“We are determined to teach our children even in the shadow of a tree”
This statement was made by Sultane Qaboos when he came to power on the 23rd. of July, 1970.
The strides the education sector has taken in Oman are huge and the importance education has been given in Oman has borne many fruits.
The ascension to the throne by Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 1970 is generally regarded as the dawn of the modern Omani Renaissance. At that time, there were only three schools in the whole country and the Sultan realised that top priority for his new government would be to create a public education system that would reach all parts of the country and would include all parts of society. Such an educational infrastructure would enable the development of highly qualified Omani human resources, which would effectively participate in the social and economic development of the country.
In the early years of the Omani renaissance, therefore the focus of the government was necessarily directed towards the quantitative expansion of education.
The three schools that existed in 1970 were able to provide education for only 909 students, all of them male and all of them at elementary level.
As a result of the quantitative expansion programme, the educational statistics of the academic year of 2007-2008 show that the number of students in various regions and wilayats of the sultanate reached 553,236 in a total of 1,052 schools with 41,988 male and female teachers. The Omanis’ ration of the administration staff reached to 99.5 %.
In recent years the basic education system has been introduced and improvements made to the syllabi at all levels so that they are linked to the demands of the labour market and are thereby enabling society to keep pace with modern developments in the world at large.
The concept of Basic Education first emerged in educational literature in the second half of the twentieth century. It was defined as an education system, which supports the development of children between the ages of 6 and 16 by providing them the required knowledge and life skills for active participation in society.
UNESCO expressed support for the principle of Basic education in the Jomtien Declaration on ‘Education for All’ in 1990.
Some important features of the new basic education include: It is a unified education system that provides equal access to all, comprehensive education that aims at developing individual physically, psychologically and mentally, a continuous form of education which provides both formal and informal education in order to accommodate learners’ circumstances, well planned programme of education which leads to mastery and excellence in learning and teaching, a progressive and contemporary education that encourages active participation in the comprehensive development of society.
The basic education system, which has been developed in Oman, aims to: Develop all aspects of the learner’s personality within the context of preserving Islamic values and traditions; strengthen national unity and devotedness to the Arab and Islamic world and to humanity in general and developing learner’s abilities to interact with the world, enable learners to participate effectively in the comprehensive development of Omani society, provide equal educational opportunities for all, provide a learner centred education which furnishes the learner with appropriate life skills through the development of self learning, scientific and critical thinking and ability to understand and apply contemporary scientific and technological innovations, ensure that students are adequately prepared for the requirements of further and higher education, the labour market and modern life generally, reduce drop out rates among students, contribute to the eradication of illiteracy.
The implementation of Basic Education involved a comprehensive reform of the educational process. It began with the reform of the educational philosophy and aims and included aspects such as the length of school year and day, the layout of school buildings, student class ratios, activities to be included in the curriculum, textbooks, materials and resources, teaching methodologies, assessment, evaluation instruments and the school plan.
The ministry decided to gradually introduce the 10 grades of basic education over a nine-year period, covering three of the government’s Five-Year-Plans. The first cohort of students graduated from grade 10 at the end of the 2006/2007 school year.
The ministry also decided to phase-in an increasing number of schools into the programme on an annual basis. When basic education was first introduced in 1998, only 17 schools were involved. Since then, the number of schools involved has been gradually rising and by the academic year 2006/2007, the number of schools involved had risen to 589 and the number of students to 250,266. This phasing-in programme will continue until basic education has been implemented in all schools.
The ministry has taken the task of technical and administrative supervision of private school through preparing projects and plan for the development of private schools. The ministry is taking all steps to ensure that the private school sector follows the guidelines and directives issued by the ministry time to time.
The ministry is permitting licences to the new private education institutions in light of the standards and specifications laid out by the ministry.
According to the latest statistics of the 2007-2008 academic year, there were 182 international schools (Muscat, Al Batinah and Sohar) enrolling students of different nationalities including Omanis. There are 232 private schools with a total of 37,165 male and female students and 2,775 male and female teachers in these private schools.
Regarding basic education itself, following six years of delivering cycle programme, the ministry decided that it should conduct a formal evaluation of the success and effectiveness of the system. In 2003-2004, an international company was commissioned to carry out a review of the programme to date and to offer advice on future priorities.
Part of the mandate of the study was to measure the achievement of grade four basic education students in Oman and to determine ways of bringing student achievement levels up to international standards. A total of 189 lessons were observed and evaluated and tests were administered in Arabic, English, mathematics and science to approximately 7,700 grade four students in all regions of Oman. Questionnaires and in some cases interviews, were administered to 7,700 students, 7,300 parents, 147 senior teachers, 61 school principals, 106 learning resource centre teachers and over 600 Ministry of education staff members. The consultants regarded the results as very positive. The conclusion of the study as that the basic education programme is progressing outstandingly well and at the present rate of progress Omani students’ achievements could equal and ultimately surpass those of international students in a short time span.
The Scout and Guides excellence HM’s Cup competition has a role in activating the students in discipline and preparing them as good citizens. The Scouts and Guides units are active in all schools of the Sultanate. They conduct seminars, camps, arts and cultural competitions, tours and working camps, cleaning campaigns and sports and games. These activities will stimulate interests in environmental causes, such as preservation of natural resources, pollution control and engagement in social services.
Aiming to upgrade the student’s capacity for development, the ministry has brought out a number of competitions such as international study in mathematics and sciences, TMSS, and international study for preparing mathematics teachers, TEDS-M, besides PISA and PIRLS. These competitions include qualitative programmes of testing the students’ skills and to single out the excellent performances.
The first phase of the digital educations system, launched in December 2007, is a step to utilize the modern technology to develop the educational methods, exchanging information between all educational institutes in the various regions and wilayats with the departments of the Ministry of Education.
It also helps the public in getting information on the functions of the ministry. This electronic system came in line with the Sultan’s guidance on implementation of modern technology.
Dr. Hussein Shehadeh