Western Pedagogy in an Eastern Context

Far from POGIL’s headquarters in Lancaster, PA, Sheila Qureshi uses guided inquiry in her  undergraduate courses at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.

Despite navigating big cultural differences in instruction styles, Qureshi believes the POGIL method prepares her students for their pre-med curriculum in foundational chemistry. While her students still ask for lecture and guidance, after six years, Qureshi takes these requests in stride.

“I’m completely transferring a Western pedagogy to an Eastern context,” explains Qureshi.

“I noticed that this type of learning was perfect for the Eastern environment,” she adds. “My students love to help each other. You have to be collaborative and cooperative to learn in this way. They’re very passionate about not letting anybody fall behind.”

Part of this has to do with the social values of what Qureshi calls high-context cultures, including long introductory periods with new people and taking the time for small talk before you get down to business.

“In high-context cultures, you get to know people,” Qureshi explains, pointing to her students’ sense of social etiquette. “Because this is the culture in Qatar, this Western pedagogy fits in beautifully.”

Recently, Qureshi teamed up with colleagues in Australia to work on a cross-cultural POGIL study, supported through a grant from the Qatar Foundation. The study tracks cultural attitudes toward guided inquiry science learning in Qatar, as well as students' perceived learning gains. To track student outcomes, Qureshi and her team piloted POGIL workshops in four Qatari high schools, two all-male schools and two all-female. They've also launched training and mentorship programs for science faculty within the pilot schools.

“There is a trend in Qatar now to do more inquiry-based learning to improve their scores for PISA,” says Qureshi.  PISA scores, or scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment tests, often determine how international governments set educational policy for their students.

Despite some initial setbacks, Qureshi says she and her team have made big strides through their grant program. One of her most reluctant teachers is now the program’s biggest advocate, and Qureshi is working on making the teaching, training, and mentoring program more sustainable, as well.

“We have asked the Ministry of Education if we can designate our top two schools as trainers for other schools,” says Qureshi. “Because once I go — POGIL goes. It needs to be sustainable, so schools are continuously using it.”

“The teachers are so happy to have that role now,” she adds. “And the students love it.”

A Western Pedagogy in an Eastern Context

“I’m completely transferring a Western pedagogy to an Eastern context" -Sheila Qureshi