At the forefront of globalization, Oman has brought forth an educational renaissance allowing it an even greater national transformation. Prior to 1970, less than fifty years ago, no one could have foreseen the violent, sparsely habited desert landscape transforming into the vibrant first world country it is today. Once a nation frequently at war, a Sultanate against a staunch bitter desert Imam and legions of small nomadic Arab tribes against each other, not even united by language, today Oman notes a literacy rate of over ninety %, outmatched only by more mature and larger industrialized nations. This sultanate of 3.8 million people has managed to raise the standard of education throughout the entire gulf region, consistently since the year 1970 with no more than three official government schools in the country. The beginning to such social upheaval would be brought forth by all facets of society, starting with the people all the way to the highest ranks of power. Oman’s reformist young leader, Sultan Qaboos, aware of the need for education and Islam’s core foundations in science and teaching, has powered this rapid progress with persistence and funds from a booming fossil fuel economy.
Noting this remarkable achievement is not to say Oman has found an unsurpassable educational model either; for surely education is a dynamic, imperfect business. To truly prepare a student who understands his or her surroundings in a contextual and relevant way, one must guide the student to think flexibly and shift ideas and paradigms with an exponentially changing world. Education in this context is marked by a certain paradox between the rate curriculum is developed and the rate it becomes obsolete. It is not the magnitude of the Omani educational project that sets it apart, but truly the rapid rate of its development, the way it has raised standards in the whole country, and brought women in to a system in which they were previously excluded, all the while paying critical attention to current day relevance and identity. This rapid development stands out as a promising prototype for positive and productive social change through education in other countries. The spread of education in Oman and the social change to which it has contributed shows that positive change starts at the very roots of our learning establishments as long as there is social and political commitment and proper funding.
2. Early History of Education in the Middle East
The Omani educational renaissance may date back to Sultan Qaboos’s rise to power in 1970, but the story bridging these two realities is much larger, spanning decades and even centuries of historical intrigue.
Human life in Oman dates back to at least 12,000 BCE in the form of primitive cave and rock paintings. Third millennium Babylonian and Sumerian trade records describe Magan as a copper and seafaring hub, a land which archeologists believe to be modern day Oman. With trade along the sea in mind, it is easy to imagine how Arab innovations of the 8th through 13th centuries CE in education traveled down the coast to the region of Oman.
By the 8th century CE, the early Abbasid Empire of current day Iraq was making strides in education, which became the basis for development throughout the Middle East region. This was one of the first examples of a full-fledged empire governing on the basis of Islamic principles. Though their reign lasted from the mid 700’s to the 1200’s, coming to a close when the Mongols invaded the Abbasid capital of Baghdad in 1258, the Abbasid influence can still be observed today. The phenomenal intellectual development amongst the Arabs and Persians living under the Abbasid Dynasty seems even more impressive next to the dark ages happening simultaneously in Europe. Though the empire was not directly situated in the gulf region of Oman, it brought forth a new movement of literacy and science as core values of Islam that can be felt still in modern Oman.
During the five hundred year Abbasid reign, Arabs are credited with establishing the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), which combined the work of library, translation, and high-level school. Here they translated ancient Persian, Greek, and Hindu texts, a precedent today for allowing the use of and sharing of western knowledge and research. The Islamic scholars of Abbasid times were responsible for bringing ancient Greek literature and philosophy to the Europeans via Spain. Numerous notable books of poetry and prose, some that even denounced local rulers and religious hypocrisy, and others that spoke of love, were written under this empire. Arab poetry was born and developed during this time and Arabic was standardized.
In terms of mathematical innovation, Al Khwarizmi in the 800’s developed our current day numeric system and furthered the development of algebra after the Greeks. Science was integral to elite discussion circles with legendary scientists like al-Battsani who studied the change in the axis of earth as it rotates around the sun and the circumference of the earth. These scientists furthered the development of geography, mapping, and navigation from what was learned from ancient Greece, which in turn aided exploration, trade, and pilgrimage to holy sites in Mecca and Medina. This skill with exploration was not lost on later day Omanis who lived by the sea and traded with and colonized vast swaths of eastern Africa and even parts of western Pakistan.
The Canon of Medicine written in 1025 by Ibn Sina of the Abbasid period aided European medical schools up until the 1600s and described surgery, contagion and quarantine, and measurement, as did Ibn Al-Nafis’s Comprehensive Book on Medicine describing the circulation of the lungs. Optics was studied by Ibn al-Haytham, and chemistry was reviewed by Jabir ibn Hayyan, who created sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acid by distillation.
Our European-centric perception supposing eastern ignorance of literature and science is a false perception, though one that may have been driven by later suppression of local populations through colonization by the Ottomans and the Europeans. Arabs have pursued knowledge from the beginning of civilization, and it is this tradition that Sultan Qaboos, the current leader of Oman, has aspired to continue and honor.
3. Omani Sultans’ of the 19th and early 20th century educational endeavors
Sultans of the Al Saidi dynasty ruling Oman in the1800s and early 1900s tried to make education available, though resources were scarce. The majority of Islamic seminaries limited offerings to Quran, Arabic, and mathematics, the three fundamentals that can be traced back to the age of Abbasid Islamic enlightenment. Though seminaries were few in number, communities worked to create their own small Quranic based schools for young children. Whether it was in a mosque, private residence, or under a tree, education was a community and family endeavor. Little written evidence exists of the early schools, but first person recollections suggest many if not most students learned from the ages of 6 to 14.
Upon completing the learning and recitation of the Quran, also known as the Seal of the Quran, talented students were considered part of an esteemed group of Islamic elites, which qualified them for scholarships abroad and science workshops held in Bahla, Sinaw, Al Amadibi, Al Gavat, and Al Hamra. The most prestigious of the education establishments were placed in proximity to Castle Galali in Muscat. This created a sizable inequality between the highly educated and the everyday Omani.
The first co-educational school in Oman was started by a young Tunisian man, Muhammad Ali Bothinah, who came to Oman in 1914 during the short reign of Sultan Timor bin Feisal, bringing modern ideas on education. In Tunisia, he had been exposed to universities and a larger market place of new ideas. Inspired by the teaching in North Africa at the time, he implemented the first co-educational institute in Oman, The Zawawi School. To this day it is recalled by many pre renaissance Omanis, Omanis who lived a large part of their lives prior to 1970, as one of the first indicators of social change. Though Oman had largely fallen behind international standards by the beginning of the 20th century, there were still islands of progress and exceptional individuals like Ali Bothinah who overcame roadblocks. By 1930, the Zawawi School was relocated to the Al Sultaniya neighborhood as a government school.
It was that year, 1930, that the Sultan organized a department of professional educators to review and analyze educational models. After a period of internal review, they were ready to devise a complete state curriculum. Ismail bin Khalil Al Rassi was brought from Palestine to fulfill the role of Director of Knowledge, where he stayed until 1970. A standard civic education plan was established which highlighted Quranic proofs and Islamic jurisprudence. However thorough this plan was, the few number of schools and the scarcity of developed land to build limited it. It was simply too challenging to penetrate and develop the interior. In fact, even the cities of Muscat and Mutrah at the time were not much more than a string of closely connected fishing villages.
During this time efforts were made to settle rebellion in the interior of Oman in the Empty Quarter. Assistance to the Sultan came from Great Britain, who was interested in regional control in order to maintain a stable trade route to India and China. A tentative truce was achieved between the Sultan and the Ibadi Imam controlling the interior, but it did not allow for spread of schools to the interior.
Though Omani educational endeavors did not spread to the interior during the 1800s and early 1900s, many Omanis were educated abroad, a large number of them in Zanzibar, which for several centuries until independence in the mid 1900s was under Omani rule. In the early 19th century, Said bin Sultan even moved his capital from Muscat to Stone Town, Zanzibar. When he died, there was a great rift in his family and one son became the Sultan of Oman while the other the Sultan of Zanzibar. It is fair to say the Zanzibari capital of Stone Town in the 1800s and early 1900s was better off than Muscat. Zanzibar had well-established erudite traditions of learning and literature that had not yet been developed in Muscat. Omani-controlled Zanzibar was actually the second nation in the continent of Africa, after Egypt, to obtain a printing press. Islamic scholars, many of whom received sponsorship from the Omani government, began to publish their own literature and newspapers in Zanzibar.
In early 1964, African nationalists fed up with the sub-current of racial and ethnic tensions in Omani Zanzibar staged a revolt against the ruling Arab elite. Thousands of Zanzibari Arabs were killed and those who survived were forced to flee and abandon property as Zanzibar joined with Taganyika to form the nation of Tanzania. Though many Arabs did return to Oman at that time, back to villages they had established in the desert long ago from Nizwa, to Sharqiya, and even Buraimi, others wished to stay in Africa. Believe it or not, at that point the education in Oman was so under-developed, many Swahili Omanis preferred to stay in Tanzania or relocate to other nearby nations such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi for the sake of their children’s education. It took Sultan Qaboos coming to power in 1970 and creating what is known as the Omani Renaissance for the large migration stream of Swahilis to begin flowing back to Oman.
The earlier Sultans of Oman shared a common drive to educate their country, however there were simply too many obstacles. With poverty, poor infrastructure, clashing tribes, and disputed leadership, the task of developing and maintaining a common educational program was impossible. Because of this, a unified national identity did not develop and the growing industrialization and economic development seen elsewhere could not get a foothold.
4. Education under Sultan Said bin Taimur, father of current day Sultan Qaboos
Perhaps in response to a sense of encroaching western power or due to personal paranoia, Sultan Said bin Taimur, the father of Oman’s current day Sultan, closed Omani borders to the outside world. From 1932 to July 1970, Oman was tucked away from global discourse and diplomacy aside from occasional security help from the United Kingdom interested in power, trade routes, and oil. The last Omani domestic war took place during this time between the years of 1954 and 1959. Imam Ghalib bin Al Hinai was desperate to preserve the remainder of his interior territory from Sultan said bin Taimur. However, with Britain interested in oil exploration in the interior, British forces aligned with the Sultan were able to overcome the Imam’s revolt and finally defeat him after several years. There were small attempts to further develop a national educational model during this time period, but they continued to be limited by feuds.
By 1940, the Omani government under Taimur had started construction on a handful of schools in the Muscat area. One of the larger projects was the Saida School. This school included a two-year preschool and a primary school of six years. Upon completion, a student was awarded an official diploma by the Department of Knowledge. To aid the education, King Fuad of Egypt donated calligraphy pamphlets by the legendary calligrapher Najib Al Hoony directly to the Sultan for use in the new schools. Textbooks were brought in from the successful publishing houses of the Levant. The majority of math, scientific, and secular texts were brought in from Lebanon, whereas history, Arabic, and Islamic texts tended to be sourced from Egypt and Palestine. Islamic thought consistently took precedent over secular studies as it was felt to teach the most valuable life skills. Though theoretically the few schools created were devised for the Omani public, they really only served a very specialized group of Omani elite whose lives were also enriched with a variety of extra curricular activities, from scouting to sports.
Many of the older generation in Oman can directly recall their childhoods along the desert shores under Sultan Said bin Taimur. Though their schools may not have been as beautiful as the three story brick court-yarded structures seen today, they fondly recall studying the Quran in the pastures of their kabala or tribal villages. Many of the wealthier Omani children on the other hand were able to seek schools outside the gulf in Egypt and the Levant when they completed Quran School.
5. Sultan Qaboos comes to power and develops Omani education
At the dawn of a new era of renaissance in Oman, the young prince Qaboos had just returned from a hefty world-class education in England. Where his father Said bin Taimur feared any act of modernization would jeopardize Oman’s cultural integrity, Qaboos believed that education and modernization of the sultanate were the ticket to preserving Oman’s cultural heritage, maintaining Omani control and guiding the direction of development. This is why in 1970, Qaboos deposed of his father Said to a nursing home in Britain for his remaining years.
At this point the country was plagued by some of the highest illiteracy rates in the entire developing world and had only three formal government schools. What differentiated this strange new leader from centuries of predecessors was his unadulterated drive for progress, from his first speech proclaiming, “let there be learning, even if under the shade of a tree”. It was a simple utterance, yet this promise filled a void in education that the country was destitute of for too long. As a charismatic leader, Sultan Qaboos easily reached out to his citizens on a more accessible level than his father. He was young, handsome, well educated, and erudite.
In five years time, Sultan Qaboos had built approximately 207 schools and enrolled about 55,752 students. The original budget of 1,039,000 OR was expanded in 1981 to 7,392,061 OR to fit the need of the growing Omani educational sector. Many neighboring Arab countries were contracted for exclusive curriculum development during the initial startup, while Oman began to create its own primary institutions. Substantial investments were made on land leases along with construction of new schools The tents that were popularized in previous generations for their cost efficiency and easy mobility were outdated and did not quite cut modern standards.
For the first time in the mostly private nation’s history, Oman was welcoming legions of foreign expats into the country to perform the needed services of rapid development that Omani residents did not yet have either the skills or desire to do. In the sphere of teaching, as Omanis began to demonstrate a desire for further education, Oman needed to source professionally trained teachers from throughout the Middle East and North Africa. With the closed borders during the reign of Sultan Said bin Taimur, there never would have been the skilled labor available to develop schools even if the will and drive had been there. It was only with the open borders and outlook of Sultan Qaboos that education was able to progress so rapidly in the beginning without a base skilled workforce.
6. Sultan Qaboos’ multi-year educational development plans
By 1976, the Sultanateateate had established specific educational goals and plans. These aspirations have been iterated in six 5-year plans that are continuing to unfold. In these plans, Oman has begun to fine-tune the quality of the education system and adjust the bureaucratic kinks. By looking at these individual plans it is easier to understand both the qualitative and quantitative successes.
The first of these plans took place from 1976 to 1980. It was here the ministry introduced the concept of technical institutions. Some of the larger projects included the Nizwa Agriculture Institute and a variety of teaching schools. Business and other practical applied sciences were introduced in secondary schools. In the years following the introduction of the first 5-year plan, there was substantial progress. School construction increased by 43 % from 261 schools in 1976 to 373 schools in 1977. Attendance improved by 63 % from 64,975 to 106,032 students. Most remarkable, the number of teachers increased by 102 % from 2,553 teachers to 5,150, though only eight % were Omani. Of note, by 2009, over 25 years later, that number had risen to 43,000 teachers of which 89% were Omani. Free textbooks, uniforms, transportation, and meals were provided for low-income children. However, despite this progress, nearly 66 % of the adult population remained illiterate.
Oman was not yet fully equipped to accommodate the great numbers of Omani youth after they received a secondary diploma, so many looked elsewhere in the Middle East. By 1980, there were nearly 939 Omanis in colleges abroad. In comparison, currently 54 per cent of grade 12 graduates seek higher education, 92% staying in Oman to study.
The second phase of educational development came at the heart of Oman’s economic boom. In true cine-graphic fashion, the landscape of Oman was drastically altered. Major highways and hotels appeared, and even a few multi-national franchises began spotting up on the still sparely lined streets of Muscat. Quality of life for Omani citizens had taken some great leaps, but there was still a major focus on access in terms of distributing equal opportunities through the entire country.
Additional elementary schools were built in more remote areas along with the development of more employment opportunities. Junior high schools were expanded to the periphery regions to serve a wider audience. Even the classrooms of the interior were improved to accommodate laboratories and libraries to foster a more community-oriented environment and fulfill the needs of a more versatile curriculum. Most notable, female education was formalized; promoting professionalism amongst women that had been avoided or ignored in the traditionally patriarchal society in the past. Females’ preparatory schools began standardized testing by 1983/84. Secondary schools adopted standard criteria for diploma. With this expansion, the need for higher training and professional institutes became much more pressing of a concern, especially for more teachers in order to expand capacity for the entire system.
The third five-year plan from the years 1986-1990 was marked by a need to balance the cost of education. The ministry began to focus efforts on fine-tuning the original model looking for more qualitative and cost-effective improvements over quantity in output. During this period, the government continued to see consistent increases in school attendance. Planners in the Ministry of Education worked to diversify course offerings to better prepare students for the more globalized job market. By 1986, Oman had opened its first major university, Sultan Qaboos University.
In the fourth five-year plan of 1991-1995, educators looked to maximize learning opportunities for both public and private sector working professionals. It was at this point the government focused its agenda on promoting higher education to Omani nationals. This concept was known as “Omanization”, or the development of a skilled and educated native workforce to take back work, which had been farmed out to expat workers. It inevitably required access to a foreign presence for some of the initial skilled job training and education. The university and technical colleges had to learn during this time to balance expenditure and revenue from a business perspective. Educational grants were made widely available through the Ministry of Education, and many colleges were equipped to offer standard internationally recognized bachelor degrees. Private education also began to do extremely well during this time period.
Marked by increasing modernization, the fifth five-year plan from 1996-2000 played an important role in establishing self-sufficiency. Technology was highlighted as a means of enriching the learning process and as an aide for educational bureaucratic organization. A new emphasis was placed on the ability to think both scientifically and critically.
The last of the five-year plans took place from the year 2001 to 2005. Once again this stage emphasized the continuation of quality, but also focused on brand image of the Omani education sector both domestically and around the world. By 2005 Oman documented 568,074 students, 10,463 schools and 37,500 teachers.
Most recently, in 2013 Oman contracted with New Zealand for a thorough review of the entire school system.
7. Omani higher education
Currently the government awards more than 1,500 scholarships yearly to study abroad. The number continues to expand and includes scholarships to multiple countries around the world such as the United States, Austria, Malta, Poland, and Turkey. Additionally, with the 7,000 domestic scholarships available, all of which are fully paid, the goal of Omanization, creating local expertise and skill, is getting closer.
In the past, a student’s guardian was required to contribute 25 % to education costs, however recent efforts to reward academic rigor have changed that. The Maritime College of Oman now offers 500 scholarships specifically for Omani girls, 1,500 for social security students, as well as an additional 638 for the underprivileged. Sultan Qaboos has even inaugurated a one thousand scholarship program, where every year for the next 5 years, 200 scholarships will be allocated for Masters and PhD students. The Higher Education Admissions Centre (HEAC) was formed to monitor how many general diploma holders are suitable for higher education, and how many are attending. A variety of other web-based systems have been introduced to enable graduate students to have easier access to the application process. This system gives priority to students with the highest academic standing.
One area impacting Omanis in higher education is English skill. There are often large gaps in knowledge as children move from basic English sentence structure to writing paragraphs in two years’ time. At this rate, the course becomes quite ineffective for many. When students arrive at college where the majority of classes are taught in English, they are underequipped with the necessary skills and require remediation. With English education, Oman is working to expand the relevancy of the entire learning experience starting at a young age and is trying to gear it to more practical skills.
Among Oman’s greatest achievements is Sultan Qaboos University (SQU). With a wide range of high-level programs, SQU produces many of Oman’s most accomplished professionals. SQU brings in professors and guest speakers annually from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Arabian Gulf, encouraging an open flow of dialogue and feedback.
8. Omani education has played a large role in changing society
Like in many other traditional societies of the 1800s and early 1900s, Omani women were groomed for rearing large families and care-taking, some getting married as young as thirteen. Seen through population and marriage statistics, however, education is profoundly affecting Oman. In the 1970’s only 5% of girls aged 6-10 were in school, in contrast with 92% in the mid 1990s. The Population Reference Bureau’s 2005 “Marriage in the Arab World” states the average age of marriage for a female high school graduate in Oman is now 25, while for those without schooling it is before age 19. Somewhat countering this is an article on the pattern of female nuptiality in Oman from Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, Feb 2013, where three-quarters of female respondents were married by age 20 with a median age of marriage of 16 (52% consanguineous). However, this study questioned women of all ages, even elderly women. The study points out that with more recent marriages and with younger women, the average age of marriage is rising, with education being a strong predictor of later age of marriage.
From the Journal of Emerging Trends in Economics and Management Sciences 2012: “Fertility Transition in Oman and its Economic Impact”:
Omani achievements in education are particularly notable for females. By the year 2000, 55% of Omani women, between the ages of 25 and 29, had completed tertiary education, similar to what is seen in Singapore or South Korea. In Omani men, however, only 17% had completed tertiary education.
Females represent over half of the total teaching staff, and make up 72% of the basic education teaching force due to the Ministry of Education’s policy that all teachers in the first cycle of basic education should be female. Although this policy was adopted for cultural reasons, the World Bank has noted that a positive effect of this policy was to increase employment opportunities for women. However, Omani women’s excellence in teaching has not yet been recognized in the same way it has for their male counterparts in terms of national teachers’ awards.
With the growth of education, Oman has improved literacy with both men and women. Illiteracy in the Sultanate has decreased to 3.5% in the 15-44 age group. However, women’s literacy and schooling has developed to the point that females are systematically outperforming their male peers in examinations. This discrepancy in educational success between female and male students is so significant currently, that standards have been altered for male candidates to create a more balanced playing field. These divisions appear most prominent in Omani universities, when administrations must install a gender based affirmative action model to provide more enrollment opportunities to the male student body.
After the primary level, government students are shifted to single sex schools. A few professionals involved with local higher education have observed this shift to be detrimental, even inhibiting professional skills later on in life when students express discomfort in working with individuals of the opposite gender. There is also some question whether the quality of the females’ schools might rank higher than that of the males. If so, it would likely be a matter of the teaching, as the facilities available are the same for both genders. The female schools usually are delegated female faculty, leaving much of the out-sourced teachers, who are predominantly men, in the boys’ schools. In Oman, teaching is culturally looked at as a female profession. Surveys in Oman express the highest satisfaction with the female teaching delegates. Of course all this material is quite subjective. However, more objectively, in a report by UNESCO the gap between fourth grade students in Oman was the highest reverse gender discrepancy in the entire world.
Studies have shown time and again that female education is linked to general economic stability, pediatric health, increased awareness for family planning, and higher life expectancies. If anything this is the key determinant that separates Oman from its more radical neighbors such as Yemen. This progress in education is reflected in Omani women getting married at a later age and giving birth to a smaller number of children. It is also likely a major factor in Oman’s rapid economic and social development. What is interesting is that despite fears expressed by more conservative clerics in the Islamic world about female education, traditional family and community structure and traditional religious observance remain very strong in Oman.
9. Education and Identity
Despite the strong family, tribe, and national ethic, Oman must grapple daily with how to cultivate a positive identity in its citizens as it progresses its educational system and social, financial, and political development. Education is an integral part of identity that starts at the very roots of being; from the first moment someone points at a trunk with leaves and calls it a tree. Investigating Omani education is a large piece to uncovering Omani identity and how Oman wants to cultivate greater civic involvement in its youth.
The Georg Eckert Institute for international textbook research funded by the German Foreign Office ran a four-year investigative project looking at how “self” and “other” are taught in textbooks in the MENA regions. Oman was one of the countries they looked at in detail, collaborating with scholars, curriculum experts and Ministries of Education from Europe and the Middle East North Africa region. Looking at history books, the project found much of the history of western colonialism and pan Arabism is left out, and instead emphasis is placed on establishing a purely Omani identity, one in accordance with the Omani renaissance. To empower female identity as professionals, the textbooks incorporate examples of female scholars and their influence on the scientific enrichment of the country, such as Aisha bint Rashed ben Hasb al-Rayamiya, Thuraya bint Mohamed ibn Azan al-Bousidiyya, and Nasraa bint Rasched ben Hamid al-Habsiya. In recent years, a geographical emphasis has been made drawing connections to the spread of an educated Islam across Asia and east Africa. The spread of “Islamic” values is connected in the textbooks to Omani historical roles as mediators, seafarers, and traders. Evaluators also found a very positive perspective on western influence. They saw major textbook units focusing on the western industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th century and the technological revolution of the 20th century, teaching that Oman has gained from that knowledge and is part of the continuum of learning and developing. The textbooks also focus on Islamic contributions. They teach about Islamic civilization’s large contribution to human development and learning. Islam is presented as critical to the religious, moral and social fabric of society and to the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development of the individual. The project also found that the textbooks speak out against racism through utilizing Islam. Humans play a key role in the development of Islamic civilization, and with that, all humans are equal and should not be subjected to racial persecution.
The texts and curricula in Oman are always being refined to meet the ever-changing needs of the community, but there are still a few problems to be addressed. There is still very little acknowledgment in the education system of the growing expat community, 30% of the population. With a population unequipped to deal with conflicting interests in their own society and with these issues absent in curricula, it is unclear how today’s youth will be prepared to deal with conflict around poverty and disenfranchisement, dissent, and possibly even violence. Youth require critical thinking skills in regards to issues of conflict, in order to be able to understand change, work towards resolution, and adaptation. Omanization is essential to developing Oman’s economy, however it is also a form of privilege limiting job dispensation to Omani nationals and excluding others who comprise a large share of the society. Competition exists between the local and expat communities for skilled jobs, and unskilled work force are primarily done by certain sectors of the expat community, making for an unspoken tension between the two demographics.
Omanization is actively required within the private sector and government ministries, the ministry of education included. Though there is still a large foreign influence in curricula development, as of late there has been a drive to employ more Omanis who may be less experienced in this field. However as the system matures, this phenomenon will surely change. It is my hope that the important global and community issues of wealth and racial disparities and religious differences will be more integral to curricula at that time.
10. Adult and community education
In recent years, attention has been directed towards adult literacy. Oftentimes attention is focused on minors, as the absorption rate of new information is much higher. This is not only more time efficient, but cost efficient as well. Because of this, the smaller demographic of underserved adults is looked past, increasing the generational divide.
In 2004, however, Oman began a model educated village project for adult literacy in Walayt Barka. Teaching professionals were dispatched to the village of Al-Morisi. The fundamental goal was to abolish illiteracy in one year’s time. The time frame was too short, and the program was eventually extended to three years. The project consisted of 12 classes, with curriculum focused on Arabic literacy, applied sciences, math, and Islam. In addition, various cultural support programs were implemented, some examples being health and social development. Lectures were presented in classrooms and village meetings halls.
This model became a prototype presented at the General Conference of Education Ministers of the Arab Gulf States held in Medina Monwra. It achieved collateral successes in areas pertaining to the social, economic, and environmental health of the community. By starting from the heart of the community as opposed to the hierarchy of the government, the community felt personally invested in the project’s success and more eager to fully participate. In the years following, Daqhliya, Buraimi, and Nizwa developed similar formats for language learning and community involvement.
11. Students with special needs and learning disabilities
Because of the country’s still tender infrastructure, Oman has limited experience in accommodating children with special needs and learning disabilities. Classrooms are geared for a general learner without disabilities. However, the National Centre for Educational Assessment and Examinations, established in 2011, has as one of its missions to expand data on learning disabilities and apply them to standards. There is discussion of the need to accommodate different types of learners, and research and professional development is ongoing in this area.
Students with intellectual disabilities and students who are hearing impaired are mainstreamed when possible with the assistance of teachers’ aides. This is done to help with the socialization of those students and to help increase the sensitivity of non-impaired students to the needs of their impaired peers. Teacher training is an ongoing project of the Ministry of Education to help with these students.
Remarkably with only three schools existing prior to 1970, today people can receive their higher education domestically, a true sign of Sultan Qaboos’ achievements. Many of my host cousins attend both public and private colleges locally, and they have been very pleased with the quality of education and how accessible it is from an economic and even social standpoint, pertaining to the values of this family-centric culture. The government heavily subsidizes these schools and works very hard to promote higher education to the young people of Oman.
The only way to truly appreciate the extent of this national achievement in education is through the eyes of history and witnessing how much this nation has managed to grow and adapt since 1970. This gift of a commitment to the nation’s young, when family and tribe are so important, contributes to the patriotism here in Oman, where there is an undivided and unadulterated commitment and respect for the political leadership.
Oman has always had a very unique relationship with its sovereignty. Not only do they respect him deeply, but for many, Sultan Qaboos represents a paternal figure as well. Sultan Qaboos’ unquestioned authority and the loyalty of all who trust him have helped allow for the changes in education.
Despite the evolution and changes, Omani schools remain a strong base for instilling Muslim identity and Ibadhi traditions and creating passionate learners from the ground up. The Ministry of Education mandates Islamic studies, and children of Omani nationals are asked to wear the traditional dress of the dishdasha and kuma as part of their school uniform. Whereas in the United States this religious influence would be a matter of great contention and conflict with separation of church and state, the two terms here are almost interchangeable. Islam preaches directly from the Quran the importance of education and praises the study of science as an internalized form of spirituality.
Most Arab boys, and even some girls for that matter, experience a lot of pressure to become engineers or doctors because of the dual emphasis on the sciences and economic achievement. School culture places emphasis on physics and mathematics for example. I have found that the arts and humanities are not as developed, and that parents do not express as much of an interest in developing these faculties in their children.
Oman will likely soon have the ability to train and educate individuals in almost all the fields that it needs, to create local Omani expertise to run the country. When that occurs, and even now, Oman can step back and think about what other skills it will need to teach the young to be global citizens and succeed for Oman in the world at large. What and how schools teach influence Omani children’s global outlook, how they see themselves in the world, and whether or not they see themselves taking part in making their country and world a better place.
There are many important issues that need to be tackled in my generation such as conservation of the environment, inequality and poverty and tackling these will take courage, reasoning, problem solving ability, a strong sense of right and wrong, communication skills, creativity, the ability to work with others, and good language skills. Teaching skill and specific methods are required to kindle reflection on global, national, and community issues, and to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. After all life itself presents a certain subtlety and complexity that cannot be learned through brute memorization. Teachers are also responsible for engaging their students and valuing their experiences and insights. By valuing all types of intelligence and all types of input, they model compassion, respect, and promote social justice.
In the future I hope Oman continues its path of learning and progress by utilizing and maximizing the abundance of resources around them. I hope to see an emphasis on the quality of the education, as well as the overall learning experience to encourage life-long learning amongst graduates. It is essential that Oman maximize all segments of society by extending even more awareness to learning disabilities to cultivate multiple types of intelligence, all of which are essential for a nation to prosper. Continued government aid will be an important draw for student involvement as cost of living goes up, as will an expansion of higher education options. With these factors in play Oman is primed for success, especially if they are able to collaborate with neighboring MENA countries to promote education focusing on the betterment of the MENA region as a whole. Although Oman has managed quite well through the recent wave of violent upheaval, it will be key decisions through these next years, which include further educational development that will help determine the direction of the country.
If not for the openness and tolerance of the governing body and fortitude of the national identity, Oman would not have achieved this level of success. Oman is living proof of the compatibility of developing an open educational system while maintaining a strong Islamic identity. With a growing population, a large expatriate community, and expanding social class disparities, it is challenging to empower and equip an entire nation of learners and represent the joint interests of government, business, the family, and the individual. With so much at stake in the world today, one might even argue education is the only way to cope with these issues from both a critical and flexible lens. With both dedication and continued desiccation in this field I believe Oman can truly become a global power and role model for the MENA region at large.
Al-Yaqoubi, Mohammed Saleem. EFA: Year 2000 Assessment Report. Rep. Muscat: UNESCO, 1999. Print. Ministry of Education UNICEF Muscat.
Bin Said, Qaboos. Day of Accession. Oman, Muscat. 23 July 1970. Web. 25 May 2014.
Bin Said, Qaboos. 33rd Session of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Coinciding with the 60th Anniversary of Its Establishment. France, Paris. 4 Oct. 2005. Address.
“Education.” Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.omanet.om/english/social/dev1.asp?cat=hist>.
“From Access to Academic Success.” Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman). N.p., 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-349668310.html?refid=easy_hf>.
Islam, M. M. “The Pattern of Female Nuptiality in Oman.” Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal (2013): 32-42. Web. Apr.-May 2014.
Kilani, Hashem. “Lifestyle Habits: Diet, Physical Activity, and Sleep Duration among Omani Adolescents.” Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal (2013): 510-19. Web.
Muscat Daily Staff Writer. “EDUCATION IN OMAN ACHIEVES REMARKABLE PROGRESS.” Muscat Daily 18 Nov. 2012: n. pag. Web. 25 May 2014.
Olson, Charles J. Voices of Oman: A Different Mid-East Story, an Oral History of the Omani Renaissance. London: Stacey International, 2011. Print.
“Oman : Education and 21st Century Competencies Symposium Delves on Learning.” Mena Report. N.p., 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-343957922.html?refid=easy_hf>.
“Oman Educational Portal.” Oman Educational Portal. Oman Ministry of Education, n.d. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.moe.gov.om/portal/sitebuilder/sites/eps/english/moe/saidiah_school/index1.aspx>.
Pingel, Falk, and Susanne Krohnert- Othman. Images of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Textbooks of Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Oman. Rep. N.p.: Greg-Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, 2009. Print. Educational Sector, Reforms, Curricula, and Textbooks in Selected MENA Countries.
The Road Not Traveled : Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa. Rep. Washington DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank, 2008. Print. Mena Development Report.
“SPEECH IN OMAN: SHAPING GLOBALISATION – STRENGHTENING PARTNERS IN EDUCATION.” States News Service. N.p., 29 May 2011. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-257619542.html?refid=easy_hf>.
Times of Oman Round Table Discussions. Proc. of English Education in Oman, Muscat. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
“United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics.” United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2014. <http://unstats.un.org/unsd/Demographic/products/indwm/>.
White, M. “Transforming Education to Strengthen Health Systems in the Sultanate of Oman.” Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal (2012): 429-34. Web. May-June 2014.
Wintman, Talya A. “The Arab Golden Ages.” Web log post. Talya in Oman. WordPress, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 May 2014. <https://talyasadventures.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/the-arab-golden-ages/>.
Wintman, Talya A. “Oman and Zanzibar.” Web log post. Talya in Oman. WordPress, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 25 May 2014. <https://talyasadventures.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/oman-and-zanzibar/>.