — as a reference for its attempts to shift from an economy based on oil and gas to manufacturing.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry are studying the form of the planned school.

The previous school was shut in 2001 as the number of Japanese residents in Qatar dropped to several dozen. But the number of Japanese has been on the rise recently, with 830 expatriates registered in Doha last year on the heels of an increase in Japanese energy-related companies. Qatar, which is the size of Akita Prefecture, had an estimated total population of 840,000 as of 2007.

The notion of establishing a Japanese-style school was first proposed by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani during a visit to Tokyo in 1999, but the idea failed to come to fruition except for the opening of a Japanese course at a public language school.

During his visit to Doha in May 2007 as part of a trip to the Middle East, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his willingness to cooperate in establishing the school.

Vice education minister Kenshiro Matsunami conferred with senior Qatari government officials in February about various details, such as sharing the costs of opening the school.

Matsunami said enthusiasm for learning Japanese is running high in Qatar and there were discussions about establishing a Japanese university campus in the future.

Officials said Japanese teachers will offer guidance on the teaching of Japanese language at the proposed school. In addition, the Japanese side will call for joint activities for Japanese and Qatari children in gymnastics, music and school events so local youngsters can learn the secrets of group cooperation necessary to attain a common objective.

Some Japanese schools in Qatar accept local children, but it is unusual for the government in Doha to ask Japan to teach children the Japanese style of living. The request is believed to reflect the government’s hope that youngsters will become familiar with the Japanese language and lifestyle long before going to Japan to study industrial technology, among other things.