Forced education, how bad could it be?
By Aisha Al-Muftah & Ali Al-Thani
Ghadeer Abdulrahman is a 21-year-old Qatari journalism student at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q). She faced her father’s opposition of her chosen major because he always wanted her to become an English teacher, and still tries to convince her to pursue her graduate studies in English— Abdulrahman’s father said, “I am her father, of course I know what is best for her and no else will know better than me.”
He says he does not believe journalism will help her in anything, and that she made a poor decision to drop her English studies at Qatar University (QU). “She is 21, but I still do believe she chose the wrong decision, parents always know what’s the best,” he added.
Students seeking for educational institutes in Qatar, have expensive and limited options for what they want to study. According to statements by a number of parents, professors, program managers, and health directors, many Qatari students, especially females, face conflict in education between their parents’ choices and their own. Many are pushed into fields like business, engineering, and English instead of other fields they prefer.
When students get into fields of their own choice, they are more motivated, said Saleh Al Yafei, Head of the Social Sciences department at QU. “If students are more driven to work in a major, then parents should be proud if their child is practicing a high degree and succeeding in it,” added Al Yafei.
He also said parents should always have a say in what their children study, but there should be open discussion to the matter. He said, “Choosing a major is similar to anything else in your life. You can’t make a decision on getting married without discussing it with your parents. The final decision is in the hands of the student, however.”
When parents steer their children to unwanted professions, psychological and physical problems could come along the way. “We have a lot of students who might see a down turn to their mental health and stress if they are not happy and don’t know how to talk to their parents about that,” said Amie Rollins, Director of Student Health and Wellness Office at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q).
On another note, some parents do support their children in any field they choose to study in. “I believe that we as parents should not force or push our children to pursue something they are not passionate about,” said Abdullah Saeed, a Qatari father of a Communications student at NU-Q. “I think that my support allows my daughter to be able to share both her struggles and success with her mother and I without having second thoughts.”
Ghada Ghassoub is a mother of a 20-year-old journalism student at NU-Q, Asmahan Qarjouli. She says that parents must give support to their children in order for them to succeed. “It is not the parents’ right to force their sons or daughters into majors, they should support them into what suits them, and not stop them from doing what they love.”
She also says that students need to always talk to their parents about their studies. “They need negotiation and understanding in order to understand what they really want, especially with their parents because they need their support and motivation."
Asma, 18, is a Qatari engineering student at QU who was forced into both the university and major by her father and her elder brother, who both insisted she attends a gender-segregated university, even though her brother attends a co-educational university.
Asma said the pressure of school work and pursuing an unwanted degree have had several effects on her, academically, physically, and mentally. Asma said, “It’s affecting my health, I’m not getting enough sleep because I keep thinking about my major and my life.” She added, “I’m always depressed and I’m having difficulty with simply sleeping, which is causing me to have insomnia.”
She also said that if she got the chance to change her major or university, she would not do it without her parents’ consent. “In Islam, we must obey our parents and follow their orders. If I get a chance to change all of this without disobeying them, I certainly would do it,” she said.
Other students feel pressured not to study a specific major, but to continue higher education in a specific community. A Qatari female student at CMU-Q chose not to use her name in fear of family surveillance. Her parents come from an extremely conservative family where women are only allowed to finish high school and get married right after that.
She said they did not want her to get a bachelor degree and were neither supportive of her studies nor of her choice of joining a co-educational university. “They’d do things like making me go to campus only for classes, and even if I had a short break I would have to leave because I am not allowed to socialize. They control me to the extent that if I was [were] in a row with a guy, I had to change rows because they’d say you have to make it your option even if it’s not.”
She has also said that it frustrates her parents when they find out that she’s on the dean’s list. They feel it somehow increases people’s attention towards her, which being a very religiously and culturally- protective family, they do not accept. She said, “it’s making me upset because I feel like I’m disappointing the people who I wanna make proud the most.”
While parents can push their children into pursuing the major they want them to study, some resist that pressure and pursue their own choice. Zulfa Abdulmajid, 20, used to be an engineering student at Hamad Bin Khalifa University and is currently a Business Administration student at QU.
She said her family forced her into pursuing engineering because almost all of them were engineers and doctors, and they felt she was still young to take her own choice. “I’m the youngest, so they treat me like a baby. They still feel like they have to take all my decisions for me.”
After spending a year struggling to continue with engineering and witnessing a drop in her grades, she stopped attending classes, applied to QU, and was accepted. She stood up against her parents and confronted them with her decision, “I’m not gonna force myself to do something I did not like for the rest of my life just because you’re my family, she said. “I’m the one who’s gonna end up waking up every morning hating my job and my life.”
Abdulmajid said she is very happy now with her academic, mental, and social life. Her parents started accepting her choice after witnessing the improvement in her grades and social life. “They overreacted in the beginning, but when they saw my grades, they started slowly accepting it more, she said. “They would literally tell me you are glowing and we can see that now when you’re smiling, it shows how pleased and relieved you are.”
There are countless stories of students who have and are still facing such predicaments with their families, especially of females in Qatar. However, what many parents tend to overlook is that Islam forbids the action of parents’ enforcement on their children and strictly restrains parents from behaving tyrannically or imposing opinions.